Monday, November 24

Son of encouragement

"After the news about Antioch reached the church in Jerusalem, Barnabas was sent to Antioch. When he arrived there, he was pleased to see what God had done for them out of kindness. So he encouraged all the people to remain solidly committed to the Lord. Barnabas was a dependable man, and he was full of the Holy Spirit and faith. A large crowd believed in the Lord. Then Barnabas left Antioch to go to the city of Tarsus to look for Saul. After finding Saul, Barnabas brought him back to Antioch. Barnabas and Saul met with the church in Antioch for a whole year and taught a large group of people. The disciples were called Christians for the first time in the city of Antioch." Acts 11:22-26 (GWT)

Barnabas, Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36), left Antioch...the Antioch (Antiocheia) that was on the river Orontes and the capital city of ancient Syria. In time, it would stand as the 3rd Patriarchal see of the early Church, after Rome and Jerusalem and would be destroyed by the Persian invasion of AD 538.

Fourteen years after the Jerusalem church sent Saul to Tarsus, after his inciting 'murderous responses', Barnabas would come seeking this individual whom he had vouched for to the original eleven disciples in Jerusalem in a city second only to Antioch in economically, culturally and politically in the region. Tarsus was a bustling seaport where the ancient religion of the god Mithras was prominent. This has led many anti-Christian theologians and historians to compare the religions and find what they claim are co-opted myths, blended into the new found movement of Christianity by Gaius Julius Paulus (some claim his name was).

"What part did his stay there play in his later effectiveness?" one researcher asks, "I expect that a time of tempering, including growth in humility, ……. time is essential for the ingredients of something to blend properly. Tea has to be steeped, wine has to be aged……changes in life have to be assimilated and lived out."

We know that Paul's character was drastically changed even before he departed the Jerusalem church at the behest of the leadership. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes him before his conversion as an intolerant, bitter, persecuting, religious bigot - proud and temperamental. After his conversion he is pictured as patient, kind, enduring, and self-sacrificing. Paul's combative relationship with the followers of Jesus Christ was so changed with the help of Barnabas' introduction that he had received the 'right hand of fellowship', which meant that the leadership considered him as an equal.

According to most theologians, Saul likely didn't remain idle while he was in a 'place of higher learning' in Tarsus, which hosted a Jewish population evidenced by several archaeological records. After inciting such violent feelings among the Jerusalem Jewish population, he may have avoided most of the Jewish thoughts and instead listened in on the current philosophical arguments of the Greeks, although he probably did visit with relatives and family. He may have traveled home to gather linen for his trade as a tentmaker, which he used so as to 'not become a burden' to the congregations he founded and visited, though it would seem he got sidetracked for a period of time.

The explosive growth of the church in Antioch, which Barnabas was sent to pastor most likely led to his decision to seek out help, but it is interesting that Barnabas went seeking Saul in Tarsus instead of calling for some of the apostles to help him with the growing Antioch church. Barnabas always sought God’s direction in his decisions and often exercised his leadership abilities in the support of others who, not necessarily were better than he is, but more suitable for the work at hand. Since he knew of Saul’s desire to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, he went to seek him out.

The story between these two apostles would span a long time, a disagreement over John Mark and the endorsement of the Jerusalem church of Paul and Silas no doubt bothered Barnabas to some degree, but never to the point of contention. He simply moved out on his own, taking whom God led him to take, and would never speak with Paul again, at least according to the biblical accounts.

Paul, upon his final imprisonment, would speak of his foolishness concerning John Mark, in 2 Timothy…….

“Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” 4:9-11 (NIV)

Barnabas would remain true; never forgetting the apostle he introduced to the leadership in Jerusalem, whom he taught a growing number of believers with in Antioch, and whom he helped found numerous churches through their missionary journeys. When Paul was sent away for inciting bad feelings to Tarsus, it is Barnabas who came to seek him out. When it was time to go on missionary trips, it was Barnabas by Paul’s side. And, when it was Paul’s pride that got in the way of the mission to proclaim the gospel, it was Barnabas who stepped out and took John Mark with him.

He never stopped believing in Paul; in the journey that God surely showed him that this once-persecutor of the faithful would travel. He never turned his back upon Paul, even with fourteen years between seeing him and most likely never stopped praying for him.

How many of us in the church are Barnabas? Very few, unfortunately, although we are all called to be such an impactful leader, not for our glory but God’s.
I miss my Barnabas, that one son of encouragement that God blessed me with when I was just starting out on this journey towards God, who never laughed at the Call, never questioned God’s impact, and never stopped believing in this young upstart whom he called friend and brother.

I know that, in the passage of time that my Barnabas (whether he wears a new face or an old one) will come and draw me out of the quiet contemplative place I am in, observing and learning, to help fulfill my Call where God directs him to bring me.

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