Shortly after Paul’s conversion, he went up to Jerusalem to join the disciples there. His reception was less than enthusiastic as his reputation as a persecutor of all things Christian had preceded him and the sincerity of his turn-around was questioned. “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul, on his journey to Damascus, 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.” Acts 9:26,27 Which had ruffled some feathers. So, having gained a measure of acceptance through Barnabas' validation of him, Paul roamed throughout Jerusalem doing likewise. Predictably getting in trouble again.
After a number of fitful starts and interruptions to ministry and considerable time spent in contemplative solitude, Paul ended up in Syrian Antioch; restarting his ministry with Barnabas, who had been sent there to investigate the news that great numbers of Jews and Gentiles were becoming followers of Jesus. But who was Barnabas? He is first mentioned in scripture as a Cypriot convert named Joseph, nicknamed Barnabas – meaning Son of Encouragement – evidently because of his demeanor and behavior in supporting the church. (See Acts 4:36,37) His qualifications for being sent to Antioch as an inspector and encourager of the church being that, “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith,…” Acts 11:24
Antioch was a major metropolis with a Christian community that soon outnumbered the church in Jerusalem, becoming an important center of Christian activity while being the first place Christ-followers were referred to as Christians. Upon arriving in Antioch and seeing the cosmopolitan nature of the city and church there, he remembered the educated and passionate young man seemingly languishing in Tarsus, the hometown he had been sent to for his own safety. “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.” Acts 11:25,26
The importance of Barnabas on Paul’s ministry can, at least in part, be inferred from Luke – the author of the Book of Acts. Up to the start of their first missionary trip together, Luke always refers to the duo as Barnabas and Saul. As Saul matures and his decisive personality begins to assert itself, Luke begins referring to them as Paul and Barnabas. But as important and world-shaping as Paul’s ministry became, he might not have accomplished all he did without being befriended and mentored by Barnabas – the Son of Encouragement. For it was he who believed Paul when he first approached the Jerusalem church after his conversion, taking him in tow and introducing him to the apostles. It was Barnabas who went looking for Paul in Tarsus, where he was undoubtedly a studious tent-maker, and brought him to Antioch where he would then be sent out to evangelize throughout the Near East and later the rim of Europe. (Acts 3:1-4) This simple act of call and response beginning the process that would take the Way from being a small sect within Judaism to being the largest religion in the world, impacting nearly every civilization’s outlook on its citizens. Paul’s reputation began to eclipse Barnabas’, which appears to have suited Barnabas just fine. But it is important to note that behind every accomplished individual is a whole host of willing Barnabases; facilitating, planning, coordinating, encouraging. All the things s type-A front man is often incapable of.
Luke notes how throughout their first missionary journey, “…Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue(s). There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.” Acts 14:1 At its completion, they returned to Antioch, where “on arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.” Acts 14:27,28
All of which reached the ears of the mother-church in Jerusalem, which was still entrenched in its Judaistic traditions and became concerned by some of what they were hearing. “So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders…”; particularly about the question of circumcision. Acts 15:2,3 (Many Jewish Christians believing a Gentile convert had to become a “Jew” first to become a Christian. An issue that would vex Paul throughout the life of his ministry.)
The upshot being that Gentile believers were officially relieved from the observance of this tradition and many others, with only a few exceptions. (See Acts15:24-29) But sadly, at some point, the issue of Jews and Gentiles unrestricted mingling together came between even Paul and Barnabas – along with Peter – who had traveled to Antioch to see for himself what was going on. Everyone was having a good time in Christian fellowship over dinner when "certain people” came up from James – the Jerusalem church leader – on inspection duty. At that point, Peter began to become aloof towards the Gentiles – the other believing Jews following suit – to the extent that even Barnabas began to pull away from them. Paul stridently confronted them all for their hypocrisy. (See Galatians 2:1-5 & 11-13Which may have left a lingering wound that could have played a part in the disappointing break-up of Paul and Barnabas shortly thereafter.)
As, “Sometime later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’” The problem being, Barnabas – always the patient encourager, wanted to give his cousin, John Mark, a second chance. (He who had abandoned them on the first missionary journey from fatigue, flagging enthusiasm, home-sickness, fear, etc, etc.) “…but Paul didn’t think it wise to take him,…” Paul – hard charging, committed and long-suffering – had no patience for those who couldn’t meet that standard and called it quits. “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.”
God, however, used even this disappointing incident to further promote the growth of his church, as “Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, Paul chose Silas and left, … (for)… Syria and Cilicia,” Acts 15:36-41 Barnabas’ ultimate success through this ordeal revealed in his behind-the-scenes nurturing and training of John Mark to the extent that Paul would later ask Timothy to, “Get Mark, and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. 2 Timothy 4:11
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