Team Unity: Barnabas

This morning, we’re continuing our message series entitled “Team Unity” where we’re learning that God’s desire for the church is that we be united, working together as one. However, this unity is not achieved through conformity where we all look, think, and act alike, but rather, this unity is achieved through diversity. As we each fulfill our unique purpose in the body of Christ, Jesus is revealed more clearly to the world around us.

Last week, we profiled our first church member, Tabitha. We learned that through simple acts of service, as well as personal tragedy, that God used her to transform an entire city. We were challenged to take a look at our own lives and ask ourselves what we can do to represent Christ to the world ourselves.

This morning, we’re looking at the profile of the church member named Barnabas. We have our first encounter with Barnabas in the book of Acts chapter 1.

Now, I will pause to mention that there is uncertainty in regards to whether this individual named Barsabbas is the same Barnabas that we’re referring to, but for this morning’s sake, we’re going to conclude that it is the same individual. There is definitely enough evidence, which we’ll learn throughout the message.

Here, in Acts 1, the church was meeting following the death and resurrection of Jesus for prayer. Since Judas had committed suicide, they decided that it was God’s will for this to occur as well as for them to choose a replacement for him based on Psalm 69:25 and 109:8.

Acts 1:21-26
21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

So, right away, we learn a few significant things about Barnabas. First of all, we learn that he had been with Jesus throughout his whole ministry. This wasn’t just one of the 120 church members who decided to follow Jesus, he had followed Jesus from the time that He was water baptized and his ministry began to the time throughout His journeys and teachings, throughout His death, and after His resurrection. Barnabas was fully convinced and fully committed to being a disciple of Jesus.

Next, we learn about Barnabas that although he had been fully committed and faithful to following Jesus, that he was not chosen to be one of the twelve apostles. Many of us have been here in life. We want so badly to be chosen, we think for sure that it will be us. But then, comes the disappointment as we are overlooked and another promoted in our place.

The Holy Spirit wasn’t wrong in His choice of Matthias over Barnabas. However, Barnabas was left with a decision to make. It is during these times of disappointment that our character is revealed. It is during these times of disappointment where our faith and character are either grown and matured OR where we are controlled by our lack of faith and immature character. For a while, we’re not sure when it comes to Barnabas. However, we encounter him once gain here and finally find how he chose to respond to this disappointment.

Acts 4:32-37
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

So, instead of being controlled by a lack of faith and immature character, Barnabas instead chose to continue being faithful to Jesus and the church. No, he was not chosen to be an apostle, but he continued working under their leadership encouraging them in their work. He also gave sacrificially to support the church.

Now for any of us who have been in Barnabas’ situation, you know just how hard it is to continue sacrificing and supporting someone who was just promoted into a place where you could have been. It is during these times that the enemy comes in and attempts to divide and steal people away from the church by focusing their attention on their feelings of hurt and jealousy. However, Barnabas obviously did not allow this to happen. He chose the better path of maturity and growth in his faith and character and trusted that the Holy Spirit knew what He was doing and still had great plans to use Barnabas to reveal Jesus to the world.

Barnabas chose to do what he could for the cause of Christ. He encouraged and he was generous. Because of Barnabas’ choice, he indeed went on to do great and awesome things for the Lord! In fact, we learn that Barnabas was such and encourager, that it lead him as to be so bold as to encourage the apostles to allow the very one trying to imprison and murder all Christians to join them.

Acts 9:26-28
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas 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, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.

Think about this. The apostle Paul who wrote most of our New Testament, would have the apostles ever accepted his letters to the various churches to later be made a part of the Bible if one man name Barnabas had not convinced them that he was a disciple of Jesus and not pretending to be one? If Barnabas had chosen to leave the church after being overlooked, where would the church be? What would it look like? Would have Paul every been accepted as a disciple, let alone be promoted as an apostle?

Barnabas, being the encourager that he was, was chosen by the church in Jerusalem to go to Antioch. They had heard that there, Gentiles (or non-Jews) were also being saved and filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 11:19-26
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 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. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Paul and Barnabas made a great ministry team! In fact, Acts 13 reveals that while the church was fasting and worshiping, that the Holy Spirit set apart Paul and Barnabas as missionaries. They traveled from Antioch to Seleucia, to Cyprus, to Salamis where they met John Mark. John Mark continued with them to Paphos and to Perga in Pamphylia. It was there that John Mark abandoned Paul and Barnabas and headed back to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas continued going into whatever cities that the Holy Spirit would lead them into leading people to Jesus.

This missionary journey lead Paul and Barnabas back in Jerusalem after a dispute broke out between them and some Jewish believers. This dispute was over whether or not Gentile people who decided to follow Jesus should be circumcised or not. Paul and Barnabas argued that since the Holy Spirit accepted them as they were, that there was no need to burden them with the Biblical, but Jewish laws. The debate became so heated that the elders from the churches and the apostles met in Jerusalem to discuss the matter. Their conclusion was documented in the following letter:

Acts 15:24-29
Greetings.
24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
Farewell.

What started as a dispute and a division amongst the church was wisely dealt with. What could have resulted in the first church split actually resulted in the church being encouraged and glad. What the enemy could have used to divide and destroy, God used to bring further unity and encouragement. This was made possible because the believers brought their dispute before the apostles and elders to be dealt with. They in turn, sought the direction of the Holy Spirit and arrived at a win-win solution. Paul, Barnabas, and the other believers, then submitted themselves to the church leaders and reported back what had been decided. Because everyone cooperated, sought after God, and valued others more than their own opinions, the church was strengthened into even greater unity after a dispute!

After delivering the letter, Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch for a while, but then decided to go back through the towns that they had visited on their missionary journey to encourage the believers and strengthen the churches that they had planted.

Now, you would think that being an encourager would always be an advantage and a strength. However, we here find that being an encourager has its down side…

Acts 15:36-41
36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Being an encourager becomes a weakness whenever you see the potential in someone that others do not see or do not value. Barnabas saw great value in the ministry of John Mark, however, Paul only saw his past mistake of deserting the missionary journey that they were once on together.

You can imagine just how torn and frustrated Barnabas must have been in that moment. He had been through so much with Paul, encouraging him through it all. However, he also felt that the Holy Spirit wanted him to encourage John Mark. Likely fueled by his frustration with Paul, Barnabas decided to take John Mark off to Cyprus and Paul left with Silas to Syria.

However, God always has a plan, even in the midst of dispute. Because these two teams split up, their efforts were multiplied and even more people and churches were encouraged and built up!

This morning, I felt that God wanted us to look to the example that Barnabas set. He faced pain, unmet expectations, disappointment, heated debates, and even faced death. However, He never gave up. He considered being a follower of Christ and leading others to Christ a far more valuable goal than his own life in every regard. He gave others a very simple gift, encouragement.

Who is God challenging you to encourage this morning? It may not be a popular decision to make. Others may not see that person worth your time. However, the Holy Spirit has shown you the value and worth of that person. The Holy Spirit has shown you the potential in that person. I encourage you to lay down your own life, disregard the voice of those around you, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Encourage that person and leave the rest up to God. You never know what God is able to do through your life as you offer up the simple gift of encouragement to others!

Encouragement is so empowering! Just one, simple encouraging comment can turn hopelessness to hope, weakness to strength, death to life. Get out there this week and encourage someone!