Segments of Christian Testimony
Fridays we will take a look at various men and women who have been used by God to shape Christian thought, theology, and teachings. These men and women have had a major impact on Christianity. Here we will attempt to honor them. We hope to expose you to leading Church Fathers, martyrs, pioneers, pastors and teachers of both the past and present.
Barnabas – The Son of Consolation
I think it is only fitting that we begin with Barnabas. Many might suggest we begin with Jesus or one of the disciples. Some might argue that we should begin somewhere in the Old Testament, perhaps with Moses or Adam, or even Abraham. I want to begin here.
Barnabas is the first intimate companion and friend recorded in Scripture of the Apostle Paul. The Holy Spirit did not reveal to us who now read the Bible of any other individual who impacted Paul as Barnabas did.
Paul and Barnabas may have known each other prior to either one of them having become Christians. Barnabas was from Cyprus and Paul was from Cilicia. These two provinces were very close to each other and there was a great deal of commercial trade between these two regions. Secondly, both Paul and Barnabas were of descents of Israel. Living close by and with the habits of the “elite” seeking one another out, it is possible that they had previously met.
There are only a few short references in the New Testament to Barnabas which enables us to form a short biographical snapshot of this wonderful man. It is interesting to note as Howson did, that at least two of these references exhibit his strengths and at least two of these passages exhibit his weaknesses.
First, Barnabas seemed to be a generous man. Acts 4:36-37 records,
“Thus Joseph, who was also called Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
It may have been this generous spirit that led Barnabas to give of himself in such a manner as to become known as one who always encourages others.
Second, Barnabas was a peace-maker. (Acts 9) When Paul wanted to come and fellowship with believers in Jerusalem after his conversion, the disciples were afraid of him and rejected him. After all, it was just a short while ago that he had been arresting and persecuting believers. Barnabas brought Paul to the apostles and explained that Paul had been converted and was now preaching the gospel that he had been destroying. This introduction and testimony allowed Paul to fellowship with the believers in the city of Jerusalem.
This was a tremendous event in the life of the fledgling church. Not only would Paul have suffered spiritually but it could have done great harm to the church by allowing a division or separation to exist.
Third, Barnabas was wise. News came to the church at Jerusalem that the gospel had been preached, with great success, to the gentiles in northern Syria, particularly in Antioch. The leadership in Jerusalem chose Barnabas as the best man to go to Antioch and see what was up. Upon arrival and inspection Barnabas saw the extension of the grace of God and he was very happy. Again, division or schism was avoided and the Gentiles were considered part of this new movement of the gospel.
Barnabas searched for Paul, found him, and brought him to Antioch. There Paul stayed and ministered to the church for a year or so. Remember it was in this church at Antioch that the adherent of Christ came to be known as “Christians.” This term was given to them by the Romans as a term of insult for their “devotion” to the crucified man named Chrestus (Latin) Christos (Greek).
Fourth, Barnabas was stubborn. You remember from Acts 13, that Paul and Barnabas had been specially commissioned and sent on what we now call the first missionary journey? This trip was marred by the fact that John Mark, Barnabas’s cousin quit the enterprise and returned home. This stuck with Paul for quite some time. When the time came to make a second trip and check up on the churches, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark again. Paul said no. In essence, Paul thought, he quit once, he will quit again. Two old friends, still human and in the flesh, stubborn and steadfast in their own positions broke up the party and went separate ways.
Many think this a positive thing. Baptists like to joke about it as it describes the means to their church planting pattern: church splits. Others see two groups now preaching the gospel. I think it was tragic and wrong. I do think God overruled these two stubborn men and His will was worked out perfectly. I think it was wrong for four reasons:
- John Mark was denied an opportunity of proving himself changed to the man he had offended. (He did prove himself to Peter and eventually to Paul)
- Paul robbed himself of an opportunity to forgive, and gently disciple this young man in a tremendous helper.
- It brought shame and disgrace (however short-lived and overruled by God for His glory) upon the unity of Christianity
- Barnabas sails to Cyprus and out of the New Testament. We never hear about Barnabas again.
Fifth, Barnabas was weak. (Galatians 2) Now, don’t get huffy, we are all weak as long as we are in this flesh. Thank God the Holy Spirit included the strengths and weaknesses of men like Paul and Barnabas or we would think that Godly men and women were superhuman.
Paul met up with Barnabas once again in Antioch. While there Peter came down from Jerusalem to check out what was going on. At lunch one day Paul, Peter, Barnabas, and some Jews were eating with some Gentile church members when some men from the Jerusalem church showed up. Peter, forgetting the work accomplished by Christ reverted back to his Jewish teaching and jumped up and distanced himself from the Gentiles. This led to others including dear Barnabas to do the same. This would have created a division and schism in the church. Paul immediately took charge and rebuked Peter and Barnabas for such hypocritical and cowardly behavior.
Regardless of Barnabas strengths and his faults he was a tremendous man and great influence in the life of the Apostle Paul. Barnabas was a sinner saved by grace.
He was generous and he attempted to increase the happiness and comfort of all those around him. He established a friendship with a notorious persecutor of Gods’ people and wisely recognized in him the work of God. Barnabas was truly the Son of Comfort.
Acts 4:36-37; 11:39; 22:3
Acts 9:1-2, 22:4
Acts 11:22, 26, 30; 13:4, 13, 14:12, 15; 15:31; 36-40
I Corinthians 13:6
I Timothy 5:8
II Timothy 4:11
I Corinthians 10:33