Saturday, March 10, 2012

Barnabas – a model Christian

By Colleen Podmore

Barnabas was a man of God and a servant of God. The people of Israel called the prophets ‘men of God’ and God called His prophets ‘servants’. Barnabas was a prophet. He was humble, like Moses, the epitome of all prophets. Barnabas served God, along with Paul to bring the light of the gospel to the Gentiles. Although overshadowed somewhat by Paul and the lasting legacy of his letters to early churches, nevertheless, Barnabas is still venerated today in his home country of Cyprus.

Barnabas was called Joseph before the apostles changed his name after the generous gift he gave the church (Acts 4:36) and although Barnabas can also mean ‘son of prophecy’, the meaning given for the name was ‘son of encouragement or exhortation’. He was a Levite from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus who owned a field. Levites did not own land but however he came to be the owner, it was clear through his actions, of his commitment to the new move of God in the city of Jerusalem.

Barnabas, as a Levite, had intimate knowledge of the sacrificial cult. Perhaps he had served in the Temple or had trained there, as Paul had under Gamaliel (Acts 5:34; 22:3), who was a respected and venerated teacher, a Pharisee. While Paul learned about the Law, Barnabas was involved in Temple sacrifice and worship. There are various gospels attributed to him, but they lack authenticity. Barnabas may have written the letter to the Hebrews. Typical of this man of God who did not draw attention to himself, the letter addressed to the Hebrews, is anonymous. Like Paul, the author of Hebrews did not know the Lord Jesus first-hand (Heb 2:3). He received the message through those who had been with Jesus and believed what they said regarding His resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:24) – perhaps he was one of the converts on the Day of Pentecost when 3 000 were added to the church (Acts 2:41). Once again his personal testimony is unknown, just like countless believers down through the ages and even to us today. At the end of the day, it matters not how we start our journey of faith, but how we end it! The author of Hebrews has a lot to say about staying faithful to the end and not shrinking back (Heb 10:38), typical of Barnabas, the son of encouragement and exhortation!

Barnabas is perhaps best known as the companion of Paul. However, it wasn’t always like that. After Paul’s spectacular conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), it was difficult for the disciples to accept Paul because of his reputation for persecuting the church (Acts 8:1; 9:1). I wonder how much impact the martyrdom of Stephen had on Paul? Praise God that not one Believer dies in vain for the sake of the gospel!

Barnabas was not afraid of Paul. He knew a true convert to Jesus Christ. He believed in forgiveness for past sins. He believed in new beginnings for past persecutors, so he took Paul personally to the Apostles (Acts 9:27), but before long Paul was in trouble again – this time with the Grecian Jews and Paul had to return to his hometown of Tarsus for a time (Acts 9:30).

The Bible says that Barnabas was a ‘good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith’ (Acts 11:24). He was the one who was trusted by the Apostles and the church in Jerusalem when news came that something was happening in Antioch. They sent Barnabas to bring them an accurate and reliable report. Barnabas, the encourager immediately discerned the grace of God amongst the Believers at Antioch, which was both physically distant from the Jerusalem church and culturally distant with its Jewish roots, while the church at Antioch was mainly Gentile converts. God was in the process of grafting in the Gentiles to Hi Household, fulfilling His ancient promise to bless all Nations (Romans 11:17), ‘making one group out of two, destroying the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, thus making peace, reconciling them to God through the cross by which He put to death their hostility’. Amen! (Eph 2:14-20). Furthermore Paul says elsewhere – there is ‘neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3:28)

It was Barnabas who brought Paul (still called Saul) to Antioch (Acts 11:25) to help with the work of making disciples. He had to go and find him in Tarsus. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians that he was in Syria and Cilicia (Gal 1:20). His home town of Tarsus was in Cilicia and Antioch was near Syria. From the time of his conversion in AD35, he had been learning and growing in faith, converting, discipling and teaching others. Now, 8 years later (AD 43), he returns to Antioch with Barnabas to work in the church, ‘teaching great numbers of people’(Acts 11:26) for a whole year. During this time they also took a gift of money to the church in Judea. Interestingly, in describing the duo at this stage, Luke still places Barnabas first perhaps indicating his level of importance and seniority. Paul is still known as Saul although the later exclusive use of his Greek name Paul could be a reflection of his exclusive Gentile ministry in his later years. He may have been known by both names. When they returned from Jerusalem, they brought back with them John, also called Mark (Acts 12:25) around AD44.

On returning to Antioch, while they were fasting and praying, the Holy Spirit anointed Barnabas and Paul for a specific task and they were sent off as apostles, as messengers, as missionaries of the word of God. They first went to Cyprus, the homeland of Barnabas. During this journey, Paul became known as Paul and after the confrontation with the Jewish sorcerer and false prophet Bar-Jesus, Paul became the leader of the expedition (Acts 13:13). Paul was the one gifted in evangelism, preaching and teaching tirelessly (Acts 14:12). The duo was now referred to as Paul and Barnabas by the author of Acts, the doctor Luke who was a later companion of Paul. They travelled throughout the region of modern day Turkey as far as Derbe, then retraced their footsteps, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith (Acts14:22).

Did Barnabas feel threatened by Paul, was he jealous of his companions spiritual gifting? No I don’t think so, he was an encourager and would have been a supporter of anyone who was promoting the faith, but they did have a falling out over the inclusion of the young man John Mark in their next missionary journey. Unfortunately or perhaps providentially, Barnabas and Paul separated after 6 years in AD49. Even though John Mark had let them down and deserted them , Barnabas wanted to give him a second chance (Acts 1537), but Paul would not. Both Paul and Barnabas continued in the work (Paul refers to Barnabas in his first letter to the Corinthians (AD55),that Barnabas is still working -1Cor 9:6). From now on we follow the work of Paul. Perhaps because Luke was Paul’s companion and not Barnabas’ or perhaps that is what the Holy Spirit wanted recorded.

Nevertheless Barnabas’s confidence in John Mark was not in vain or perhaps because of his confidence. John Mark vindicated his trust. Paul has a good word to say about him (2Tim 4:11 – AD60) and Mark became associated with the Apostle Peter (1Peter 5:13). In addition it is surmised that Mark may be the cousin of Barnabas because of a reference in Colossians 4:10. Mark also wrote the memoirs of Peter of the words and works of the Lord Jesus Christ, the gospel of Mark. Maybe dictated or maybe written down and compiled by Mark as Peter preached and taught. He was probably the same young man in the garden on the night Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:51,52) a curious reference!

It cannot be overstated, the powerful influence of Barnabas in the early days of the church. This man of God, of integrity of faith and his influence in the lives of the servants of God; two of whom we know about through the Scriptures. Paul and John Mark were strategic in God’s plan for the spread of the gospel. Barnabas’s pivotal role in providing support, encouragement and unconditional positive regard to his fellow believers cannot be disregarded. He stands for all eternity as a model Christian. Let us find Paul’s, John Mark’s, brothers and sisters in the faith and encourage them, help them, give them second chances so that their potential in Christ might be fully realised.

Study bible NIV
Bible Dictionary
‘Barnabas – a model for Barnabas Fund’. From the ‘Barnabasaid’ Jan/Feb 2012 magazine

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