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Our proclamation this morning is taken from 1 Chronicles 28:20. These are the instructions that David gave to Solomon for completing the temple. They’re in the second person singular but we have applied them to ourselves so we say them in the first person plural. Do you understand? That’s one of the functions of proclamation; it’s to make the Word of God personal.
“We will be strong and of good courage and do. We will not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God our God will be with us. He will not leave us nor forsake us until we have finished all the work for the service of the house of the Lord. Amen.”
Now we are continuing with the study of the six foundation doctrines listed in Hebrews 6:1–2. We have dealt with the first three: repentance from dead works, faith toward God and the doctrine of baptisms. In connection with the doctrine of baptisms I pointed out that the New Testament tells us of three distinct baptisms: the baptism of John the Baptist, Christian baptism and the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Now in this session we’re going on to the fourth of these foundation doctrines which is laying on of hands. For a title for this message I have rendered it “Transmitting God’s Power.”
Many of us would probably be a little surprised to find that laying on of hands is amongst the foundation doctrines, because very little is said about it currently in most congregations. But if you pause and consider, it’s extremely logical, it has to be there, because laying on of hands or transmitting God’s power and authority is the thing that brings continuity to the body of Christ. It brings continuity between a senior minister and a junior minister, and it brings continuity between one generation and the next. So the essential function of this ministry of laying on of hands is to provide continuity in the body of Christ. In some traditions this continuity they claim to have preserved from the days of the apostle Peter until now. I’m not considering that claim but I’m just pointing out that the reasoning behind it is logical. We need a way to continue from generation to generation, from ministry to ministry, and this way has been provided in the Scripture by this ordinance, I would call it, of laying on of hands.
It’s interesting, we find it in the first book of the Bible and really it extends from then on through the whole history of God’s people. It is an essential element in the history of God’s people.
I would say there are certain spiritual purposes which it embraces. First of all, let’s notice the fact that to put your hand on somebody is a natural, human reaction. A mother has a sick baby who has a fever, almost without reasoning she’ll put her hand on the forehead of the child. Or, two men meet who haven’t seen one another for a long time and in one way or another they’ll lay their hands on their shoulders or they’ll shake hands, but they’ll make contact with their hands. The hand is one of the main ways that human beings make contact with one another.
In the spiritual context I suggest that there are certain purposes which are accomplished. First of all, to transmit. In the Bible we find the laying on of hands used to transmit blessings, authority, wisdom, the Holy Spirit, a spiritual gift or a ministry. Let me just give you that list once more. It’s used to transmit blessing, authority, wisdom, the Holy Spirit, a spiritual gift or a ministry.
And secondly, it’s used to commission. It is the biblical way of commissioning a person for a place of service in the body of Christ. And as such, it recognizes God’s appointment. We need to understand that things in the church are not settled by votes. God is not subject to votes. A lot of churches vote for deacons or vote for pastors or vote for somebody, that really is not scriptural. It’s God who makes the appointments. Jesus said to His apostles, “You have not chosen me, I have chosen you.” I believe that’s true of every valid function and ministry and appointment in the church. It’s not man who made the choice but God, because Jesus Christ is head over all things to the church which is His body. I don’t believe that appointments that are not made on the authority of Jesus really have any validity. But, I believe the appointment is not to make a person a certain thing but to recognize what God has decided that person should be. I believe if you are in a meeting in a church to discuss deacons, your purpose should not be to decide who you would like to have as a deacon; your purpose should be to decide whom God has chosen as a deacon. It’s a very different attitude.
We are somewhat corrupted by democracy which has very little place in the Bible or in the church. I won’t go any further into that because it’s rather controversial and I don’t have time to get involved in controversy.
Secondly, apart from recognizing laying on of hands is used to set apart for a certain task or ministry.
Thirdly, it’s used to endorse or to give authority.
And fourthly, it’s used to equip; that is, to transmit the spiritual gift or the spiritual authority or whatever else is needed by the person to carry out his God-appointed task.
So let me just give that list again because it’s important. The function of laying on of hands in commissioning people is used to recognize but not appoint the persons of God’s choice. It’s used to set apart a person to a certain task or ministry. It’s used to endorse a person with authority. And, it’s used to equip him with all the spiritual authority or gifts that that person will need.
Now let’s look at some examples, first of all, from the Old Testament. We’ll turn to Genesis 48 and read from verse 8 through verse 19, which is a very, very interesting passage. In this passage Joseph brings his two sons to his father Jacob, who is also called Israel, for Jacob to bless his grandsons. And let me say second to the blessing of God Himself, I think the most desired blessing is the blessing of a father or a grandfather. I would say to all of you, especially you younger people, if by any means possible, obtain your father’s blessing on whatever you do. It is very, very important. It’s second only to the blessing of God Himself. You will see in the Bible great importance was attached to a father’s blessing. So here we are in verse 8:
“Then Israel [that is Jacob] saw Joseph’s sons and said, ‘Who are these?’ And Joseph said to his father, ‘These are my sons whom God has given me in this place [that’s Egypt].’ And he said [that’s Jacob], ‘Please bring them to me and I will bless them.’ Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age so that he could not see. Then Joseph brought them near him and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel [that’s Jacob] said to Joseph, ‘I had not thought to see your face; but in fact God has also shown me your offspring.’”
If there’s one thing that moves me to tears, it’s the faithfulness of God. It’s not grief, it’s not sorrow, but every time I contemplate the faithfulness of God I’m overcome with tears.
“So Joseph brought them from beside his knees and he bowed down with his face to the earth.”
Notice the respect that the people in the Bible showed for parents and for the elderly.
“And Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand towards Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh with his left hand towards Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. Then Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands knowingly for Manasseh was the firstborn.”
Normally, the firstborn would receive the greater blessing and that would be transmitted by the right hand. And Joseph specially arranged that Manasseh, who was the elder, was to come opposite Jacob’s right hand. But Jacob, prompted by the Holy Spirit, crossed his hands and laid his right hand on Ephraim and his left hand on Manasseh.
“He blessed Joseph and said, ‘God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has fed me all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil...’”
You know where that happened? When Jacob met the angel at Peniel, that was what he was referring to.
“...the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; let my name be named upon them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
Can you see also how important it is to transmit a name? So many of these things are just going out of fashion today but they’ve never gone out of fashion with God.
“Now when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him; so he took hold of his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, ‘Not so, my father! For this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.’ But his father refused and said, ‘I know, my son, I know; he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. But truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.’ So he blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you Israel will bless, saying, ‘May God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’’ And thus he set Ephraim before Manasseh.”
That’s a very vivid scene, isn’t it? You see, it’s very precise. It was understood that the greater blessing would come from the father’s right hand. But it was so real that there was a real transmission of something, it was just not a formality. It wasn’t just for ceremony, it was a vital transaction in the lives of two young men, Ephraim and Manasseh. It really determined their destiny from then onwards.
So let us never underestimate the significance and the importance of laying on of hands when it’s done by the Holy Spirit.
And then we’ll look in Numbers 27 where we find that Moses was telling the Lord it’s time to appoint the leader who’s to follow me. Moses knew that he would not go into the Promised Land but he was very, very concerned about the people of God, Israel. And so Moses said to the Lord in Numbers 27:15:
“Then Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, ‘Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation...’”
I think that’s significant, He’s the God of the spirits of all flesh. He’s the God who knows the spirit of every person. He sees into the innermost depth of human character.
“Let the God of the spirits of all flesh set a man over the congregation who may go out before them and go in before them, who may lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep which have no shepherd.”
And the whole Bible tells us from beginning to end that sheep without a shepherd will be scattered and will become a prey. It’s a message that runs consistently throughout the Bible. Let me suggest to you that unless circumstances are very unusual, each of you should have a human shepherd who will watch over your soul and care for you—very, very important. We’ll come back to that a little later as we study some other things.
So, how did the Lord respond?
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun with you, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him. Set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation and commission him in their sight, and you shall give some of your authority to him.’”
I like that. Not all of your authority because Moses had unique authority. But, give him a good portion of your authority because he’s going to need it.
“You shall give some of your authority to him that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient. He shall stand before Eleazar the priest who shall inquire before the Lord for him by the judgment of the Urim. At his word [that’s Joshua’s word] they shall go out and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the children of Israel with him.”
All the congregation.
“So Moses did as the Lord commanded. He took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation. And he laid his hands on him and commissioned him just as the Lord had commanded by the hand of Moses.”
You see, the whole congregation had to see this transmission of authority from Moses, the one whom they followed for forty years, to his successor. It was a vital transaction for the well being of all of God’s people.
Furthermore, it was not just a ceremony, something really happened to Joshua. In Deuteronomy 34 we have this interesting comment. Deuteronomy 34:9:
Now Joshua the son of Nun was full of the Spirit of wisdom, for Moses laid his hands on him.
So you see what he received from the laying on of hands? He received the Spirit of wisdom. It was not just a formality, not just a ceremony, it was a real transaction.
Now let’s go to one other example in the Old Testament which is in 2 Kings 13. It’s the closing scene, really, in the ministry of Elisha. And yet, it wasn’t really a closing scene because you remember Elisha died and was buried, and then a band of raiders came in to invade Israel and the men who were going to bury another just had to dump the man in Elisha’s sepulcher and run off. When the dead man touched the bones of Elisha he came to life. That’s something, isn’t it? How wonderful it is that God’s power can be transferred in so many strange ways. Let’s read here in 2 Kings 13:14:
“And Elisha had become sick of the illness of which he would die...”
This is so, what would I say, it’s not what you would expect. He died of a sickness and yet his bones were so charged with the power of God that when a dead man contacted his bones he came alive. You can’t explain that. There are some things you can’t explain.
Let me just tell you something that happened, very briefly, because I’m so tired of people trying to account for everything that God does. In South Africa some years ago Ruth and I were ministering in an Assembly of God Church, and the associate pastor, a young man, had been playing squash, had fallen and broken his arm in four places. So he came to us for prayer and I said, “I know this sounds strange but I’m going to check your legs because this is what God has shown me to do. If your legs are unequal the short leg will grow out and you’ll know that God has touched you.” Then I said, “Be very careful to thank God for it.” So, you see, when people have a real need they’ll do all sorts of strange things they wouldn’t do at other times. And so he went through this ceremony, I held his leg, it grew out. I knew God had touched him. He went back to the doctor and was X-rayed. This is the thing I cannot explain. There had been four breaks in his arm. Three of them were perfectly healed, the fourth was still a break. The senior pastor said to me, “Explain that.” I can’t explain it. I could say he had seventy-five percent faith but that would be a very unconvincing explanation. So, I’m so tired of people knowing everything that God has done and being able to explain it all. There are lots of things that God does I can’t explain. I’m quite content to leave them with God.
Anyhow, we go on with this story.
“Joash, the king of Israel, came down to Elisha and wept over his face and said, ‘O my father, my father, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen.’”
That was the same thing that Elisha himself had said to Elijah when he was taken up in the chariot. And that contains a message, really, for all of us. A man who really knows God can be the defense of a nation. He can be stronger than an army. And Joash, who was not a particularly godly king, recognized what Elisha meant to his people.
“And Elisha said to him, ‘Take a bow and some arrows.’ So he took himself a bow and some arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, ‘Put your hand on the bow.’ So he [that’s the king] put his hand on the bow and Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands. And he said, ‘Open the east window,’ [which was the direction of Syria, the enemy of Israel] and he opened it. And Elisha said, ‘Shoot,’ and he shot. And he said, ‘The arrow of the Lord’s deliverance and the arrow of deliverance from Syria, for you must strike the Syrians at Aphek till you have destroyed them.’”
And we find out that he struck with the arrows three times and three times Joash defeated the Syrians. Elisha was angry with him because he should have struck more times. But what I want to bring out is it was the putting of Elisha’s hands on the hands of the king when he held the bow that made it effective. Again it’s in the supernatural realm but it shows that something real can take place when one person lays hands on another.
Now let’s go to the New Testament and I want to consider the purposes indicated in the New Testament for the laying on of hands. First of all, to impart healing to the sick. Jesus said when He commissioned His disciples to God in Mark 16:16 and following:
“These signs shall follow them that believe...”
And the fifth sign was:
“...they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.”
In other words, laying hands on the sick was a way of ministering God’s healing to the sick.
In James 5:14–15 there’s another ordinance. It says:
“Is any sick among you [believers]? Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
So that’s similar, they’re to pray over him, they’re to lay hands on him, but they’re also to anoint him with oil. And oil, as I’m sure you know, is always a type of the Holy Spirit. So the oil didn’t produce the healing but it symbolized the release of the Holy Spirit through that ceremony into the body of the sick person.
Now, I just have a suggestion to make. What’s the difference between just laying hands on or laying hands on and anointing with oil? I suggest to you, and this is just approximate, that the laying on of hands without the anointing of oil was for people who were not members of the church. But for members of the church the ordinance included anointing with oil. And again I want to point out to you that the New Testament indicates that normally every believer should be part of a congregation for he says, “Is any sick among you Christians? Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing with oil.” Now, if you go to one church on Sunday morning and another church on Sunday evening, which group of elders will you call for? And, if you don’t have elders to call for, what will you do when you’re sick? See? In other words, the New Testament assumes, with various exceptions, that a believer shall be a member of a congregation, known to the leadership, recognizing his leadership, and having available to him the ministry of the leadership.
Just let me mention something else. This is not on this subject but in the book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, there are seven messages sent. They are sent to seven churches—only to the churches. Anybody that was not in a church didn’t get the message. I feel God wants me to emphasize this. I feel some of you are like the mountain goats, you’re way out ahead of the herd and you don’t have a shepherd. That’s a dangerous place to be. It’s humbling to submit yourself to human authority but God blesses the humble and He resists the proud. So, you have to choose.
There are exceptions, there are situations where this doesn’t apply. Don’t be an exception if you should be part of the rule.
Now, the next purpose for which laying on of hands was appropriate is for the imparting of the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 8 we read, first of all, how Philip went to a city of Samaria and preached Christ, attested by miracles and signs, and all the people in the city who believed were baptized. So they were saved because Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” But, the apostles were not content because they knew there was something missing. So in Acts 18:14 it says:
“Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for as yet He had fallen upon none of them, they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
So that is again, as I pointed out yesterday, a very clear indication that it’s possible to be saved without having, in this sense, received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit there is spoken of as falling upon them, what I call immersion from above, a Niagara Falls immersion.
Verse 17 says:
“Then they [the apostles] laid hands on them and they [the believers] received the Holy Spirit. When Simon the magician saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power.’”
You see, it says there through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given.
And in the next chapter after Saul had had his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road, while he was there in a house in Damascus, unable to see, fasting for three days, Ananias, a mere disciple, not an apostle, not a prophet, just a disciple, received directions from the Lord to go to the house where Saul was, lay hands on him and pray for him. It says he laid hands on him and his sight came, he received the Holy Spirit and he was baptized. So, understand the laying on of hands is not limited merely to people with a special ministry. In the context of God’s will, any person can be directed to lay hands on someone else.
Ruth reminded me while we were sitting in the office—this is really a rather unusual story. We were in Kona in Hawaii and I’d been very sick. I was still far from recovered. We were walking down the main street and a man ran up to us, came up to us, and said, “Will you pray for me? I’m sick.” I said, “What’s the matter with you?” He said, “I was electrocuted.” If you know what that means, I mean, he received a full charge, he was an electrician. His shoulders were paralyzed, he couldn’t raise his hands higher than that [indicating]. So, I was rather reluctant to do it, in a way, but he was persistent. So we stopped in the middle of the street right outside a restaurant and we prayed. Ruth laid her hands on his shoulders.
The next day in the devotions at Youth With A Mission he put his hands right up above his head. He had experienced a miracle through the laying on of hands!
Later on he came to see us when we were ministering in Arizona and he told us that he had been to a doctor for a check up. The doctor said, “I’ve examined your shoulders, there’s no way possible that you could ever get your arms above your head.” Well, that’s just a little example of what the laying on of hands will do.
Again, in Ephesus. We’ve looked at this before in another context. Paul arrived there and found certain disciples but they were only disciples of John the Baptist. Paul explained the gospel to them, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus and, when Paul laid his hands on them, they spoke with tongues and prophesied. So, laying on of hands is a very scriptural way to transmit the power of the Holy Spirit.
Actually, there are five main examples in the New Testament and it’s interesting. In two cases, on the Day of Pentecost and in the house of Cornelius, it just came sovereignly from God. In the other three cases, that’s in Samaria with Saul of Tarsus and in Ephesus, it was transmitted through the laying on of hands. So, it’s a question of how God leads. I’ve had the privilege of leading literally thousands of people into the baptism in the Holy Spirit. My particular strength is to get people to believe that if they seek the Lord, they’ll receive. I do lay hands on people but not usually. And I can say by the grace of God I’ve seen thousands of people receive direct from the Lord.
We’ll go on now. The next purpose of laying on of hands is to commission servants of the church, sometimes called deacons. I wonder how some churches would change if they realize that the word deacon in Greek means a servant. I mean, in some churches the Board of Deacons has a lot of authority. How would it be if they were called the Board of Servants? You see, we’ve got some of our terminology mixed up.
Ruth and I were going to Pakistan one time and we had to pass through the examination of the immigration. The man there, the Pakistani, said to me, “What are you?” Well, it was a Muslim country and I thought I need to be pretty careful. Eventually I said, “I’m a minister.” I thought that’s a pretty safe term that most people don’t understand. Well, from then on I got red carpet treatment everywhere. I went to the head of the line and so on. I realized later he thought I was a minister of the government of the United States. You see? So far away are we from the real meaning of minister, which is a servant.
If you are a minister, brother or sister, you are a servant. A servant of the Lord and a servant of the Lord’s people.
Well, the church had run into a very good problem in Acts 6, they were growing so fast that they couldn’t take care of all the poor and the widows who needed their attention.
Let me point out to you again another thing about the New Testament church. They invariably accepted responsibility for their widows, it was taken for granted. The problem today is that the government has taken over so many functions that the church doesn’t really realize its responsibilities. But I still believe the church has responsibility for the poor, whatever way that responsibility is carried out.
So, the believers came to the apostles and said, “Things aren’t working out right, our widows are being neglected.” So the apostles said, “All right, we’ll take steps.” This is rather a crucial situation. The twelve apostles summoned the congregation and said:
“It is not desirable that we should leave the Word of God and serve tables. Therefore brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business, that we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.”
What is the apostolic ministry? Prayer and the ministry of the Word. It’s not administration. They said we can get other people to do the administration, we’ve got to stick with our responsibility. So they said, “Choose seven men from among you whom you know.” And, all of them had to be full of the Holy Spirit. Not even a deacon was appointed in the early church unless he was full of the Holy Spirit.
This was the wisdom of the apostles, you see, because they were going to look after the finances. So they let the congregation choose the men, then they accepted the men and ordained them, put them in their office. But after that the congregation could never complain about the men because they were the ones that made the choice. See how wise God is?
So it says they brought these men and set them before the apostles and when they had prayed they laid hands on them. They were ordaining them. If you like to say deacons, but the word deacon is not used there. I would prefer to say helpers. The apostles said we’re getting so busy we need helpers.
The position of a helper was very, very important. It’s interesting to see what happened to two of those men. Stephen became the first martyr and Philip became the God-acknowledged evangelist. So, brother or sister, if you start in the position of a servant, bear in mind it can be a stepping stone to something else. In fact, if you don’t start as a servant you really never will be promoted by God because God only promotes people who start down the ladder.
The next purpose of the laying on of hands is to send out apostles. I don’t know whether some of you think there are only twelve apostles in the New Testament. That is not so. I’ve counted approximately twenty people who were called apostles. There were the twelve foundation apostles, then there were other apostles who were mentioned by name. We’ll look at some of them.
In Acts 13 it speaks about the church at Antioch, which was in many ways a model church. In fact, in some ways it got ahead of the church in Jerusalem which got a little bit stuck in what I would call internal focus. See, that’s one of the big problems with our churches today, most churches are so focused on the internal that they have very little time for the real job which is preaching the gospel to those who have never heard it. But the people at Antioch had a different vision and this is very important. Acts 13, beginning at verse 1:
“Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers, [five of them are named] Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen and Saul who later became Paul.”
Now, if you can believe for prophets and teachers then the way if open for apostles. I’ll show you how.
As they ministered to the Lord...
And I think the NIV says “as they worshiped the Lord.” It’s so important, I’m going to speak about this later. Worship is the key to so much.
“As they worshiped the Lord the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’”
Notice the Holy Spirit was speaking as God. “Separate to me these two men.” How do you think the Holy Spirit said it? Do you think it was a disembodied voice that came or do you think He spoke through one of the five men? You can make your mind up, I believe personally it was probably a prophetic word.
“Then having fasted and prayed...”
And I am a great believer in fasting and prayer. I don’t have time to go into it but a lot of things in the church will never happen until people learn to fast and pray. This was the second time they’d fasted. They were already fasting when they got the message.
Having fasted and prayed and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
They sent them off. Please note they didn’t choose the junior youth director, which is what some churches would do. They chose the two top men. They sent out their best. Promotion to the outreach of the ministry is from the top, not from the bottom. There again the church has a tremendous lesson today to learn. The people who are, quote, missionaries or whatever you want to call them are not somebody with a minor ministry somewhere down the line, they should be the top people chosen by God. But we have got an altogether wrong emphasis on our internal structure and we are so absorbed with ourselves that we really don’t have the vision of the Lord.
I don’t know if you’ll forgive me for saying this but I say that many people in the current move of the Holy Spirit, in some countries, are like the astronomers in the days of Ptolemy. If you know a little bit about astronomy, and I don’t know much. But Ptolemy was convinced that the sun revolved around the earth. Along came Copernicus and he said, “That’s not right; it’s the other way around.” The earth revolves around the sun. And typically enough, the church wanted to put the man to death for saying that. He just escaped with his life. Why was the church so upset? Because it was contrary to their traditions. I say a lot of Christians are still living in the age of Ptolemy. They still believe that the Son, God, revolves around us. They haven’t yet learned it’s the other way around. We revolve around the Son.
Jesus isn’t here for our benefit; we’re here for His glory. You can see some of the songs that are sung that focus entirely on what Jesus will do for me. That’s wonderful, but it’s less important than what we will do for Jesus. That’s where the emphasis is.
Anyhow, this church sent out its two best. When they were sent out they were prophets and teachers but if you read on in the next chapter of Acts, chapter 14, about the same two men, it says at one point:
The multitude of the city was divided. Part sided with the Jews and part with the apostles.
And then in verse 14 it says:
“But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard this...”
So they had become apostles. How had they become apostles? By being sent out from a church through the direction of the Holy Spirit. You see, the meaning of the word apostle is “one who is sent out.” If you’ve not been sent out you’re not an apostle. So, here are two men who are not in the original twelve, Paul and Barnabas are now called apostles. How did they become apostles? By the appointment of the Holy Spirit. How did they hear the voice of the Holy Spirit? They were praying, fasting and worshiping God. And when the church leadership does that, then we will see apostles emerging.
OK. Now then, the next use we find in the New Testament of laying on of hands is to appoint elders. Acts 14:23, the chapter we’ve been in, says:
“These two apostles [Barnabas and Paul] appointed elders in every church.”
So the appointment of elders initially was from the apostles.
And then writing to Timothy who was his representative in the city of Ephesus, Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:17 and following, he’s instructing him about the kind of person who should be an elder. He says:
“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the Word and teaching.”
Now, “double honor,” if you analyze the New Testament, means some kind of financial remuneration. The word honor in the New Testament is not just an empty title, it means you show respect by the way you handle people’s needs. I said sometimes if you double zero you still get zero. So, there is a standard of remuneration and those who give their time fully to the Word of God have to be remunerated by the people whom they serve, according to the amount of time they give.
Paul goes on about how to deal with elders, verse 19:
“Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.”
Please, that is very important. Do not entertain an accusation against a man who is the position of an elder unless it’s supported by at least two witnesses. I’ve seen so many cases when men of God have been slandered and people have taken up the slander without ever demanding two or three witnesses. Never do that, because one of Satan’s main ways of attacking people in the ministry is to raise false charges against them. Here’s the protection. Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it’s supported by at least two and preferably three eyewitnesses. A great many things in the church would change if we stuck to that rule.
Paul goes on in the same chapter, verse 21:
“I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality which has no place in the kingdom of God.”
Then he says:
Do not lay hands suddenly or hastily on anyone, nor share in other people’s sins. Keep yourself pure.
Now this is in the context of dealing with elders so when he says do not lay hands on anyone hastily means don’t hastily appoint an elder. Be very careful that you have God’s mind. Be very careful that the man has the qualifications that are required. Because I’ve said many times it’s much easier to lay hands on than to lay hands off. Once you have appointed an elder it’s an awful problem to get rid of him if you’ve made the wrong appointment. So, Paul says to Timothy be very, very careful. Don’t lay hands as an appointment of eldership on anybody until you’re absolutely sure that it’s God’s choice.
And then he says do not be partaker of other men’s sins because if you appoint, if I appoint, as an elder a man who is not worthy, who maybe will exploit the congregation and the people of God, I have a share in his sins. So, we have to be very, very careful.
I will say in our church in Fort Lauderdale, which is not always a model church, but when they appoint elders, believe me, they go through it. I mean, those men—they appointed three recently—they had to answer questions for two days. Everything was taken into account. I think many problems result in the church from the hasty appointment of elders.
You see how many lessons come out of all this about laying on of hands? See, it’s not a little thing. So, what was the purpose of laying on of hands in all these cases, whether it’s servants, or whether it’s apostles, or whether it’s elders? It’s to transmit authority and to set apart and endorse and equip a person for service.
Now, there’s another function of laying on of hands. Paul wrote to the Roman Christians and he said, “I would love to come to you and impart some spiritual gift to you.” But he didn’t at that time go, he went later. In 2 Timothy 1:6 Paul, writing to Timothy, says:
“I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”
So, a gift was transmitted to Timothy through the laying on of Paul’s hands. Now the Greek word used there is charisma from which we get the word charismatic. Let me give you my personal opinion, and you’re free to disagree with me, you can still go to heaven—provided you love me! I believe that the charisma that was imparted to Timothy there was apostleship because we’ll find that there are some other apostles.
Now, let’s look at the apostleship of Timothy. Timothy was also an apostle. Maybe you didn’t know that, I’ll show you out of the Bible. 1 Thessalonians 1:1. The letter is written by three men, which was quite normal in the New Testament: Paul, Silvanus—which is another way of saying Silas, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians. So these were the writers of the letter. Not just Paul but Paul, Silas and Timothy.
Then in chapter 2 of that letter, verse 6, these same men—that’s Paul, Silas and Timothy—said:
Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.”
So all those three men—Paul, Silas and Timothy—were apostles. You understand, the ministry of apostles has not gone out of date because in Ephesians 4 God says He’s put apostles in the church till we all come to the unity of the faith. Anybody with a candid mind would have to acknowledge we have not yet come to the unity of the faith. Is that right? So, apostles are needed, pastors, evangelists, prophets, teachers, all are needed until the job is complete.
So, I’ve just pointed out to you we have now how many men? We have Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy. That’s right. So there’s four or five apostles appointed after the Day of Pentecost.
I want to take a little time just to go into the question of Timothy’s apostleship. I’ve pointed out to you that Timothy is called an apostle. How did he become an apostle? I think this is a very important question, because I believe we need apostles desperately in the church. Mind you, I have to point out that Jesus commended the church of Ephesus because they tried those who said they were apostles and were not and found them liars. Don’t accept everybody’s claim to be an apostle, they have to be tested. You know where liars end up? Do you know that? You don’t know where liars end up? They end up in the lake of fire. So, it’s a very serious issue. Somebody claims to be an apostle and is not, he’s headed for the lake of fire.
Now, let’s look at this situation. Acts 16, Paul has started out with Silas on his second missionary journey and it says in verse 1:
“He came to Derbe and Lystra, and behold, a certain disciple was there named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed but his father was Greek. He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium.”
Now one thing that normally is required for anybody who’s going to hold a significant position in the church is they have a good report from their own congregation. If their own people can’t say well of them, what other people say about them matters very little.
Years ago I was in a situation where a lady was sent out to us when we were in Jerusalem from Sweden as a coworker. My first wife Lydia, who was very sharp, read through all the recommendations which were many. She said there’s just one thing missing. There’s no recommendation from her own church. We took her and we regretted it bitterly. She was a source of many problems. So I really try to master that lesson. When you choose a person, the most important recommendation is the people that lived with them, who’ve worked with them, who know them. If they can’t recommend them, no other recommendation is worth much.
But Timothy had a good report from the elders of the churches in which he had been ministering or living. So Paul took him along and said, “You come with me.” And, we read later on, we have to follow this rather carefully, in 1 Timothy 4:14, Paul said to Timothy:
“Do not forget the gift that is in you which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.”
So my conclusion is that a prophetic word was given saying, Timothy is to go out with Paul and Silas. On the basis of that prophetic word and because of their knowledge of his character, the local elders laid hands on Timothy and sent him out. He received the gift, or the charisma, of apostleship. That’s the way I understand it.
Now you’ve got to balance with that what we’ve already read in 2 Timothy 1:6 where Paul says to Timothy:
“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”
There could be many ways of understanding that. I think the most probable way is in this situation in Lystra when the prophecy was given and duly tested, and the prophecy said Timothy is to go out with Paul and Silas, the elders said, “We endorse him,” Paul said, “I receive him,” and Paul and the elders laid hands on him and imparted to him the charisma of apostleship.
It’s very important to notice that the prophecy was very significant. Either prophecy is significant or it’s a waste of time. In 1 Timothy 1:18 Paul, writing to Timothy, says:
“This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare.”
Now that is a real purpose of prophecy, it’s to encourage a person who’s going to face opposition and know that God has really chosen you. I included this little incident in my book Laying on of Hands and it got here to New Zealand and quite a well known Christian leader in New Zealand whose name I will not mention had a prophecy over him when he was in the United States that said he was to do a certain task. He got very discouraged and he was about to give up and he read this and he said, “I’m going to go by the prophecies.” I’ll tell you who is it, it was (unintelligible) Short (phonetic). This was really one of the things that got him into his ministry which has now affected this nation and many others.
See how significant a prophecy can be if it’s given in the Holy Spirit? I have to tell you, friends, I’m sick of a lot of prophecy. I call it Charismatic fortune-telling. People come in, lay hands on you and say, “You will do this and you will do that.” Maybe, but in most cases it doesn’t happen. There’s a very thin line between prophecy and fortune-telling. You know that fortune-tellers can tell the truth, you know that? In Acts 16 it was a fortune-telling woman who first recognized who Paul and Silas were. Before anybody else in the city of Philippi, she knew these were the servants of the Most High God who show us the way of salvation. And yet, she was a servant of Satan. I just want to warn you of that.
Now, I’ve got to deal, hopefully briefly, with dangers and safeguards. I have only a few moments. Two dangers which are mentioned. First of all, endorsing someone who is unworthy because when you do that and you make a mess, you’re partly responsible for the mess they make.
The second is what I call spiritual contamination. You may lay hands on somebody to pray for deliverance from an evil spirit but you have to know how to protect yourself because it can be a two-way transaction. Either you can impart the Spirit of God or that spirit can affect you, the evil spirit. I remember an occasion when a group of us still in the army laid hands on a man who was suffering from severe depression. We didn’t really have the leading of the Lord, we just did it. Do you know what happened? We all got attacked by depression. We hadn’t protected ourselves.
So, when you lay hands on somebody you need protection. This is how, with prayer and humility. Be directed by the Holy Spirit. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”
Be protected by the blood of Jesus. Know how to keep yourself under the blood of Jesus.
And bear in mind that Jesus said to His disciples, “I give you authority over all the power of the enemy and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” Amen.