Tag Archives: Barnabas

THE BOOK OF ACTS – QUITTER CUM HELPFUL

QUITTER CUM HELPFUL

“A few days after this, Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let’s go back and visit all our friends in each of the towns where we preached the Word of God. Let’s see how they’re doing.’

“Barnabas wanted to take John along, the John nicknamed Mark. But Paul wouldn’t have him; he wasn’t about to take along a quitter who, as soon as the going got tough, had jumped ship on them in Pamphylia. Tempers flared, and they ended up going their separate ways. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus. Paul chose Silas and, offered up by their friends to the grace of the Master, went to Syria and Cilicia to build up muscle and sinew in those congregations.” Acts 15:36-41 (The Message).

What a dismal end to a partnership that had produced so much fruit! What happened to their original call from the Holy Spirit when they were sent out from Antioch many years before? It seems that they were willing to sacrifice the unity they had worked so hard to protect in the church, over a personal issue. This was not about a doctrine, in which case they had made the right decision. This was over a young guy who could not take the pace.

Let’s have a look at the character of Barnabas, which was, incidentally, his nickname and meant “son of encouragement”. Quite significant! He appears early in the book of Acts, doing what his name meant, encouraging people. Had Paul forgotten that it was Barnabas who had faith in him when the church in Jerusalem was afraid to welcome him? They didn’t want a vicious persecutor to infiltrate their ranks. Barnabas was willing to vouch for him (Acts 9:27), introducing him to the leaders in Jerusalem.

It was Barnabas who fetched Paul from Tarsus to teach the new believers in Antioch when the church exploded among the Gentiles in Syria. Barnabas gave way to Paul when it came to preaching and teaching on their first missionary journey. His was a “Jonathan” ministry, the support and encourager Paul needed during the rigorous trials he had to endure.

What if Barnabas had rejected John Mark as Paul was doing? Paul’s letters reveal that it was he who had to eat humble pie regarding Mark. Had Barnabas not been true to his name and nature, Paul would never have been able to write: “Aristarchus, who is in jail here with me, sends greeting, also Mark, cousin of Barnabas, (you have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him).” Colossians 4:10 (NIV).

What a change of heart — and it gets even more personal. During Paul’s final imprisonment in Rome he wrote these words to Timothy: “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:11 (NIV). Because of Barnabas, Mark, the quitter, became Mark the helpful.

Without Barnabas’ faith in him, would Mark have ever been the author of the second gospel? According to tradition, Mark also spent time with Peter, either recording his memoirs or listening to his preaching which he used as the basis for his gospel. How much poorer the church might have been had Barnabas not tenaciously stuck to his belief in Mark in spite of Mark’s failure.

There are many lessons in this incident. What stands out for me is that Mark’ failure did not permanently disqualify him from fulfilling his calling. Perhaps parting company with Paul was the best thing that could have happened. Although Luke records nothing of the details of Barnabas and Mark’s journey around the churches, we know the outcome of the time they spend together. Barnabas, the mentor and encourager, put Mark back on his feet and helped him to become Mark, the helpful!

In the end one can conclude that Barnabas’ ministry to Mark was just as valuable as Paul’s ministry to the people of Asia Minor and Europe. How much poorer the church throughout the generations would be without the Gospel of Mark and how much poorer Paul might have been without him.

THE BOOK OF ACTS – QUITTER

QUITTER

“From Paphos Paul and company put out to sea, sailing on to Perga in Pamphylia. That’s where John called it quits and went back to Jerusalem. From Perga the rest of them travelled on to Antioch in Pisidia.” Acts 13:13-14a (The Message)

John Mark threw in the towel after the first leg of the journey. Why? Luke gives no details about the first missionary campaign in Cyprus except for the incident with the governor and the magician. Was Sergius Paulus the only convert in Cyprus? What else happened there? Did they have a hard time with the Jews?

Whatever the circumstances in Cyprus, John Mark was uncomfortable and chose to go back home. What effect did this have on Paul and Barnabas? We can glean from things that happened later on, that both of them reacted true to character.

Barnabas was closer to John Mark than Paul, both in relationship and in attitude. His name meant “encourager” and he consistently lived up to his name. When the church in Jerusalem initially refused to receive Saul after his conversion, Barnabas stood by him and vouched for him. When the church at Antioch needed teachers to instruct new Gentile believers, he fetched Saul from his home town where had been sent for safety from the Jerusalem Jews who were plotting to kill him.

Barnabas was a hands-on man, always ready to give someone the benefit of the doubt. No doubt he was the one who included John Mark in the first missionary team, probably as a trainee-helper.

Paul, on the other hand, was more rigid. He did not want a quitter on the team.  He and Barnabas had a fall-out when Barnabas wanted to give John Mark a second chance (Acts 15:36-41), so serious that the partnership broke up and each went his own way.

And what of John Mark? He was also on a journey. This episode was only a hiccup along the way. Perhaps it was Barnabas’ faith in him in spite of his failure that gave him the break he needed. Even Paul had to admit that Mark was an asset to him later on when he was in prison (Colossian 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11).

Not only did John Mark redeem himself in Paul’s eyes but his name has been immortalised as the author of the second gospel. Tradition tells us that he was Peter’s companion for a time, either recording his sermons or making use of his memoirs as the foundation of his gospel written especially for Roman readers.

John’s story should be an encouragement to us; to those who have quit, there is always the second chance; and to those who know quitters, the opportunity to put someone back on the road to fulfil his or her potential. Perhaps, had Paul known what lay in the future, he would not have been so hard on Mark. Did he also have a lesson to learn from Barnabas?

It grieves me to find websites, supposedly Christian that specialise in stripping Christian leaders in the name of Jesus. Even the most well-known, godly and transparent men come under fire from these so-called exposures. What if these same people dedicated themselves to encourage and lift up the weak, putting them back on the way to becoming another “John Mark”?

There is enough dirt being publicised on the web to take gullible people into ruin and destruction without so-called “Christians” doing the devil’s work and adding unnecessary pain to God’s people. What if the church heeded the Apostle Paul’s words: “Who are you to judge another man’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand for the Lord is able to make him stand,” Romans 14:4 (NIV).

“Let us, therefore, make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification.” Romans 14:19 (NIV).

THE BOOK OF ACTS – SAUL’S SIDE-KICK

SAUL’S SIDE-KICK

“Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. He found him and brought him back to Antioch. They were there a whole year, meeting with the church and teaching a lot of people. It was in Antioch that the disciples were for the first time called Christians.” Acts 11:25-26 (The Message).

Luke shines the light on the two main characters of his story, Peter and Saul. Up to this point, Peter was in the limelight, with Saul making brief appearances as a kind of introduction. Peter’s function and influence were in and around Jerusalem and in widening circles around Israel. He was the natural leader of the new movement, together with James and John until James’ untimely death at the hands of Herod.

Saul appeared briefly in Jerusalem before and after his conversion but he was essentially an out-of-Jerusalem Jew. His hometown was Tarsus in Asia Minor to which he was smartly returned when his fiery preaching stirred up trouble in Judea. He disappeared off the scene for a while until Barnabas, realising his worth as a teacher, fetched him from Tarsus and brought him to Antioch to ground the new non-Jewish believes in the Scriptures.

What a Bible School that must have been! As a rabbi, Saul was well-versed in the Scriptures and, with the Holy Spirit as his teacher; he was able to anchor the new converts in the accurate understanding of the Messianic prophecies and of Jesus as their fulfilment.

Saul himself was being enlightened as he taught, honing his understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus as the Messiah, qualifying him to be a skilful exponent of the good news. All these factors were preparing him for what lay ahead, pioneer missionary, author of many of the writings which would later be gathered together into the sacred volume of the Book, and martyr for Jesus.

Although Barnabas was initially the leader, his major role was to be Saul’s side-kick in the missionary enterprise. Without the support of Barnabas, Saul might never have been recognised as the significant and prominent figure he was to become in the history of the early church.

God has room for every kind of person and every gift in the growth of His kingdom on earth. No one is greater than anyone else regardless of whether he is in the limelight or not. We all fit together in an amazing mosaic of divine purpose. Our reward lies, not in the visibility of what we are doing, but in the effectiveness of our obedience to our calling. Had Barnabas not been who he was and done what he did, Saul might never have been in the right place at the right time to become who he was to the church.

Like Jonathan in the Old Testament, who was willing to play second fiddle to David, knowing that David would take his place as king of Israel, God needs people who are not bent on making a name for themselves but are there to stand by and support another chosen by God for leadership. These are the truly great people of the kingdom without whom God’s purposes will not be fulfilled. What an important role they play!

It takes wisdom and humility to promote and support someone else. Your name may never appear in the history books but it will be written on the palm of God’s hand.

“Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15; 58 (NIV).

THE BOOK OF ACTS – THE TABLES ARE TURNED

THE TABLES ARE TURNED

“After this had gone on quite a long time, some Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul got wind of it. They were watching the city gates around the clock so they could kill him. Then one night the disciples engineered his escape by lowering him over the wall in a basket.” Acts 9:23-25 (The Message).

What a turn-around! The persecutor becomes the persecuted!

Nothing short of a miracle could have put Saul in this predicament. The suffering the Master predicted for him had begun. Saul’s brilliant legal mind had already come into play in Damascus. His grasp of the gospel put him in the forefront of its defenders and brought him into the firing line of the fanatical Jews he once led.

Fortunately for Saul, he was securely connected to the fellowship of believers in Damascus. He had proved the genuineness of the change in his life by his bold challenge to the Jews he once stood with in his opposition to the Way. Just as he was putting his life on the line for the Master, so they were willing to put their lives on the line for him. The story of the church can easily rank among the best of modern thrillers!

“Back in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples but they were afraid of him. They didn’t trust him one bit. Then Barnabas took him under his wing. He introduced him to the apostles and stood up for him; told them how Saul had seen and spoken to the Master on the Damascus Road and how, in Damascus itself, he had laid his life on the line with his bold preaching in Jesus’ name.” Acts 9:26-27 (The Message).

Strange, isn’t it, how quickly bad news travels? The believers in Damascus knew all about Saul, the persecutor. And yet, in Saul’s case, the truth of the good news of his transformation had not yet penetrated the church in Jerusalem. In spite of his activities in Damascus and the circumstances of his departure from that city, the believers in Jerusalem were still suspicious of him.

It took the action of another big-hearted brother, Barnabas, like Ananias, to vouch for him. Barnabas not only befriended and defended him in this situation, he also became a life-long friend and partner, travelling and suffering together with him across Asia Minor in the cause of the gospel.

What were Saul’s credentials that vouchsafed his true conversion? He had met with Jesus and become His witness in spite of the opposition and the death threats that drove him out of Damascus and would hound him across Israel, Asia Minor and Europe, and put him in jail more than once.

It was this hatred and opposition from his own countrymen that bit deeply into his soul and caused him to cry out to God for deliverance. Like the idolatrous Canaanites who so harassed the Israelites in their conquest of the Promised Land that they became a thorn in the side of God’s people, Saul’s own people became his worst nightmare in his quest to win them for his Master.

It was the Jews who stirred up riots against him, who turned Roman officials against him, and who eventually had him arrested in Jerusalem, and imprisoned and tried in Rome as a dangerous criminal who had no right to be alive.

But whatever was done to him in the name of religion could not take from him the reality of that moment when he saw the risen Jesus and heard His commission to take the gospel to the world. Nothing would cancel out that command, not even the hatred of his own people, the suspicion of his fellow believers and the threat of death itself.

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in Him…” Philippians 3:7-9a.

What will it take for Jesus to have followers like that…especially in the western world where comfort and convenience are the great enemies of true disciples?

THE BOOK OF ACTS – THE STAGE IS SET

THE STAGE IS SET

“And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

“Joseph, called by the apostles “Barnabas” (which means “Son of Comfort”), a Levite born in Cyprus, sold a field that he owned, brought the money and made an offering of it to the apostles.” Acts 4:34-37 (The Message).

These few verses seem like nothing more than a simple bit of information regarding the miraculous life of the new-born church in Jerusalem. It was a miracle because most people without Jesus don’t normally live this way.

Here was a community within a community that did life together in unity. They identified with each other so closely that everyone shared in the joy and suffering of the group. The apostles had a safe haven to go to when things got tough for them outside. Their resources were pooled so that everyone had a share. Those who had shared with those who did not have.

They had to live like that for several reasons: they were expressing the generous nature of the one who lived inside of them. Their disposition was transformed by the power of God from greedy, selfish people to those who willingly and unselfishly served their fellow believers.

They were no longer individuals responsible for themselves and their families. They were now members of a new family held together by their faith in their living Lord. He had shown them how to live and they were following and imitating Him.

They were a community under threat. Like their Master, they had fallen foul of their religious leaders because of what they taught and lived. Their lives and message opposed the legalistic self-righteousness of their leaders and showed up their true nature just as Jesus had done. The church stuck together and supported one another.

In spite of their circumstances, the church flourished and grew. There was something about them and their way of life that drew people to them like moths to a flame. Yet, as idyllic as it sounds, it was inevitable that there would be bad apples in the box. Satan always has his unsuspecting allies who are there to throw a spanner in the works.

These verses conclude the opening chapter of the life of body of Christ, the church, and also form the introduction to a new era in which the rot began from within. Jesus told a parable about a farmer who planted good seed in his field. In the night an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. The new plants looked so alike that the only solution was to let them grow together until the harvest. The fruit would distinguish wheat from weeds.

The church is like that as well. There are pseudo-believers in the mix that seem so genuine that no-one can really tell the difference. But the time does come when their true nature is revealed. The next episode in our story will throw the spotlight on two people who, unfortunately, did not escape the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit in Peter.

There is a message in this story for us. Attachment to the body of Christ does not guarantee true membership. It’s really an issue of the heart. God looks beyond our behaviour to the attitude and motive of our hearts. That’s where our union with Jesus happens and is worked out in our relationships within His body.