Who was Barnabas? We know so little about some of the early disciples and leaders in the early church apart from what has been handed down and is as much myth as it may be truth.
For example, most of the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus himself are never heard of again in the bible after they were first named as members of the twelve who were chosen to carry the gospel to the world. We know a bit about Peter, James, John and a few others, but the rest are a mystery.
Likewise we see Barnabas mentioned here and in a few other places but we know very little about him. Generally speaking we know of him mostly for the partnership he had with Paul. But what is often overlooked is that it was not Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles and the one who wrote much of the New Testament that was the initiator of that partnership. Instead it was Barnabas and in this section of scripture we see a little of who he was and what kind of man he was.
Defender of Saul
Barnabas was aware of who Saul was and what his background was in Judaism. He knew that Saul had been the great persecutor of the church.
But Barnabas was also aware of the conversion of Saul and the work that he had done immediately after his conversion in Damascus. Barnabas knew the worth and the depth of the understanding Saul/Paul had of the covenant for he knew how much Saul/Paul yearned for the fullness of God both when he was a Pharisee and more so as a convert to Christianity.
That is why Barnabas was able to stand as the defender of Saul when he first came back to Jerusalem. It was Barnabas who testified to the Christians in Jerusalem of the conversion of Saul and how,much he loved The Lord so that they accepted Saul into the church and he could freely move among those whom he had formerly persecuted.
A Good Man
Barnabas was clearly a man who was well respected and well though of by the leaders of the early church for them to listen to him and accept his,testimony concerning Saul. He was a man of knowledge when it came to the gospel and it is clear the disciples had great faith and trust in him.
We see also the generosity of Barnabas earlier as he brought the proceeds of a field that he owned and sold, bringing the money to the leaders in the early church and laying it at their feet to use for the benefit of the rest of the body. (Acts 4:36-37)
And what we see in this section of scripture is that Barnabas was described as being a good man. In verses 22-24 we see the trust invested in Barnabas by the early church as they sent him to Antioch to oversee the expanding church in that region. Note the words:
22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.
It was through the work of Barnabas that the church in Antioch grew, expanded and thrived. But he was also wise enough to know his limitations. Wit the expansion in the early church at Antioch, Barnabas recognised he could not do the work alone. This he exhorted them to remain strong in the faith while he went to find Saul/Paul to come to Antioch and assist in the preaching and teaching of the people.
Strength and Supporter
It was in this role of supporter of Paul that Barnabas is most remembered, although it was Barnabas who sought out Paul, not the other way around. And this seems to be the nature of Barnabas for even his name points to who he was.
Barnabas was not his given name as we see in Acts 4:36. His real name was Joseph, but he was called Barnabas by the early apostles in recognition of who he was.
The name Barnabas according to the scripture means, “son of encouragement.” In his role as the support for the early church and especially for Paul, it is possibly is encouragement and strength that carried them through. His ministry was not so much to be in the limelight as a preacher and teacher, but was apparently more a support role. He gave the early members encouragement, building them up when they were down, showing strength and being there for them when they needed help and support.
In my mind, and this is just an opinion, Barnabas filled the true role of a pastor of the flock. He cared for the flock of God like a shepherd cares for his sheep. He watched over them, guiding, strengthening, seeing to their hurts and issues, and ensuring they were fed the good spiritual food by getting Saul to teach and preach. And he supported Saul in the same way by backing up the ministry and working hand in hand with him.
And it was also in Antioch, the church that Barnabas was given the oversight of by the twelve in Jerusalem, where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Thus it could be argued that Barnabas was responsible in some small way for the naming of the followers of The Lord.
So too when we think of the heroes of the early church, we must not forget the tremendous work done by the unsung heroes like Barnabas. I am sure that many of the others of whom we know so little also played key roles, pivotal to the development of the early church for they too must have supported and strengthened the church in ways that were not so obvious as the preaching of Peter, Paul, John, James and so on. But without those supporters, the faith as we know it would not have grown to where it is today.
(Image sourced from stock.xchng supplied by Chris Baker)
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