Barnabas: A Good Man
Dr. Varghese John, Trivandrum
Our society has trained us to adore those who are always in the spotlight and to crave for prominence, prosperity and power. Anything less is just boring and too common! This secular thinking has influenced many genuine Christians also. Therefore, many Christians want their lives described by some impressive words. They dream of doing something to show off the people. They want to be remembered for brave and spectacular achievements. They prefer to be known as smart persons rather than good men.
But the Biblical value system is radically different from that of men. For instance, Barnabas is referred to in the Bible as a “good man” (Acts 11: 24). Good is not something we value much. It is seen as dull, simple and not extraordinary. But Barnabas was viewed by God as an outstanding Christian, full of the Holy Spirit and significant enough to the early church to be included in the pages of the Scripture.
We read a brief but profound statement about Barnabas in Acts 11: 24, “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” After describing the ministry of Barnabas in Antioch (Acts 11: 23), Luke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit makes a comment about his life and character: “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” There may have been many good people in the first century Church, but only Barnabas is called a good man in the New Testament.
Root of the goodness of Barnabas
Acts 11: 24 has two assertions: Barnabas was a good man and Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit and faith. How do they relate to each other? Definitely 'fullness of the Holy Spirit and faith' is the root or source of Barnabas' goodness. Paul gives us the clue to this relationship in Galatians. He says in Gal. 5: 22 that goodness is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. That means, it is produced by the Spirit when we submit ourselves to His control.
But what do we do in that process? We are not passive in this affair of becoming good. That's why Luke doesn't just say that Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit. He is full of the Holy Spirit and faith. Faith, in this verse, refers to the continual trusting in God and subsequent obedience of God's Word in all situations of life. Faith is what we do. Now what does faith have to do with the ministry of the Holy Spirit? The Spirit is received by trusting in the truth of the gospel for salvation (Gal. 3: 2, 14) and those who trust and obey God will be controlled by the Holy Spirit more and more. So, when Luke says that Barnabas was "a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith," he meant that Barnabas had a great faith in God, and that by this faith the Holy Spirit became powerful in his life and that the result was a lot of practical goodness in Barnabas' life. His goodness made him quite distinct and worthy of imitation.
Fruits of the goodness of Barnabas
Well, how did he express his goodness in his daily life? Let us consider a few things recorded about Barnabas in the book of Acts. They are the demonstrations of his goodness.
1. He met the needs of others
Barnabas was good because he helped other believers in time of their dire need. The first time we are introduced to him is in Acts 4: 36- 37. There he is seen as a voluntary and generous giver. He sold a piece of property and brought the money received from it and laid it at the apostles' feet for distribution among the poor. In the early church, many of the pilgrims to Jerusalem at Pentecost stayed back to learn from the Apostles and to enjoy fellowship with other believers. They were in deep financial need. A spirit of generosity arose among the believers (4: 34), with Barnabas being specifically mentioned. He sacrificially gave to meet the needs of the poor in the church by selling his property. How many of us would have done the same for people we barely knew? We can answer this question today by looking at how we spend our money, time and energy in helping others. The church needs today more people who take their faith seriously like Barnabas. Christians who are always looking for ways to help others (James 1: 27; 2: 14 - 16; 1 John 3:16-18). We learn from Barnabas that good people have concern for the needs of others and they earnestly try to make a difference in the lives of others.
2. He encouraged others
He was good because he encouraged others. Acts 4: 36 says that the apostles named him “Barnabas,” which means “Son of Encouragement.” It was a nickname — a term of compliment. One does not get such a name unless it is earned. He proved his ability to encourage others. “Encouragement” did not mean he went around patting people on the back and telling them some nice words. It means to comfort, console, exhort and counsel. He was a man who noticed people and wanted to bring out the best in them—he was always with the deprived and the discouraged. This was seen in his supporting Saul when he came to join himself to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 9: 26-27). We need more people like Barnabas; Christians who are willing to work with the weak and lift them up, giving them time, attention and encouragement. To do this we have to look outside of our own world into the world of others; to those who have fallen (Gal. 6:1-2); to those who are sorrowful (Romans 12:15); to those who could be better in the Lord's service if helped (1 Thess. 5: 11).
3. He included others
Barnabas was good because he included others in the ministry he did. His reputation was so good among the saints in Jerusalem. When an incredible mission opportunity arose in Antioch, Barnabas was the one the Church sent to strengthen the believers and to evangelize the heathens there. Naturally, he encouraged these new saints (Acts 11:23). However, the work seemingly was greater than one man could really accomplish. Lesser men may have desired to keep all the glory for themselves, but not this good man. He was not threatened by including others and sought out Saul of Tarsus to help (Acts 11:25). For a year they assembled with the church and taught, accomplishing, together, a great deal. Leonard Bernstein, the American pianist once said that the hardest instrument to play was the second violin, because no one wants to play second fiddle. But Barnabas did not seem to mind playing the second fiddle as long as he could play in the band. There is always a temptation for us to be more like Diotrephes (3 John 9), excluding others in order to gain more glory and importance; not wanting to share the responsibility because we don't want to share the glory. However, to Barnabas, a good man, the ministry of the Lord was more important than his personal gains.
Barnabas was free from jealousy. When Saul first began working with Barnabas, the Scriptures referred to the pair as "Barnabas and Saul" (Acts 11:30; 12:25; 13:2, 7). After the events on the island of Cyprus, the pair were referred to as "Paul and Barnabas" (Acts 13:43, 46 etc.). Commentators are generally of the opinion that the leadership in the group changed from Barnabas to Paul. Sometimes when strong men work together a spirit of jealousy interferes with their work. Then one will be envious of the abilities of the other and gradually they will separate each other. Barnabas was free from such an evil spirit. So, he could work together with many servants of God.
4. He submitted himself to the will of God
Finally, Barnabas was good because he allowed himself to be used by God and God in turn worked through him. Barnabas yielded to the call of God through the church. At the beginning of chapter 13, Barnabas is praying with the church in Antioch. Then the Spirit said, "Now set apart to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then, having fasted and laid hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13: 2, 3).
So, another feature of goodness we see in Barnabas is an unusual willingness to go anywhere God directed him, and to be submissive to the local church with whom he was associated. How does faith produce this kind of goodness? Faith banks everything on the missionary promise of Matthew 28: 18 - 20, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations. . . I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. Barnabas knew that if he followed the leading of God, he would always be in the presence of His Lord enjoying ever-present fellowship and protection. Barnabas had the goodness of being yielded to the call of God because he had faith in the promise of Christ. When the Bible says that Barnabas was “full of the Spirit" it describes a life which is fully surrendered to the obedience of God.
“He was a good man”—a simple description, but how precious! Now how can the life of Barnabas become living and effective for us today? How can we get encouragement and guidance from the life of Barnabas? Let us yield daily to the control of the Holy Spirit and produce the fruit of the Spirit. When the root is strengthened the fruit will come naturally. When we come to the end of our lives what will other believers genuinely say about us?" if others sincerely say, “he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and faith?" that really is a great achievement.
About the author:
Dr. Varghese John is an Evangelist and a Bible teacher, who lives in Trivandrum, Kerala.
This article appeared in the August 2018 publication of Harvest Times.
Kind Permission taken from HARVEST TIMES FOR YOUR FAMILY, GLS MUMBAI, INDIA