Barnabas: A Good Man
If I mentioned the name Barney, who would come to mind? If you belong to the Geritole crowd you would probably think of that goofy sheriff’s deputy from Mayberry on the Andy Griffith Show (Don Knott). If you are a young person or parents of children you would probably think of that purple dinosaur that goes around singing, “I love you, you love me; we’re one big happy family.” (My parents are into the genealogy scene big time. The last time I check with them, we did not have any reptilian ancestors climbing around in our family tree!).
The Bible mentions a fellow named Barney. Actually his name was Yosef ha-Levi. We would say in English, Joseph the Levite. The apostles gave this man from the island of Cyprus the nickname, Barnabas, which in Aramaic means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4: 36). The nickname was well deserved because he had a solid reputation of encouraging people in the things of the Lord.
Barney was a lesser-known apostle, but greatly used of the Lord. You see, if Barnabas did not go around encouraging people and seeing potential in them, in spite of their past track record of failures, we may not have half of our New Testament! Barnabas encouraged Saul, (later known as Paul) and John Mark at crucial points in their spiritual lives. If he had not encouraged Paul and John Mark, we might not have had the Pauline epistles, or the gospel of Mark. Also, according to Tertullian, a third Century early Church Father, Barnabas was the unnamed human author of the epistle to the Hebrews (On Modesty 20; ANF 4:97). Now I realize these statements are made apart from the sovereignty of God, and no doubt, God would have risen up others for the task, but Barnabas would not have gotten the credit or the blessings for it.
Luke characterizes Barnabas as a “good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24). I would like to ask the question, “What made him good?” The immediate context says he was full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.
The Apostle Paul sets forth the doctrinal truth of the filling of the Holy Spirit in Eph. 5:18, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.” This is a command for every believer in the Lord Jesus to be controlled by, or yielded to, the Holy Spirit’s control of his or her lives. The “faith” refers to trusting the Lord in his daily life.
When we first meet Barnabas we learn that he is a Levite from the Island of Cyprus, off the coast of present day Lebanon. What do we know about Levites? They were the priestly family that ministered in the Tabernacle in the wilderness and in the First and Second Temples. After the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land and conquered it, they met at Shiloh to divide up the Land. Each tribe received an allotment, except the tribe of Levi. The Levites were scattered throughout the rest of the tribes so they could teach the Word of God as well as lead travelers to Jerusalem for the pilgrimages. The Levites had no land of their own and were dependent upon the people of the tribes to supply their daily bread. That is why it is stated of the Levites, “the LORD is their portion, or inheritance.” Ultimately they were dependant upon the Lord for their daily food.
What was unusual about Barnabas was that he was not living in Eretz Israel, but in the Diaspora, outside the Land of Israel. In addition, he owned land!
Barnabas was part of a sizable Jewish community on the island of Cyprus (Safrai and Stern 1974: 154,155; 1976: 711,712). Philo, the First Century AD Jewish philosopher living in Alexandria, Egypt, wrote a letter to Emperor Gaius Caligula in AD 38. In it, he recounts all the places where there are Jewish colonies. Of the islands he says, “And not only are the mainlands full of Jewish colonies but also the most highly esteemed of the islands Euboea, Cyprus, Crete” (Embassy to Gaius 282; LCL 10:143).
The early church had “all things in common”. In other words, they voluntarily shared their possessions with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Please note this is not communism or socialism. Under communism the state forces individuals, against their will, to give up their possessions or income in order to provide for others. Communism is a government induced, forced redistribution of wealth.
The voluntary sharing of their goods was a manifestation of their “oneness in Christ” and was a powerful testimony to the words of the Lord Jesus in His High Priestly prayer in John 17. In this prayer, He prayed, “I do not pray for these alone [the eleven disciples], but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that you sent Me” (17:20,21).
Barnabas put his money where his mouth was. He sold his land and gave all the money to the apostles for sharing with others. He exemplified what Paul would later state, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. … So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (II Cor. 8:9: 9:7). Barnabas did not give ten percent [actually the OT tithe was 20.6% when all the different tithes are added up] he gave 100%. In so doing, Barnabas also lived up to his Levitical heritage, “the LORD is your portion, or inheritance”. He was now living in total dependence upon the Lord for his daily needs.
Perhaps it was his example that encouraged the believers in the church at Antioch to help in the relief effort of the Jerusalem church during the famine in the days of Emperor Claudius (Acts 11:27-30). The elders in Antioch chose Barnabas and Saul to deliver the food and money to Jerusalem (11:30; 12:25).
Do we have God’s perspective on giving? Are we giving 100% of ourselves?
Isaac Watts (1674-1748) caught the essence of New Testament giving in one of his hymns, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Barnabas was a good man because he had a Biblical view of building up the Body of Christ – Acts 11:19-26.
I’m sure most of you have been out driving around and gotten lost at one time or another. If you are a man, you said to yourself, “I can find it myself.” If you are a woman, you probably asked for directions. The principle is this, “When you can not do the task yourself, seek help.” Barnabas saw a need in the church at Antioch. Gentiles were getting saved and needed to be instructed in the Word of God. He knew he could not do it himself, so he sought out and found Paul. Barnabas knew Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Gal. 2:7).
Do we seek help when we know we cannot do the job ourselves? A number of years ago I was working with the young peoples group at church. One time I proposed a conference for the young people in the area. One of the leaders was quick to say that he would organize the conference. He knew I did not have the gift of administration because I am one of the most disorganized individuals there is. He had the gift of administration and did a tremendous job in organizing the event.
Barnabas was good because he had a Biblical view of disciplining others – Acts 12:25; 13:1,13.
God’s pattern of discipleship is sending out men, two-by-two, disciplining others who will continue the work (II Tim. 2:2). When some of the apostles went out on a mission trip, they took their wives (I Cor. 9:5,6). But the husband and wife are “one flesh” and do not constitute a team of “two-by-two”. God has no “Lone Ranger” missionaries in the New Testament.
Another aspect of discipleship is following up on those who have trusted Christ as Savior and to encourage them to get into a local fellowship. After Barnabas and Paul finished their work in Derbe they returned to the other cities that they had previously visited and strengthened the souls of the disciples and exhorted them to continue in the faith. They also appointed elders in every church (Acts 14:21-23).
On their first missionary journey in AD 47, Barnabas and Paul were partners in evangelism and discipleship. They practiced the “two-by-two” approach and had disciples along with them, John Mark and possibly Dr. Luke.
Barnabas was good because he had a Biblical view of missions – Acts 13:4,5.
The first stop on the missionary journey was the island of Cyprus. Most likely the reason they went to Cyprus first was that it was the home of Barnabas and the relatives of John Mark (cf. Acts 4: 36; Col. 4:10). The pattern for missions seems to be to reach family and friends first.
As noted before, there were Jewish colonies on the island of Cyprus. Paul was establishing a precedent that he states in Rom. 1:16, “to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles” with the Gospel. The Jewish people already had the Scriptures and would be easier to reason with than the Gentiles about their Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul had a heart for the Jewish people to come to faith in the Lord Jesus (Rom. 10:1), even though he and Barnabas were apostles to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:9).
Another aspect of missions is keeping the home church informed of the activities of the missionaries. Upon their return to Antioch they “reported all that God had with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:27).
A third aspect of missions is that Paul and Barnabas took “secular employment” while on their missionary journeys even though, as apostles, they could refrain from working (I Cor. 9:6). They did not want to be a burden on the churches (II Thess. 3:7-9).
Do we have a Biblical view of missions?
Barnabas was a good man because he had a Biblical view of idolatry – Acts 14:11-18.
During their first missionary journey (Acts 13, 14), Barnabas and Paul stopped at the city of Lystra in the district of Lycaonia (Acts 14:5-20). While there, they encountered a crippled man from birth who had never walked. Paul commands him to walk. He got up, leaped and walked.
The people of Lystra began to sacrifice oxen in honor of Barnabas and Paul. Paul and Barnabas thought it was a big cookout and said, “Hot dog (kosher, of course), we’re going to have a big bar-be-que today, sirloin streak, prime rib, and filet minion.” Unbeknownst to them, because the people were speaking in the Lycaonian language, Barnabas and Paul were about to be worshipped as gods. They thought Barnabas was Zeus perhaps because he looked older and had a long distinguished beard. They thought Paul was Hermes, the messenger god of Zeus, because Paul was the one doing all the talking. When they realize what was going on, they tried to stop it. They said they were human beings just like the people of Lystra were. Why did the people of Lystra act this way?
There was a Roman poet named Ovid (43 BC – AD 17) who was educated in Rome. Upon the completion of his studies he toured the Greek lands, collecting local stories of the activities of the Greek gods and goddesses. One or two of his poems offended Emperor Augustus and Ovid was exiled to the provincial town of Tomis on the Black Sea in AD 8. Just before he was exiled, he wrote a poem called Metamorphoses, which means “transformation”. In it, he described gods that took on human form.
The story is told that Jupiter and Mercury (their Greek counterparts are Zeus and Hermes) visited the region of Phrygia, to the west of Lyconia. They were incognito, disguised as human beings. Nobody showed them hospitality until they came to the small hut of an elderly couple, Philemon and Baucis. This couple welcomed their unknown guests and showed hospitality by serving them a cabbage and pork stew without knowing their true identity. Zeus rewarded their kindness and hospitality by removing them before a flood washed away their neighbors. After the flood, their hut was made into a temple and the couple became the priests of the temple (Metamorphoses 8: 606-721; Slavitt 1994: 165-168).
It is understandable why the Lyconians from Lystra called out, “The gods have come down to visit us.” The people thought they knew a god when they saw one and did not want to mess up this time! There is an archaeological basis for this story because there is archaeological evidence that Zeus and Hermes were worshipped in the area.
Most of us do not bow down to a statue or an idol, yet Paul says “idolatry which is covetousness” (Col. 3:5). How many of us are greedy and want what others have? Or are we content with what the Lord has given us (Phil. 4:11; I Tim. 6:8; Heb. 13:5)?
Barnabas was a good man because he had a Biblical view of salvation – Acts 15:1-35.
From Genesis to Revelation, salvation has always been by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. In the Old Testament, a person trusted that the LORD would send a Savior, the Lamb of God (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:1-5; Isa. 53:6). In the New Testament a person looks back to Calvary and trust the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who died and paid for all sin. When people put their trust in Him, and Him alone, for their salvation, they have the forgiveness of sins, a home in heaven and the righteousness of God (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8,9; Tit. 3:8; Phil. 3:9).
Certain men of the sect of the Pharisees came from Judea to the church at Antioch to inform them that a Gentile must undergo circumcision in order to be saved (15:1). Paul and Barnabas took strong exception to this teaching. In order to resolve this theological conflict, the church sent them to Jerusalem for a ruling from the apostles and elders concerning this issue. The apostles agreed with Barnabas and Paul that a Gentile does not have to be circumcised for salvation. It was around this time that Paul wrote the epistle to the Galatians, either slightly before the Jerusalem Council, or soon after.
Barnabas was a good man because he had a Biblical approach to conflict management – Acts 15:36-41.
John Mark left Barnabas and Paul after they had visited Cyprus. We are not told why he left. When Paul suggested to Barnabas that they visit the churches of Cyprus and Galatia, Barnabas insisted on taking John Mark. Paul would hear nothing of it and there was a sharp contention between the two. How was this resolved? I can imagine part of the conversation. Probably Barnabas said, “Paul, I vouched for you before the Jerusalem brethren when nobody believed your conversion!” (Acts 9:27).
There are two ways to resolve conflicts, either in a constructive or destructive manner. The constructive manner is always a win / win situation for both parties. The destructive manner could be either a win / lose or lose / lose proposition.
Disagreements in the church will not hurt the testimony of the congregation as long as the leaders see the “big picture” of God’s redemptive purposes. What is really important? The goal of conflict resolution is to build up the Body of Christ.
This was a win / win decision; there were two missionary teams.
My sense is that John Mark realized he had “dropped the ball” and worked on being faithful (I Cor. 4:2). Perhaps he had some rough edges that needed to be smoothed and Barnabas was the one to work with him. Somewhere along the line, John Mark and Paul are reconciled. During Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, we know that John Mark is with him because he sends greetings to the church in Colosse and to Philemon (Col. 4:10; Philemon 24). Paul, writing during his second imprisonment, instructs Timothy to “Get John Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry” (II Tim. 4:11).
Do we seek to resolve conflicts in a Biblical way? Are we seeking a win / win solution to our conflicts? Are we encouraging others and looking for the potential they have?
Barnabas was a good man because he was teachable and we assume he corrected his unbiblical view of fellowship – Gal. 2:11-14.
When the apostle Peter was in Antioch-on-the-Orontes, he ate with both Jewish believers and Gentile believers in the Lord Jesus. Once, when certain men from James came to visit, Peter separated himself from the Gentile believers and ate only with the Jewish believers. Barnabas, following the lead of Peter, separated himself as well. Paul rebuked both of them. The issue at sake is not what Barnabas and Peter ate, but whom they ate it with. In other words, fellowship, not the “kosher-ness” of the food, was the issue.
Paul rebuked them because this issue was the “truth of the Gospel” (2:14). Peter was marring a beautiful picture that Paul would later write about, of Jews and Gentiles in One Body (Eph. 3). Barnabas had been hoodwinked by Peter, but corrected by Paul.
Do we seek the fellowship of the Lord’s people? Is our fellowship based on our common life in the Lord Jesus or the light one has regarding the Scriptures? In other words, is my fellowship based on whether a person is a brother or sister in Christ or if the person agrees with all my theology?
What happened to Barnabas after he and John Mark went back to Cyprus? When Paul wrote First Corinthians about AD 55, Barnabas was still active in the Lord’s work (I Cor. 9:6). Where he was and what he was doing is not stated. Church tradition, however, says that he and John Mark “continued their missionary work and Barnabas became the first Bishop of Salamis, his native city, where he is said to have been martyred and secretly buried by his cousin Mark” (Meinardus 1973: 11; Acts of Barnabas). The Recognitions of Clement states that Barnabas was active in ministry in Rome, Alexandria in Egypt and Caesarea in Judea (1994: 78-80; Zahn 1907: 459, footnote 2).
To the west of the ancient ruins of Salamis there is a Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to Barnabas. In the area is a tomb that is said to be that of Barnabas. Whether it is or not, only the resurrection will tell for sure.
In our study of the Life of Barnabas, were discovered that he was a “good man” because he was filled with the Holy Spirit and a man of faith who trust the Lord for his daily needs. He was also good because he had a biblical view of financial giving, of building up the Body of Christ, and of disciplining others, missions, idolatry, conflict management and a teachable attitude when he was wrong.
Dr. D. Edmond Hiebert summarizes the life and ministry of Barnabas in this way: “Barnabas stands out as one of the choicest saints of the early Christian Church. He had a gracious personality, characterized by a generous disposition, and possessed a gift of insight concerning the spiritual potential of others. He excelled in building bridges of sympathy and understanding across the chasms of difference which divided individuals, classes, and [ethnic groups]. He lived apart from petty narrowness and suspicion and had a largeness of heart that enabled him to encourage those who failed and to succor the friendless and needy. He did have his faults and shortcomings, but those faults arose out of the very traits that made him such a kind and generous man – his ready sympathy for others’ feelings and his eagerness to think the best of everyone” (1992: 52).
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