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Paul’s Partners (1): Barnabas

David Williamson, Newtownabbey

Undoubtedly the Apostle Paul is one of the great heroes of our Bible. In a simple reading of the New Testament he stands head and shoulders above the other apostles. His own testimony was that he "laboured more abundantly than they all" (1 Cor 15.10).

Sometimes, as we read of Paul and are impressed by his exploits for God, his missionary journeys, and the letters he has written, we forget that there were many men and women to whom Paul was greatly indebted. We intend to look at some of these personalities as they appear in order in our New Testament.

The first person who stands out in his association with Paul is a most delightful man referred to in Acts 4.36 as "Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas".

The Gift He Possessed

From the first mention of Barnabas we discover that he had a unique ability. This was so pronounced that the apostles gave him another name! He was "by the apostles…surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation)". Other translations interpret his name as "The son of encouragement". As we trace the divine record of his life, we discover just how apt this name truly was.

His encouragement of Saul

Saul of Tarsus was much feared! He had been involved in the martyrdom of Stephen, for "the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul" (Acts 7.58). After this he continued in his murderous opposition to the Christians. He was "breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9.1) and, receiving letters from the High Priest to extend his persecution to Damascus, he was journeying there when the risen Lord appeared to him and he was converted.

Soon afterwards, having himself escaped persecution in Damascus for preaching Christ, he arrived at Jerusalem and attempted to join himself to the church. You can understand with what fear the assembly at Jerusalem considered his application for fellowship! The conversion of Saul was, to these early believers, what the conversion of Richard Dawkins would be to us today. They wanted to keep him outside – they could not believe that such a person had been saved! But, "Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem" (9.27-28).

Can you imagine what an encouragement that was to Saul? A seasoned, well-respected believer was willing to lay his own reputation on the line for the benefit of a young outsider. The church at Jerusalem had many fears, but Barnabas declared to them two matters of vital importance: first, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, and, second, the conduct of Saul since his conversion. On the basis of this testimony, he was "with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem".

The practical application is very clear. Am I willing to encourage the spiritual progress of young believers? Are we too hasty at times, because of fear, to turn away those who could be of real value to the local assembly? The value of the encouragement and intercession of Barnabas on this occasion is immeasurable.

His encouragement of saints

In Acts 11 we read that the persecution at Jerusalem had led to Christians being scattered abroad. Some arrived at Antioch and began to fulfil the original commission and preach the gospel "unto the Grecians". The news of this development reached the church in Jerusalem and they were interested! What was happening? Was God really moving among the Gentiles? Their response was to send Barnabas. Why Barnabas? Possibly the main reason for sending Barnabas was that he was an encourager. He was just the man young believers and a young assembly needed.

Notice how Barnabas reacted to this young work. Was he critical of every way in which the church at Antioch did not yet replicate the church at Jerusalem? No. These men and women were saved straight out of heathendom! Teaching would be required. How did he react? Acts 11.23 states that "when he came, and had seen the grace of God, (he) was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord".

Consider his appreciation. He saw evidence of God at work and "was glad"! He rejoiced! Undoubtedly the new-born believers were not perfect, but God was blessing the Gentiles – what a joy it brought to this warm-hearted man. Then notice his exhortation. He "exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord". Barnabas recognised that the basic requirement in the believer’s life, the only thing that would keep these young believers and this young assembly afloat, was a close relationship with the Lord. What an encouragement it must have been to have Barnabas along to help! He did not continually find fault with their inadequacies, nor did he hinder their growth by placing impossible burdens upon them. He appreciated every sign of progress and encouraged them to deeper fellowship with the Lord.

Let us again apply this to ourselves. If the brethren who watch over me and care for me were to give me a name to suit my character, what would it be? Am I a source of joy, or grief? Do I encourage or discourage? May God grant me grace to be an encouragement to His people!

The Goodness He Demonstrated

Another aspect of Barnabas which is clearly recorded by the Spirit of God was his goodness. He is one of only two referred to personally in the New Testament as "a good man"! Acts 11.24 states that "he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith". The word rendered "good" means not only upright but beneficial. He was a man who sought the benefit of others. We can see evidences of this goodness in his generosity, humility, and integrity.

His generosity

In Acts 4.37 Barnabas, "Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet". He saw a need that he could meet, sold his earthly possessions (possibly land in Cyprus), and gave the proceeds to the Lord for the poor. What moved him to be so generous? He placed a higher value on spiritual riches than on material wealth.

His humility

The sad contrast to Barnabas is in Acts 5. Ananias and Sapphira sold a possession and "kept back part of the price", bringing upon themselves the summary judgment of God. Why was Barnabas commended while Ananias and Sapphira were condemned? Motive is the all-important matter in giving! Barnabas was not interested in reputation but in reality – Ananias was just the opposite!

The man who had no interest in reputation is here recorded eternally on the page of Scripture as a man of true generosity of spirit. He lost the value of a piece of land and what did he gain? Let us learn again the truth of Jim Elliot’s words: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose".

His integrity

Barnabas was honest. He was trustworthy. In fact, this quality resulted in his being entrusted with money. One of the greatest tests of a person is how they handle finance – especially that which does not belong to them. In Acts 11, the disciples at Antioch heard of a famine that was coming and was going to impact greatly on the poor believers at Jerusalem. They "determined to send relief" to their fellow Christians. This in itself was remarkable! That Gentiles would send relief to Jews was unheard of, and that Jews would accept help from Gentiles was a marvel! When the gift was collected together, the disciples at Antioch "sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul" (Acts 11.30).

Why was Barnabas chosen to accompany Paul on this mission? He had before proved that he was not a covetous man! We have noted already that he gave away his earthly goods in Acts 4. He was also dependable: he had carried out the work at Antioch in a way that would cause others to trust him. This trust was well-placed for, according to Acts 12.25, "they...fulfilled their ministry" and returned.

Every believer should be marked by absolute trustworthiness. We are instructed to "Lie not one to another" (Col 3.9), and to "speak every man truth with his neighbour" (Eph 4.25). The Scriptures also teach that people who are "fond of money" should not be overseeing the assembly (1 Tim 3.3, JND). May the Lord grant to each of us the generosity and integrity of Barnabas.

To be continued.

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