Acts ch.11 – 13 marks the pivotal point of the church of Jesus Christ moving from Jerusalem to Antioch as the major center of world mission in the first century. As John Stott said, “It is not that the evangelization of the Jews must stop, but that the evangelization of the Gentiles must begin”. It also marks the transition of Peter to Paul as the key instrument of this movement. The person, seldom recognized, but played an indispensable role in this transition, however, is Barnabas.
What is so different and special about Barnabas? He was a Levite from Cyprus. He sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the Apostles’ feet. His original name was Joseph but was nicked name “Barnabas”, meaning “Son of Encouragement” by the Apostles (Acts 4: 36-37). This is the idiomatic Semitic use of ‘son’ to indicate a man’s character. Barnabas’ subsequent story demonstrates this character beyond doubt!
As an encourager, Barnabas is selflessly generous. That the movement in sharing “everything they had with one another” in the early church was not a rule but on voluntary basis (Acts 4:32). We must not assume this as an evidence of primitive Christian communism. Barnabas gave the proceeds from the sale to the church in order to care for the poor, those who were without. What encourages is his generous character expressed in a selfless act.
As an encourager, Barnabas is bold to reach out to people that others consider as threatening. In Acts ch. 9, the recently converted Saul could not access the disciples for his previous act of persecuting the church. It was Barnabas who was convinced of his conversion, befriended him and took him to meet the Apostles and secured his acceptance by the church when no one did or dare! Saul, however, ended up in Tarsus for the time being till later when Barnabas again sought him out for greater missionary opportunities.
As an encourager, Barnabas has a big heart. As the Jerusalem church heard about the news of the birth of the Antioch church they sent Barnabas there to further nurture this young church (Chapter 11). He did not monopolize the ministry to himself. He had huge room and space for other leaders. Seeking out the best person to help him in nurturing this young church, he went to Tarsus and brought Saul to Antioch. The ministry flourished so successfully that disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
As an encourager, Barnabas humbly let others stand on his shoulder. In subsequent chapters Paul eventually became a far more prominent leader than Barnabas who never fought for the lime light. There were no jealousy or power struggle between the two. Even over the dispute with Paul about taking the once deserter Mark for the second missionary journey, Barnabas’ big heart for people who failed was silently but beautifully revealed. Years later, Paul reconciled over this issue and counted Mark as helpful to him in his ministry (2 Tim 4:11). Paul and Mark both stepped on Barnabas’ shoulder and rose to be more than they could be!
In SCBC we need God to develop more encouragers who have character that is selfless, generous, and big-hearted. Learning from Barnabas, let us accept others with different chemistry, greater talents and smarter than we, or on the other hand, even with previous failures to work together. May we be such an encourager as a stepping stone for others to succeed.
This Sunday, our missionary pastor John Chan will expound this theme further.
Your servant in Christ, Thomas
1 The Spirit, the Church and the World: the Message of Acts, John Stott, IVP 1990