Paul was the most influential figure in the establishment of the early church. However, he didn’t work alone. He had several key partners who gave him very necessary support. Over the next several weeks, we’ll take a closer look at some of these guys and learn how we can follow their examples even today.
Let’s start with Barnabas.
But Barnabas wasn’t even his real name. His name was Joseph, and he was a Levite originally from Cyprus. Most of the religious establishment in Jerusalem stood in opposition to Christ and his message. Not Joseph.
When he first appears in Acts 4:36-37, we learn two things about him.
The apostles have given him the name Barnabas, which means son of encouragement. This tells us not only was he prominent and active in the early church so that he stood out among its 5000 members, but it tells us a little about his personality. Think about the apostles’ mission at this time. They were full of the Holy Spirit, preaching amazing sermons, seeing hundreds of people come to faith in Christ, doing miracles, facing down the authorities… and yet, Barnabas was an encouragement to them and the rest of the congregation.
How are we at encouragement?
In our internet culture, it is a rare thing. But sometimes that pervasive attitude spills over into our churches. How many ministries are squelched, how many gifts remain untapped because of the attitudes and atmosphere in the body? What if we started incorporating encouragement into our vocabulary?
“Thank you for all the work you put in when you teach. I always enjoy listening to you.”
“You do such a great job with the kids. It’s obvious how much fun they are having and how much they are learning.”
“Thank you for taking care of the kitchen. It’s more work than we realize and I appreciate the time you take.”
See how easy? Each of those statements takes less than ten seconds, but the impact is lasting.
In verse 37, we find out he has sold a tract of land and brings the money to the apostles’ for distribution to anyone in need.
Under the Mosaic Law, the Levites had no inheritance in the land. So either those laws weren’t observed as closely in New Testament times, or the land was in Cyprus. I tend to think it was in Cyprus. And I think that this demonstrates Barnabas’s generosity but also his commitment. He was selling his homeplace, probably land that had been in his family for a while. To me, it says he was putting his future entirely in God’s hands.
How are we at generosity and faith?
We give, but do we give sacrificially, trusting that God will take care of us?
In Acts 9:26-27, Barnabas vouches for Saul to the church in Jerusalem, confirming that his conversion was genuine. Because of his character and reputation, the Jerusalem church accepted his reference and Saul ministered and preached there with them
How are we at discerning the genuine work of the kingdom?
It requires knowledge of truth, prayer and listening as well being in tune with the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 11:22-24, Barnabas is sent to Antioch to check out things there. He discovers that there is a great revival underway. God was at work and many people were becoming believers. Many Gentiles, that is. Barnabas didn’t care who they were. They were saved by the same grace that had saved him. His biggest concern for them was that they continue in the faith that they had embraced and that they continued to grow.
Do we welcome everyone of every background?
It is one thing to say in the abstract that, of course, we want everyone to hear and believe the gospel, but what about when the abstract becomes concrete? Are there some who are too poor, or even too rich for us to witness to? Are there some who are too messed up or whose reputations are too impressive to reach? Are there others who are too different?
In Acts 13, while serving as one of the ministers of the church at Antioch, God called him and Paul to a new work, being missionaries to the Gentiles. Acts 14 details their journey, and in chapter 15, they report back to the Jerusalem Council and make a strong stand about the place of the Gentiles in the church.
Are we ready and willing for God to call us out to a new work?
Barnabas had proven through his faithful obedience to God in several situations before this that he could be trusted. God therefore kept using him.
Toward the end of Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas have a sharp disagreement over taking John Mark with them on a second mission. Barnabas wants to give the young man another chance. Paul disagrees. So Barnabas takes John Mark and leaves Paul, and then disappears from the pages of Scripture. Paul mentions him in some of his letters, but we don’t see Barnabas any more. However, by Paul’s later letters, we know that he came to agree with Barnabas and valued Mark as a ministry partner.
Are we quick to give people second chances?
Do we let people grow in their ministries and mentor them through difficulties or is failure a disqualifier?
Acts 11:24 says Barnabas was “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” If that were all we knew of him, that would be a good enough example. Instead, we get a description of a man committed to God, to his fellow believers and to carrying out the gospel. He was generous, kind-hearted and steadfast. We would do well to have more believers like Barnabas in our churches.
Next week: Silas