God’s Little People – Barnabas

By Not Known

Many people want to be the ‘number one’.  The ‘number ones’ are the key leaders who drive agendas, decide directions and set the pace.  They also tend to be more prominent. We need great number one leaders, even though misplaced ambition can lead some to seek this position from base motives (eg, Mrk 10:35-45).

Barnabas challenges our sense that we must always move to a higher position.Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus whose real name was Joseph (Acts 4:36-37). He was later called ‘Barnabas’ because he was an encourager. That’s the person who gets alongside others, especially when they are stumbling or new at something. The encourager builds others up and then steps back so they can be their best. We see this coming out in the ministry of Barnabas.

Barnabas showed early promise and was a good man and full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:24). Thus he was sent from Jerusalem to inspect the burgeoning work at Antioch, was co-commissioned with Paul to the great western mission work (Acts 13:1-3); was instrumental in turning that mission to work among non-Jews and later in defending the standing of non-Jewish Christians (Acts 13:46; 15:1-12). So far he is looking like a great number one gospel worker.

However, Barnabas’ role was to be a great number two. At first Paul depended on Barnabas. Thus Barnabas introduced him to the sceptical leaders at Jerusalem and then recruited him to help with the ministry at Antioch (Acts 9:26-27; 11:25-26). Paul soon outgrew his encourager and emerged as the key leader. (Note, for example, how Paul is soon mentioned first when their names are paired – eg Acts 13:2,7, but then 13:42,46 etc.) Paul even criticised Barnabas for being misled by peer pressure and compromising on a gospel issue (Gal 2:13). These two had a later disagreement over a cousin of Barnabas who once deserted the cause (Acts 15:36-39), but their affection remained.

Do we see the pattern in Barnabas?

It takes the grace of the Spirit for a more senior leader to step aside for his acolyte. Likewise it takes grace to encourage and nurture another person into their more prominent ministry. Barnabas did both.

It’s easy to criticise others and thus to feed our ego with a sense of superiority. However, encouragement is the far more useful ministry. Who can you encourage in faith and service during this week? Be a Barnabas!

 David Burke