When I was a young believer in my teens and twenties, I took to heart a challenge from my pastor to “do great things for God.” My biblical examples were men like David and Paul, men who built kingdoms or planted churches, men who stood up fearlessly to the giants.
Well somehow, either the opportunities never came, or more likely, I missed them. Though I felt I was somehow “serving God,” it never seemed to amount to much.
Then, in my late thirties, I went off to seminary and felt that now, with the gifts and the abilities that I had, along with an education, I was finally ready to do those great things. But the years passed. I pastored some small churches and taught at a Bible college. Still no great things. I dreaded getting the Alumni newsletters, because there I’d read about men younger (and less qualified?) than I, doing what appeared to be great things.
I have gradually come to realize that this was a false ambition. Very few of us accomplish those great things. And what is it that makes an accomplishment great anyhow?
This past year, two of my former professors at Dallas Theological Seminary, passed away: Zane Hodges and Harold Hoehner. As I read the many tributes to them, most by former students, it was clear that they had affected hundreds, maybe thousands of men. God had used them to change lives. As far as I know, neither of them had planted a church, built a kingdom, or faced a giant. Yes, they had written a few books, some memorable, some not. But it was people that counted.
Though David and Paul are still included in my pantheon, it is Barnabas who has become my model. His name, we are told, means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:5). Nearly everywhere we find him in the New Testament, he is involved with encouraging others in some way.
The first time we meet him, we read that he “owned a tract of land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:37), thus priming the ministry of sharing in the early church.
Later we find that when Saul (later Paul), the persecutor of the church, was converted, it was Barnabas who introduced him to the fearful Jerusalem apostles. “And … he (Saul) was attempting to associate with the disciples, and they were afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and related to them how he had seen the Lord …” (Acts 9:26, 27).
When the new Gentile church was started in Antioch, Barnabas was sent to minister to them and “ … he was encouraging them …” (Acts 11:23). When the church continued growing, “ … he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he found him he brought him to Antioch … and they taught a great number” (Acts 11:25, 26). How many preachers would do that – go find a better preacher to help them in the ministry of a growing church?
Later when he and Paul were on what is known as their missionary trip through what is now Turkey, their young helper John Mark, got homesick and returned home (Acts 13:5, 13). Later, when Paul refused to let John Mark come with them on another trip, Barnabas and Paul split up. “Barnabas wanted to take along John, called Mark … but Paul insisted that they should not … And there was such a sharp quarrel that they separated from each other, and Barnabas took Mark with him … But Paul took Silas and departed” (Acts 15:37-40). Paul seemed to have forgotten how he had at one time needed encouragement.
Later, though we never read that Paul and Barnabas reconciled, we find Paul still holding him in high regard (Gal. 2:13; 1 Cor. 9:6).
I believe there are more Barnabases around than there are Pauls. Great works – churches and kingdoms will fail. (In fact the church in Turkey where Paul evangelized, has practically disappeared today.) But people are eternal. It is those whom we encourage, whom we help to grow in their faith and character who will be around to greet us in eternity. As Paul himself said to the people of a church he had planted, “For who is our hope or joy or crown of boasting – is it not even you – in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming? For you are our glory and joy!” (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20).
Lord help me to be a Barnabas – to do small things for you!