I know you’ve heard of Paul — he wrote most of the epistles in the New Testament. And I know you’ve heard of Mark — he wrote one of the four Gospels. But have you ever heard of Barnabas? He’s mentioned in the New Testament, primarily in Acts. He’s not that well known, but if not for him you would probably have not heard of Paul or Mark. As we discussed in our adult education class last Sunday, he did an excellent job of implementing Jesus’ relationship plan of evangelism.
In Acts 4:36-37, we learn a little bit about the character and background of Barnabas:
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
This passage shows Barnabas’ generosity, but it also reveals probably the most important aspect of his character — He was an encourager. This is shown repeatedly in his relationships with both Paul and Mark.
Barnabas was also filled with the Holy Spirit and had wonderful spiritual discernment. After Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, he began preaching the gospel. However, because Paul — also known as Saul — had a history and reputation for persecuting Christians and having them tortured and thrown in jail, many of the believers in Jerusalem were afraid of him. But not Barnabas; he could see that God had really changed Paul and that he was a true believer.
When he [Paul] 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.
Later in Acts, when the Good News was being preached in Antioch to the Gentiles, Barnabas was trusted by the apostles to be sent to check it out and make sure the Gospel was being preached correctly and that the people there had good leaders. When he arrived and found that all was well, he encouraged those who were preaching. He also went and found Paul and brought him back to Antioch to teach and preach.
[M]en from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 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. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 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. Acts 11:20-26.
Up to this point, when Barnabas and Paul are mentioned together, Barnabas is always mentioned first. That was intentional on the part of Luke (the author of Acts) to show that Barnabas was the leader on these occasions. This is seen also in the beginning of Acts 13 when they went on a missionary trip to Cyprus. But later in chapter 13 they are referred to as Paul and Barnabas. This indicates a shift in leadership. Throughout their time together Barnabas has been discipling Paul, teaching him to be a disciple and to lead others. Barnabas taught him well, as the Lord Jesus would have wanted him to, until Paul was ready to make disciples of others. As we learned in the study of The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert E. Coleman, that was Jesus’ Great Commission to His disciples before He ascended into heaven.
But what about Mark? The scriptures reveal that Mark (also known as John Mark) was a cousin of Barnabas. Colossians 4:10. He accompanied Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey, but in the middle of the journey he left them and returned to Jerusalem. Acts 13:13. Later, when planning another missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them again, but Paul objected because he thought Mark had deserted them and would not be useful.
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.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 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. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. Acts 15:36-40.
Barnabas clearly saw something in Mark that Paul did not. He had a closer relationship with Mark and because they were related he likely had a wider range of experiences with Mark from which to reach his conclusion that Mark was worth discipling. In the long run, this disagreement between Paul and Barnabas was likely God’s will for them so that they might cover more territory and bring more people to Christ than they could if they continued to travel together.
Barnabas’ trust in Mark also paid off. As mentioned above, Mark is believed by most Bible scholars to be the author of the Gospel of Mark. In addition, he later became a trusted companion even of Paul, who wrote to his friend Timothy: “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:11. Because Barnabas saw something in Mark that was worth cultivating — some quality that was spiritually discerned, such as humility and a willingness to follow Christ — he was willing to spend time with him, teaching Mark all that he knew about our Lord and the means of salvation through faith.
As we have concluded this study on leadership and discipleship, I look forward to the opportunity to be like Mark and to learn more from those who are more mature in their faith than I am; and I look forward to being more like Barnabas, being able to spiritually discern the potential for discipleship in others. I am excited about seeing the Master’s plan of evangelism and discipleship implemented in my own church and in my own life outside the church. It’s all about the relationships we make; it’s about investing time and energy in making disciples of those we are in relationships with. This is Jesus’ plan and that’s good enough for me.