How many are familiar with the Barnabas of the Bible? Although he is not often mentioned amongst our Bible stories, he played a very important role in the spread of the Gospel in the early New Testament Church by using his unique gifts and talents for God. However, since his gifts were “under the radar,” we often fail to recognize his significant contributions. Some things never change! The church continues to fail to recognize similar contributions made by Christians for similar reasons…they “fly under the radar.” Their work is “behind the scenes.” They fight the Spiritual Warfare in their prayer closets instead of in the public eye. They are calm and quiet peacemakers who receive little attention. They give generously to the church, and no one knows. They can be continuously counted on for their faithfulness, their attendance, and their support. They are spiritually stable and strong and are not blown to and fro by the changing direction of the wind.
Barnabas, in some ways, was one of these “under the radar” Christians. Although he was an important leader in the early church, when compared to his partner, the zealous, gifted, Apostle Paul, he was definitely overshadowed. However, without Barnabas, Paul would have never had the opportunity to serve the Lord in such a capacity. Let us take a closer look at this story.
FEAR OF SAUL
Acts 9:26-28 (NIV) – “When he [Paul] came to Jerusalem,(AI) he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas(AJ) took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him,(AK) and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.(AL) 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.”
The disciples of Jesus were petrified of the terrible Saul (who later became the Apostle Paul)…for good reason! He had relentlessly persecuted Christians in and around Jerusalem. Not only that, he had recently traveled to other cities beyond the Holy City for the express purpose of hunting down believers in Christ and putting a stop to this movement. Apparently his “reputation” was well-deserved and well-known.
So even though Saul had experienced a miraculous conversion experience and a 180 degree lifestyle change, it was terribly hard to convince the church. More than likely the Christian leaders believed this was a ploy by the scheming Saul to infiltrate Christian circles and underground churches in order to throw a final death blow to the new sect. By playing the role of a convert, Saul could discover the meeting places of the followers of Jesus and uncover the identities of the prominent Christian leaders.
Now you know why the Jerusalem believers not only failed to heartily welcome Saul into their homes but flatly refused to associate with him at all. In addition, I am sure there were those Christians who were not yet mature in their faith who would have no trouble helping to dispose of Saul…permanently for his atrocities against innocent people.
Every time I read the story of the conversion of Saul/Paul, it gives me hope…hope for the seemingly “hopeless,” hope for the worst of the worst. Why? Because that was Saul. He called himself the “chief of sinners” (I Timothy 1:15). There is always hope for the ugliest, most sinful, hate-filled “cockroaches” of society…in Christ. Conversion is real!
Enter Barnabas, a well-respected, godly leader of the early Christian movement. Barnabas takes the recently converted Saul to the Christian leaders and personally vouches for him, verifying the account of Saul’s conversion experience along with his subsequent powerful, anointed preaching in the name of Jesus. It took someone with Barnabas’ reputation (in contrast to Saul’s) to convince the leaders regarding his authenticity. Barnabas’ reputation along with the entire Christian movement was hanging in the balance. If Barnabas was mistaken, deceived by Saul, there would be horrible consequences. The Christian leaders were possibly staking their very lives on the word of Barnabas. It was not inconceivable that they would be punished, imprisoned, or even stoned if Saul was found ingenuous regarding his conversion, if he was, instead, deceiving them in order to crush the movement.
What would have happened to the Apostle Paul (and the gospel message) without the discernment, testimony, trustworthiness, and moral character of Barnabas? Who knows? All we do know is that it took a godly, trusted man such as this in order for the Christian leaders and believers to readily accept Saul into the Christian church. Because of Barnabas, they trusted Saul and gave him the freedom to teach the new believers. His ministry would have never “gotten off the ground” if not for Barnabas. So, from now on, when you read Paul’s books which cover most of the New Testament, remember Barnabas.