Barnabas

Derek Cooper

 

I want us to consider Barnabas this afternoon. There is, of course, a lot that could be said about Barnabas and what we talk about this afternoon has to be selective. I have chosen 6 aspects of Barnabas and his character, so I will split this talk into 6 main sections.

But first of all, we'll just start with brief basic introductory details. Barnabas's real name was Joseph; Barnabas was a nickname- we will talk about that in a minute. Barnabas was Jewish by race, in fact he was a Levite, he came from the island of Cyprus , though he seems to be living in Jerusalem at the time when we first read of him. We know nothing of his family except that he had a sister, she had a son- who was therefore Barnabas's nephew- and he was called John Mark [Col 4:10].

 

Acts 4:34-37

"Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it , and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet."

We first come across Barnabas during those exciting early days of the church. Not long after the Lord Jesus died and rose again from the dead, and the disciples were empowered on the Day of Pentecost- perhaps Barnabas was there on that day- for a time after that there was this period of sharing. The rich sold possessions to support the poor, and here we find Barnabas mentioned as selling a field, and giving the money to the apostles for the distribution. He wasn't alone in this generosity; he was one of many that did this. Now, this is not a point I want to major on this afternoon, but we SHOULD note his example of generosity to the Lord and his people.

Barnabas- the Son of Encouragement

As we said, his real name was Joseph. Barnabas was his nickname. The apostles noted him, and he had so impressed them that they gave him the nickname of Barnabas. Barnabas is, I suppose, a Hebrew word, but because the reason for the apostles giving him this name was important, the Holy Spirit saw fit to translate it- the meaning of the name Barnabas is added in Scripture. Different English translations give a different emphasis- I have seen "Son of Consolation", "Son of Encouragement", "Son of Exhortation", "Son of Comfort". The Greek word translated "consolation", "encouragement", "exhortation", "comfort" means literally "a calling alongside to help", and these different emphases are all contained within the word.

The Word used for the Holy Spirit as a Comforter [parakletos] comes from the same stem- in fact, it is virtually the same word.

 

1. Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement

We will take Barnabas as the Son of Encouragement [and this is my 1 st section: Barnabas- the son of encouragement]. In order for him to be given a name like this by the apostles and a name that stuck, he really must have impressed them by the encouragement and help that he gave, and he must have impressed them over a period of time. He must have spent some time with the apostles, actively encouraging the believers.

It is perhaps easy to forget that the events recorded in the first few chapters of the Acts are events that happened within a very short time of the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus.

The believers in Jerusalem had had traumatic times, to say that they had had their discouragements is to put it mildly. Their world was turned upside-down - in fact, a disaster (it seemed) at that Passover time when their Lord and Master, the one they were expecting to be their king, and presumably therefore that they were trusting to lead them to the defeat of the Romans and recovery of the kingdom- HE had been taken and executed by the joining together of the religious and political rulers, normally enemies, but joining together in opposition to God. Then, even after they realized the wonderful truth that the Lord Jesus had risen from the dead, they still lived in fear of the hostile authorities. But they had a man of encouragement among them.

How valuable that is. Someone to turn their thoughts away from the difficulties and problems of the way, and point them to the Lord himself- to remind them of who He is, the greatness of His person, and what He has done, and to point them also to the blessing of their relationship with Him. Barnabas was such a man. And he had clearly been encouraging them for sufficient time and with sufficient power that the apostles themselves could call him "son of encouragement".

As we look at Barnabas further we will see examples of his providing encouragement to others.

Let's think about today for a moment. In many ways, THESE are discouraging times for believers. The church is fragmented, and seems to be fragmenting further, the attention of unbelievers is towards things of this life, their work perhaps, or more often towards being entertained, interest in Christianity in this country seems to be at an all time low, gospel work (including with children) seems to be getting harder. There is much to discourage. In days of discouragement, we need follow the example of Barnabas, we need to encourage one another with an encouragement that is centred on the Lord- the one who is coming soon to take us to be with Him.

 

2. Barnabas- the risk taker

We read of him next in Acts 9 in connection with Saul. Saul was a highly educated, strict and very zealous Pharisee with a certainty of the rightness of his beliefs. He was absolutely sure that the new Christian religion was completely wrong, those who followed this teacher called Jesus were following a false Messiah. They were abandoning the faith of their fathers, were heretics and should be eliminated. And being a man of action, Saul decided to deal with the problem himself. He participated in the murder of Stephen in Acts chapter 7, then got together a band of like-minded thugs and attacked the Christians with the full force of his misplaced zeal. He "made havoc of the church" (Acts 8:3). Saul seems to have been based at Jerusalem and many of the Jerusalem Christians fled, taking the word of God with them- so helping the spread of the truth, of course.

I can only conclude that Saul considered that he had made such a good job of dealing with Jerusalem Christians that he would spread his net wider. I don't know why he chose Damascus , it was quite a long way and it was outside of Israel . It may have been, in fact, that that WAS the point, perhaps he was proving that he could strike at Christians outside the confines of historic Israel , that fleeing believers shouldn't consider themselves safe- even outside of the country. Anyway, Damascus it was, and so he obtained letters from the chief priests to the synagogues in Damascus so that they might know that he had official backing in dealing with this error in the harshest possible way.

We all know, of course, the way that the Lord Jesus spoke to him on the Damascus road and temporarily blinded him. We know of Ananias's reluctance to go and see Saul when God told him to- because Saul's reputation had preceded him. We know also that Saul was truly saved and, it would seem, after witnessing in Damascus , spending time in Arabia , returning to Damascus , Saul then went to Jerusalem . Of course, his one wish was to find the believers. The trouble was that is exactly what they thought he would try to do.

Acts 9:26-28

"And when Saul was come to Jerusalem , he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. 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 ."

It is easy to imagine. The Jerusalem believers hear that Saul, the one who had caused such havoc among them, who had caused them so much suffering, they hear that he is back in town, and is claiming now to be one of THEM. They just did not believe him.

No, there is no way that any of us want to meet him. There is no way we are going to let him discover who we all are, and where we meet together. He may SAY that he is a believer, but how do we know that it is not a trick.

The scriptures say that they did not believe that he was converted; they did not believe that he was saved. The assembly leaders, the apostles and James the Lord's brother- they all, it would seem, reacted in the same way- they did not believe that Saul was saved, and they were not prepared to risk their lives in checking it out. It was much safer to keep him at arm's length.

It is to Barnabas's enormous credit that he wasn't willing to let this situation go on. He was willing to go and meet a man who had been an enemy of Christ, a hater of believers, who had probably killed or imprisoned many of his, Barnabas's, family and friends, who had disturbed the whole lifestyle of the assembly. How did he know that Saul's claim wasn't just part of a trap? How did he know that Saul and his mob wouldn't take him and kill him? I think it unlikely that he had different information about Saul than Peter and the rest had, but HE would take the risk. He was willing to go to Saul, put aside his prejudices and find out where he really stood at that time. And he was willing to be convinced. His mind wasn't closed.

He had so much of a heart for other believers that he wanted them all to be one, to be united, to be together. He may have perceived that if Saul were truly converted then with all the energy and zeal that he showed, there was a real danger (if he were not accepted) of there becoming, in practice, 2 separate fellowships. We know, of course, that the church has since then fragmented, but we see Barnabas here right near the beginning taking very real risks, he is prepared to face real personal danger, danger that others with greater status and authority than he had weren't willing to face, he would do this in order to bring Saul in and so maintain the unity of God's people.

I would like to make an application from this. We know that sometimes, sadly, it is necessary for there to be separation from other believers. God's word is very clear about that. But let's make sure that we separate from others only when it is scripturally essential, and that we have an ATTITUDE that is similar to Barnabas's here, an attitude that does all it possibly can (scripturally) to maintain the unity of God's people. Although in Barnabas and Saul's case it was an issue of drawing another believer in (rather than of separation) the general principle is the same.

 

3. Barnabas - the one to be trusted

Let's move on a little while. Saul has gone from Jerusalem , and as Christian believers moved around and witnessed for the Lord, so the church grew - the scriptures mention that to begin with they were witnessing to their fellow Jews only. But at Antioch , a place now in southern Turkey - a big city near to the Syrian border - the believers began witnessing to Greeks.

Acts 11:19-24

"Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus , and Antioch , preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene , which, when they were come to Antioch , spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem : and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch . Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord."

Many of the Greeks were turning to the Lord. The assembly at Jerusalem heard about it. Now, what were they to make of it? The Jews knew that they were a special people. They knew that God has specially chosen them, and they had become proud of their status- they had some difficulty in realizing that God could accept people from other nations too - on the simple basis of faith.

Peter himself clearly HAD had problems with this. But he had learnt from the incident with Cornelius in chapter 10 and the vision that God had given him just before the visitors sent by Cornelius came to the door- he had learnt that God was no respecter of persons, and that people from any nation were acceptable to Him. But there were many at Jerusalem who had real difficulty with this. I can imagine that the Jerusalem Christians felt that the news from Antioch was exciting, but it was also somewhat alarming. How should they react - was the Lord really saving Gentiles in great numbers? If so, what sort of guidance should they give them?

The issue was crucially important, so the leaders of the assembly at Jerusalem chose someone to investigate, someone they could as a group trust. Of all those believers in Jerusalem , they didn't choose 1 of the 12, they didn't choose one of the 7 deacons- who were appointed a little earlier, as we see in chapter 6. They didn't choose any of them- they chose Barnabas.

This speaks volumes for Barnabas, doesn't it?

Clearly his beliefs were in accord with theirs - he believed what they believed, or they wouldn't have chosen him. Later incidents show the real concerns that were felt by the Jerusalem believers about Gentiles being added to the assembly and I am sure that Barnabas would have shared these concerns, or they wouldn't have chosen him for this sensitive role. Clearly he was a man that they as a group could trust. They knew that he would make a thorough and objective assessment of the situation, that he would not distort the facts to suit his preconceived notions, they knew he would not tell only half the story.

Barnabas went to Antioch and Barnabas listened, and Barnabas was willing to be persuaded. The natural tendency of the Jews was to be opposed to contact with Gentile dogs, but Barnabas listened, weighed up the evidence before the Lord (no doubt) and was persuaded. And I want us to think about this. Sadly, as we all know, difficulties arise among believers today, and sometimes there are matters that need to be looked into. Are the rumours about a particular situation true? Are the stories about a particular person correct? We should be ready to approach such situations willing to observe, willing to listen to all sides, willing to put aside OUR prejudices and to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

Of course generally speaking, being consistent is a very good thing, but it is not a very good thing if it makes me stubborn and unwilling to really listen to another's understanding and to consider issues openly before the Lord - being ready to have a change of mind if necessary. I am sure that none of us likes to be wrong, none of us likes to be seen to be wrong, and it is easy to get entrenched in a position. Is it possible that sometimes we don't want to admit that maybe we got it wrong, just maybe we aren't actually as right as we would like to appear.

If it is necessary to look at a difficult situation let's make sure that we base our opinion on the situation, not on our preconceived notions or what we hear from others. Sometimes what we are told can be simply wrong, sometimes it is distorted because it is based on selected facts. Let's be honest about difficult situations, let's look for and give as COMPLETE a picture as we can, not a distorted view.

Barnabas stayed at Antioch for some time, saw what was happening, investigated thoroughly, was delighted to see what the Lord was doing, and he encouraged these new believers to cling to the Lord.

He was able and willing to put aside his prejudices- which other Jewish Christians found so difficult (as we see later on- in Acts 15, for example).

 

4. Barnabas - recognising and encouraging potential in others

 

Acts 11:25-26

"Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus , for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch . And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch . "

We've thought of

 

In verse 25 we see another quality in him. He recognized and encouraged the potential of others. He had introduced Saul to the suspicious believers at Jerusalem , he had watched him and he assessed him, and he realized that here was a man with enormous potential in service for the Lord. And it was Barnabas who takes the trouble to go and search for him, so that he could be used to the full.

It is important, isn't it, that we have a recognition of our gifts and make sure that we use them. Surely, it is not honouring to Christ for any of us to be so humble that we are unwilling to recognize gift in ourselves - that is a false humility - the Lord has given to all as he wishes, though sometimes we may need a Barnabas to encourage us and to point the way forward, and so help the use of our gifts.

Barnabas did this for Saul. Saul had gone back to Tarsus , he had returned to his home town. Perhaps he had gone home specifically to witness to his own family and old friends, but now Barnabas could see a need and he recognized the man who could fill it. He personally went to find him and brought him back to Antioch . Back at Antioch they met for a year with the assembly and used their teaching gifts for the benefit of those who met there.

We see once again, in verse 30, that Barnabas becomes a trusted representative of the assembly - this goes back to our last point. Although not FROM Antioch - really only visitors to the city, he and Saul are so trusted that they are chosen by the saints at Antioch to send economic relief to the assemblies in Judea .

Let's move on to chapter 13.

Acts 13:1-3

 

"Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away."

As these brothers served the Lord and fasted the Holy Spirit spoke to them. Here I just want to briefly note 2 things in passing. Firstly, that they were getting on with their business for the Lord when he speaks to them. And secondly, that they were so in touch with the Lord that he COULD speak to them. If we feel that the Lord doesn't speak to us as much as we would like, perhaps we should consider the example of these men here at Antioch .

 

Barnabas- handing over responsibility

Here in chapter 13 the Holy Spirit sets aside Barnabas and Saul for his work, and they begin their missionary journey. I don't intend talking much about their journey together, but I want us to notice this:

Acts 13: 2, 7, 13, 43

"As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them."

"Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God."

"Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem ."

"Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God."

It is "Barnabas and Saul" who are set aside for this work. It is "Barnabas and Saul" who visit Sergius Paulus the ruler at Paphos on Cyprus , but after that the scriptural record changes- we no longer read of "Barnabas and Saul", we read of "Paul and Barnabas".

Saul becomes Paul, but not only does Saul have a name change, the missionaries have a change of leadership. Barnabas was no longer the main character, he handed over to Paul.

And so this is my 5th section:

 

5. Barnabas - handing over responsibility

We have already talked about the way he could see potential in young Saul, now he sees this potential come to fruition- he could see the way that the Lord was using Paul- and he, Barnabas, takes the back seat. I am sure that there was no resentment there at all. I am sure that he encouraged Paul to take the leadership. The Son of Encouragement was again practically encouraging the younger man to fulfill his potential for the Lord.

An obvious, but important, lesson for us to always bear in mind as we work for the Lord is this- that it IS work for the Lord. It should never be an ego trip for ourselves. We are not here to make a name for ourselves - even in the good things we do - it's the Lord's work, to be done for his glory.

We come on now to a couple of serious mistakes that he made, and this is my sixth section:

 

6. Barnabas - his mistakes

Acts 15:36-40

"And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus ; and Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God."

The first concerned his nephew, John Mark. Mark had accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey, but had left them early on and returned to Jerusalem . Some time after the journey was finished, and Paul and Barnabas had returned to Antioch , Paul suggested that they re-visit those places that they had been to on their journey. Barnabas was keen to take Mark along. In fact, the scriptures say that "he was determined to" do so. Paul thought it unwise because of his previous experiences with Mark. Neither was willing to give way, and Barnabas left the work in Antioch and went off with Mark to Cyprus . We read no more of him in the Acts or of his activities.

No doubt Barnabas thought that although Mark had made a serious mistake when he deserted them at Perga, he had matured and could be trusted this time. I'm sure that he believed that the proposed visits would be good for Mark and his spiritual development- I am sure that he wanted to encourage the lad.

One of the saddest things about this is that Barnabas was not willing to give way on this. It is difficult to see how they could have gone ahead through the difficult and dangerous situations that would face them, with someone that Paul was not comfortable working with. And there comes through here, even in someone like Barnabas who showed such discretion and wisdom at other times, there comes through a stubbornness which was damaging to his effectiveness in the Lord's work. The Lord's work continued, of course - Silas was chosen to accompany Paul, but Barnabas missed out. A stubbornness, an unwillingness to give way to others on non - fundamental matters is sadly a very common characteristic, not only in the world, but among believers too.

Gal 2:11-14

"But when Peter was come to Antioch , I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?"

The second mistake of Barnabas that we read about has a sort of opposite character to the first. In this case he gave way on something that WAS fundamental.

Many Jewish believers had problems giving up their ingrained Jewish view of Gentiles, even Gentile believers. We mentioned before that the Lord had given Peter a lesson on this just before he visited Cornelius, and Peter had come to understand that Jews and Gentiles were one in Christ, that Gentiles were not unclean. So when Peter left Jerusalem and visited Gentile believers in Antioch he had no problem eating with them and treating them as equals.

But when some other Jews came from Jerusalem , Jews who didn't have the same understanding that Peter had, when they came, rather than resisting their views and standing up to them, Peter stopped eating with the Gentile believers and withdrew from close contact with them. Paul writes to the Galatians that "even Barnabas" (as though he's surprised by it), even Barnabas went along with Peter in this hypocrisy.

Here the issue WAS fundamental - and on this point Barnabas gave way. Paul when he realized what was happening publicly rebuked Peter. As we have just seen, when discussing taking John Mark with them Barnabas refused to give way on something non - fundamental, but here he does give way - but on something that was fundamental.

The issue of agreeing together with other believers is one of the most difficult we face. When should I insist on what I believe to be right, and when should I give way to others who believe something different to be right? Most of the disagreements and divisions among Christians have something of this in them.

The question of making a stand on some issues and giving way on others is a difficult one and requires much prayer. To a large extent it is a question of correctly judging what is fundamental and what isn't, and that can only be done quietly before the Lord with His word.

I've got another scripture to mention.

1 Cor 9:5-6

"Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?"

I find it interesting that Paul should mention Barnabas here. There is no evidence from scripture that Barnabas had been anywhere near Corinth . Paul and Barnabas's missionary journey that they made together was to areas of what is now Turkey . Corinth was in Greece . Paul's first visit to Corinth was during his second journey, made with Silas. Paul's Corinthian letter was written some time after that. Why does he mention Barnabas? Presumably the Corinthians believers had heard of Barnabas, they knew about him, or the passing reference to Barnabas wouldn't have made much sense to them. How did they know of Barnabas? In spite of their big "bustup", at the very least I assume that Paul must have talked positively about Barnabas when he was at Corinth , and told the Corinthians of the work that they had done together.

Bit I'd like to take this a bit further. The mention is of him and Barnabas both being people who worked for their living while serving the Lord. It's written as though this was the way that Barnabas CONTINUED to serve the Lord, even though no longer with Paul.

So, it seems likely to me that Barnabas and Paul were still in contact, with Barnabas continuing his service for the Lord - in Cyprus or elsewhere. I find it difficult to believe that they did not sort out their difficulties together - but apart from speculating from this scripture, there is no evidence that they did.

I would just like to take the opportunity to remind ourselves of the main points I have been making from the life of Barnabas.

•  Firstly, Barnabas was the son of encouragement who encouraged the believers during very difficult times, a very valuable service.

•  We then saw that he was willing to risk his life to bring Saul to the frightened assembly in Jerusalem- something no-one else was willing to do; he did it to bring believers together.

•  Thirdly we noted Barnabas as one who could be trusted by the saints- particularly to investigate the difficult and sensitive issue of the bringing of Gentiles into the church.

•  Then we noticed how Barnabas recognized and encouraged the potential in others- he saw a need in Antioch , he had seen Saul's gifts and he went many miles to get Saul so that he could do a work in Antioch for the Lord for the benefit of the saints there.

•  Fifthly, and following on from there, we see how on their missionary journey together Barnabas soon takes the back seat and allows (I'm sure encourages) Paul to take on the leadership.

•  We then looked at a couple of mistakes that Barnabas made- firstly he tried to insist on his way when he shouldn't have done, but gave way on a fundamental issue on another occasion.

In spite of these mistakes, there is so much that is positive in Barnabas that we would do well to think about and emulate.

Here's a scripture that gives us a clue to his effectiveness for the Lord:

Acts 11:24

"For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith"

He was a good man- that is: he was upright, honest, honourable, without unjudged sin in his life. God Himself is described by the Lord Jesus as good (using exactly the same Greek word), and for a man to be described in the Scriptures as good is a very great honour- the only other person in the New Testament given this designation, I believe, besides Barnabas, is Joseph of Arimathea.

He was full of the Holy Spirit. We know that all believers have God the Holy Spirit living in them, but we cannot assume that all Christians at all times are full of the Holy Spirit. When the 7 deacons were chosen in Acts 6 the Apostles said that those selected had to be full of the Holy Spirit- it was one of the criteria for selection. Twice Stephen is described as being full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5; 7:55 ). In Ephesians 5 we are exhorted to be full of the Holy Spirit- this filling is contrasted with being drunk. We should not suppose, as many seem to believe today, that being filled with the Holy Spirit is a one-off one-time process. It is surely something that needs to be maintained through a close relationship with the Lord- where the Spirit is not grieved or quenched.

Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. He was full of faith. He had a real day to day practical dependence on the Lord whom he knew he could trust. He was full of faith - he could and did lean on the Lord.

 

 

 

 

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