For a while now I’ve wanted to write about a particular bible character who would rank up amongst my favourites. It’s a character who only takes up a small portion of the scriptures, and yet it would be fair to say, they were the catalyst for a whole lot more.
The person I’m referring to is a man named Barnabas.
To put into context where Barnabas fits on the bible timeline, shortly after the death and resurrection of Christ, Paul (who at this time was known as Saul), was marching back and forth from Jerusalem to Damascus arresting and murdering anyone who was associated with Jesus.
One day, Saul, had a radical encounter with Jesus himself and was transformed from Saul, one of most feared destroyers of this new Christian faith, into Paul, who rose to become an Apostle of Christ and one of the greatest defenders of the gospel in all of Christian history.
At this point… we pick up the story in the below scripture:
When he [Saul] came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 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. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.
Acts 9:26-28 NIV
We all know joining a new group can be a difficult thing to do, whether we’ve been sent to a new school, started a new job or joined a new team, there’s always that awkward line we have to get over in order to insert ourselves amongst new people and also that initial fear that we won’t be included, accepted or embraced.
Personally, I don’t know a more awkward embrace than this one…
As followers of Christ, I believe we should have something about us that captures people, captures their attention, their curiosity and their hearts. Jesus was like this, everywhere he went, multitudes of people were captured by his presence and couldn’t help but be drawn closer to what he was doing.
Barnabas is another example of this – he saw Saul’s struggle to join the disciples, a group that were rightfully afraid of Saul because of his past, yet they were more concerned about and valued more what Saul had done to them over what Jesus had done in him.
We have to be ok with broken and imperfect people, the church was never meant to a sanctuary for saints, but rather a refuge and hospital for the broken, a place of asylum for criminals.
Barnabas means “son of encouragement” – which means he wasn’t encouraging in and of himself, but that he was born out of encouragement, a product of someone else’s belief. Barnabas knew the value of encouragement, and it was his encouragement, belief and acceptance towards Saul that became the catalyst for Saul to become Paul.
Here’s 3 quick things Barnabas did to include Saul:
ONE // OWNERSHIP – “took him”
Barnabas took ownership over Saul’s inclusion, he recognised he wouldn’t be able to (and shouldn’t have to) join the other disciples by himself. So he took a hold of Saul and took responsibility for his acceptance in the group.
TWO // LEADERSHIP – “brought him”
It’s one thing to take a hold of someone and take responsibility for them, it’s another to actually take the steps forward with them. Not only did Barnabas take ownership, he took leadership, and brought Saul into the centre of the circle with him.
THREE // FRIENDSHIP – “told them”
Once with the other disciples, Barnabas showed the greatest act of inclusion and encouragement of all, he stood with Saul as a friend would, spoke up, defended and advocated for Saul.
This is exactly what Jesus has done for all of us – none of us were included in Heaven because of our sin and mistakes, yet Jesus took a hold of our lives, brought us before the Father and advocated on our behalf, and it’s because of this that we have been accepted into the kingdom of light.
THE RESULT // FELLOWSHIP – “Saul stayed”
I’ve found that people stay where they feel accepted and believed in.
And not only did Saul stay, he found a freedom and boldness to be himself and step into the gifts and calling that God had for him because he was in an environment of love and grace. It’s this atmosphere of inclusion that will always bring out the true potential of individuals, as they feel comfortable to be themselves and the grace to make mistakes.
Later on in Paul’s life, he writes this passage of scripture, and I have no doubt it was Barnabas that came to mind as he was writing it.
Can you imagine if Barnabas let the fear of who Paul once was stop him from being the catalyst that helped launch him into his future?
“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
Romans 15:4-7 NIV
Hope this has helped!