By Roy Ciampa, Ph.D.
Armstrong Chair of Religion, Samford University
BARNABAS AND PAUL
Acts 9:26–28, 11:22–26, 15:36–40
It is not uncommon for new believers to need help building relationships in the Church. Those who have followed Christ for a while need to be careful not to become insulated from newcomers who need our friendship, affirmation and encouragement, as well as opportunities to gain experience in serving alongside us.
Encourage the one who is a new believer. (9:26–28)
Acts 4:36 reminds us that “Barnabas” means “son of encouragement.” Although people don’t always live up to the meaning of their names, Barnabas clearly did.
When Saul (later to be called Paul) came to Jerusalem as a new believer, Barnabas’ endorsement helped overcome the barrier of fear that prevented other believers from embracing Saul so that he could enjoy effective ministry among them in Jerusalem.
Encourage others to step up and serve the church. (11:22–26)
A few years after he had introduced Saul to the believers in Jerusalem, Barnabas was sent to see what was happening in Antioch since they had heard that large numbers of Jews and Greeks were turning to the Lord.
There were so many new believers, and Barnabas was carrying out such a wonderful ministry empowered by the Spirit and faith that the church’s growth continued to accelerate. But Barnabas also came to realize he would need help teaching and discipling them into a strong and healthy church and that Saul would be just the right person for the job.
In verse 26 we learn that it was in Antioch that believers were first called Christians. It seems the believers weren’t the ones to come up with the name, but that others called them Christians (suggesting “little Christs”), probably as mockery. One of the things this indicates is that the young church was getting noticed as a new movement.
Clearly, Barnabas didn’t just support Saul at the beginning of his ministry, but he continued to think about other ways he might encourage him.
It is good for us to remember those who encouraged us and invited us to join them in their work and to be looking for other believers who have much to offer but whose contributions might be overlooked if we don’t invite them to partner with us.
Be prepared for God to eventually lead you down separate paths. (15:36–40)
Like many in ministry today, Paul and Barnabas sometimes disagreed about the best strategies in particular situations, including about whether to take John Mark with them on their next missionary journey. He had not continued with Paul and Barnabas to the end of their previous journey. Did he feel ill or hear about family troubles back home or church issues that required his help? Were there conflicts between him and Paul or Barnabas? We don’t know.
Clearly Barnabas wanted him back on the team, but Paul felt he had deserted them and didn’t want him along again so soon.
Later in his ministry, Paul would write about how important John Mark’s collaboration was (2 Tim. 4:11), so we understand that any division between Paul and John Mark was not lasting. We can recognize that God used both Paul and Barnabas and their different approaches to great effect.
We ought to give thanks for those who worked beside us in certain seasons of life but who took different paths of faithful service somewhere along the line. We should pray, affirm and encourage them from a distance as Paul often does.