By Ronald M. Flowers, Director, General Conference Family Ministry
Summary: The heart of Barnabas’s legacy is that he cared for people. Too often the gospel message is interpreted as a set of doctrinal truths comprehended by the mind. Barnabas reminds us that the disciples of Christ not only abide in the truth, they know how to love.
Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.
Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from God who settled the relationship between him, and us, and then called us to settle our relationship with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.
?How?’ you say. In Christ. God put on him the wrong who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God (2 Co 5:14-21?Message). The disciples went everywhere preaching this message (Ac 8:4).
Supporter of the church
One man who heard was Joseph of Cyprus. Living in Jerusalem, he heard the gospel message and his life was changed. This is the story of that man.
If we carefully search the Acts files, we can put his story together. The first reference to Joseph is found in Acts. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus . . . sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet (Ac 4:36,37). Here, Luke repeats something similar to what he said in Acts 2—the believers shared all things in common. Joseph was an elite estate owner on the island of Cyprus, but he decided to invest in this new cause and sold his Cyprus property. What would this mean today? Cyprus could be compared to the real estate of Washington D.C., with property valued in the millions. So Joseph gave generously. For this caring gift to the fledgling church, the disciples named him Barnabas, which means Son of Encouragement (v 36).
When God gets His good news through to the human heart, we have a new focus and are determined to work from a focused center. We support God’s cause and His church. We recognize that we are members of His body. Barnabas would have been embarrassed had anyone pointed out the considerable value of his gift. He lived by the principle that God is the owner and he was His manager. Barnabas realized that by supporting the church, he was putting God’s money to work.
Optimistic about people
Our next glimpse of Barnabas is seen in Acts 9. The chapter begins with the story of Saul’s amazing conversion as he approached Damascus. We read how Saul was blinded by the encounter, how friends led him to the city and how God sent a reluctant Ananias to restore Saul’s vision. At once, says Luke, he [Saul] began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God (Ac 9:20). The situation heightens in our minds as we view Saul being pursued by his former friends, Jews who were intent on killing him. But again, he is rescued by his friends—making his escape in a basket lowered through an opening in the wall of the city. And this is where Barnabas comes into the story.
When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple (Ac 9:26). Saul tried to join them—but they did not wait with open arms. What new tactic was this, they thought! Slim chance that anyone like him could change! But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus (Ac 9:27).
Who was this man named Barnabas? What was he like? We can certainly surmise from this account that he was optimistic about people. He possessed the rare gift of discerning worth in others. Barnabas was quick to recognize the potential of an imperfect person. He was convinced that Saul had changed because of his encounter with Jesus, and he defended Saul. He did not hesitate to hazard his own good name on this risky newcomer to the faith. He expressed confidence and assurance in Saul. And what was the result? So, Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord (Ac 9:28). Barnabas opened the way for Saul to be accepted by the disciples of Christ. When God gets His good news through to the human heart—we recognize one another as brothers and sisters and put our trust in one another more readily.
A team player
. . . And they sent Barnabas to Antioch (Ac 11:22). The Spirit of God is on the
move now, and a group of Joseph’s [Barnabas’s] countrymen from Cyprus—followers of Jesus Christ and converted to the Way—have found a fertile field for the gospel in Antioch. And so the Jerusalem church commissioned Barnabas to go and join the effort there. He was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts (Ac 11:23). Verse 24 says, He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. The numbers were impressive and Barnabas could have had a good report. But selfish accomplishments were not his concern. He was free from the worry of who gets credit. In verse 25, Barnabas invites Saul to join his team. I’ve wondered why? Probably for a mix of several reasons. Such a rich field would be a good experience for Paul and would build his confidence. Barnabas also recognized that Paul had gifts of Bible study and understanding, of being able to present the truth of Christ in powerful ways. Together they formed a dynamic evangelistic team.
When God gets His good news through to the human heart, self-assurance is no longer based on one’s accomplishments. Self-exaltation is no longer the driving force. We recognize that we have certain gifts and abilities, but they are limited. We need each other and God’s cause needs all of our gifts. We become team players. Is it any wonder that under such leadership an evangelistic explosion ensues? There is so much talk of it around town that the popular name for these believers—Christians—sticks! At the end of Acts 11, Barnabas and Saul are sent to Jerusalem with a monetary gift to relieve the struggling church members there. And in Acts 13, their journey sets the stage for the next episode in the life of Barnabas.
An evangelist and mentor of youth
The gospel as a way of life is caught as much as it is taught. When the Spirit called Saul and Barnabas for a special work, they took John Mark, Barnabas’s cousin (Co 4:10), along as their helper. But when they arrived in Perga, John Mark left them (Ac 13). At the time Paul and Barnabas planned their second missionary journey, Barnabas insisted that John Mark be allowed to accompany them. Paul did not agree. Because John Mark had become discouraged and had forsaken them before, Paul felt that he could not be depended upon again (Ac 15). But Barnabas saw it differently. Even though he was disappointed when John Mark left them, Barnabas did not give up on his younger relative. Because of their disagreement, Paul and Barnabas separated. Barnabas took John Mark and went to the island of Cyprus. When God gets His gospel through to the human heart, it kindles a desire to share it with family as Barnabas did with John Mark. We need to build and encourage the next generation.
Part of Barnabas’s legacy is the man John Mark. Rescued for the work of the gospel, John Mark later worked with Peter. It is commonly understood that Mark’s gospel, the earliest of the four, largely reflects the gospel according to Peter. In later years he would become a trusted friend of Paul’s as well. On two separate occasions, Paul calls John Mark his fellow prisoner and fellow laborer (Co 4:10; Phn 24). Writing to Timothy Paul says, Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry (2Ti 4:11).
The heart of Barnabas’s legacy is that he cared for people. Too often the gospel message is interpreted as a set of doctrinal truths comprehended by the mind. Barnabas reminds us that the disciples of Christ not only abide in the truth, they know how to love. Early on, the church recognized the qualities of this unusual man and gave him the name, Son of Encouragement—which is the same word used by Jesus in referring to the Holy Spirit (Ac 4:36; Jn 15:26). That word is taken from the words called and beside?one called to the side of another. One who consoles, helps and encourages. It is a good legacy—an exquisite epitaph.