subtitle: little HEROES of the faith (part 3)
Here are some observations from the life of the underrated Barnabas.
Barnabas is a relentless encourager.
Verse 23 of chapter 11 says,
When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.
Barnabas was looking for grace because that's what encouragers do. He was interested in looking for the good and then encouraging that. Maybe there was nothing negative to report, we don't know. All we do know is that Barnabas saw the good, affirmed it and encouraged it. Have you ever had someone look deep inside you and find grace, even when you were feeling at your worst?
Encouragement is a lost art today. It takes so much more effort to be an encourager than a discourager. I find it interesting that the word "courage" makes up most of these words. En-couragers help people to do more than they even think they can. Dis-couragers find fault and push people back into their shell.
Barnabas is radically generous.
Acts 4 ends with an amazing passage about how the first century church was living in a radical state of community, something all of us long for. And it is Barnabas' gift where he sells his field and lays the money at the apostle's fee that seems to spark something. It was significant enough that people wanted to copy it (see Acts 5-Ananias and Saphira). It seems that this act marked the church and it marked Barnabas as well. Sometimes it takes us selling the field in order for us to convince ourselves that we truly believe. And the overflow of that act is courage on display for the rest of the community.
Barnabas finds the good in people.
In chapter 9, Paul, who was known as the executioner to the early church has a vision of Jesus and turns not only to him for salvation, but begins to preach as well. Imagine Osama Bin Laden coming through the doors of the church after finding Jesus and ready to preach. It says that the disciples were afraid of him but Barnabas was willing to take the risk. Why? Because the son of encouragement had the eyes of grace to believe in him.What would have happened to Paul had Barnabas not argued on his behalf? Thank goodness, we'll never know.
Barnabas sticks with someone through thick and thin.
In Acts 15, Paul was upset with Mark (the gospel writer) apparently because he deserted them earlier. Paul decided not to include Mark in his entourage. Barnabas disagreed. In fact, he was so adamant about it that they parted company. Now the good news is that this turned out to multiply their efforts, not divide them. But Barnabas stuck with Mark, even though he messed up. Barnabas is not afraid of sticking with people even when they are in the middle of some messy situation, even when others have written them off.
Now for Paul Harvey's "the rest of the story"- In Paul's second letter to Timothy chapter 4, he writes, "Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry." Nice.
Barnabas is content with being second.
When Barnabas went to Antioch to check in on them, he could have snatched the headlines for himself. It said during his visit, a great number of people came to faith. He could have set up his website barnabasrocks.com, sold some books and possibly retired early. But was does the simpleton do? He heads out to Tarsus to find Paul and he brings him to Antioch. And I love the way John Piper puts it "With this strategic investment in Saul's life and career, Barnabas secured forever his secondary status in church history."
In fact up to this point in Acts, they had always been referred to as Barnabas and Saul, but shortly after this story, they would be referred to as Paul and Barnabas. And for Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, this was fine. He was simply following the Leader as Jesus let go of his entitlements (see Phil 2) in order to fulfill his destiny. We're not taught that second is best. Robin doesn't get the press that Batman does. And Barnabas settles for a footnote instead of a headline. In our culture that is searching for meaning, sometimes we get caught up in the journey to find significance. Rather than finding this in the hiddenness of Jesus, we look for it in the self-help section. We need to have permission in America to be content with living in the shadows. A first fiddle would not sound half as good without the second fiddle. Contentment lies in surrender which Barnabas found when he gave all that he had.
Imagine a church who had real compassion for outsiders. A generous church who help the causes that are close to God's heart. A church where people could come and know that even at their worst, they will be loved. And imagine a people who put others ahead of themselves even if it cost them money or fame or power.
Paul and his combative style grabs the headlines of the church (and we need to learn from Paul), but let's also leave some shelf space for Barnabas the son of Encouragement.