There are superstars in the Bible, guys who did great things for God and who got a lot of coverage in the Bible. Guys like Paul, Elijah and Elisha come to mind. But there were also the other guys, people who did their bit for the Lord, but got just a passing mention the Bible. Barnabas (Bb) was one of them.
Bb had great recommendation behind him. The Holy Spirit called him a ‘good man’. I do not know of anyone else in the Bible who got such praise from God. I can think of many, whose life ambition is to hear God say that about them.
There is much that we can learn from Bb. His name literally means ‘son of encouragement’. And that was his ministry. He just motivated and encouraged other chaps, even if it meant that he lost prominence in the bargain.
Saul of Tarsus was an obscure fellow. After his conversion, he was with the Jerusalem church for a while, but later went back to his hometown. It was Bb who went all the way from Jerusalem to Tarsus, just to bring Saul back into the mainstream. Bb recognized that God had plans for Saul. This was at a time when not everyone was thrilled to bits about Saul; some were even suspicious of him. But Bb would not have any of that. Even if he had doubts about the genuineness of Saul’s conversion, he chose to ignore it and take a risk. He went to fetch a guy who was not on anybody’s priority list.
Bb probably knew that Saul would become far greater that he himself would ever be. But he was not jealous. Instead he encouraged Saul, and helped God make a Paul out of Saul. Acts 12 mentions ‘Barnabas and Saul’ (in that order), from Acts 13:13, it becomes ‘Paul and Barnabas’. Bb did not mind the change in order, he did not mind playing second fiddle to his protégé. My guess is that he rejoiced in his demotion, and probably, when Paul’s ministry really took off, said to himself ‘mission accomplished’.
Most people look down on backsliders. Not Bb. John Mark (JM) had abandoned Paul and Bb, midway through their first missionary journey, so when Bb suggested to Paul that they take JM with them on their second missionary journey, Paul objected. Most of us would have. Paul probably was hurt at JM’s behavior during the first missionary journey, Paul and Bb had probably pleaded with JM to stick around and help them. JM had rejected their plea. Paul then concluded that JM was a useless fellow. So naturally, when Bb suggested that they take JM with them, Paul must have thought that Bb was off his rocker.
But Bb wasn’t. He was willing to look beyond JM’s mistake. He was willing to give him a second chance, something that Paul was reluctant to do.
In fact Bb was willing to pay a price for giving JM a second chance. He had a sharp disagreement with Paul and the two split. Remember, this was big. Paul had by now become famous, so being with Paul would have kept Bb in the limelight. But for Bb, the chance to bring JM back into the fold was far more important.
In the end, Bb was right and Paul was wrong. Bb gave JM a second chance; JM grabbed it and went to become a useful servant of God. In fact he became very useful to Paul’s ministry. Paul acknowledges this is 2 Tim 4:11. I am sure Paul must have thanked Bb for giving JM a second chance. Well of course, Bb could have done no other; his job was to encourage people in the faith, not to judge them.
The modern church needs guys like Barnabas, guys who will encourage, and not judge or condemn. We have just too little of the former, and too much of the latter at times. The Bible says that the words we speak carry in them the power of life or death. How true. We can destroy a man with our condemnation, or we can build him up with encouragement.
Paul learnt his lesson from Bb. That is why he writes in Philippians 4:8, ‘focus on what is good’. If we look hard enough, we can always find something, in others that we can judge or condemn them for. But God exhorts us to look for what is good in others and rejoice in those things and encourage them.
May God give each of us the grace to be a Barnabas.