In Acts 11:19-30, we see a little more of Barnabas’s character. Luke describes him as ‘a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith’ Acts 11:24), sent by the apostles in Jerusalem to check out what was happening in Antioch. (It’s interesting that first-hand reports were important in those days and in our tendency to believe all we read or see on the news or on social media, it’s worth considering the validity of first-hand reports even nowadays!) Barnabas, whose nickname meant ‘son of encouragement’, was originally from Cyprus, and it may be that because of his ethnicity the apostles felt he was the ideal person to check out what was happening in the ongoing evangelisation of the Gentiles. John Stott says, ‘He acted as a pivot or link between the Hebrew and Hellenistic elements in the church.’ (‘Acts’, P 202)
True to his name, ‘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.’ (Acts 11:23) Barnabas was not one to focus on legalism or outward conformity to rules; he knew the value of the grace of God and the need for whole-hearted obedience to the word. Barnabas had the spiritual insight to recognise that God’s plan was being fulfilled at Antioch. He recognised that there was potential for further advances and saw the need of additional help in evangelism and teaching.
Barnabas did not work in isolation. Instead, he went to Tarsus (a 100 mile journey) to find Saul and bring him to Antioch so that the church could be built up by teaching and preaching. He knew Saul’s call to be an apostle to the Gentiles and was generous enough not to think that he could do everything on his own. His selflessness and willingness to work with others, along with his perseverance and cheerfulness, are other characteristics which mark him out as a true blessing to the church. May we know many such people in our congregations!