“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).