Barnabas: The Goodness of Great Faith

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men 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 ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, 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. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Forgotten Heroes of the Faith

The vast majority of great men and women have been utterly forgotten. The Latin poet Horace, who died just about the time Jesus was born, speaks about the great warriors of years gone by:

In endless night they sleep, unwept, unknown:
No bard had they to make all time their own.
(Odes iv. ix. xxvi)

When I was in Singapore, there was much talk about third world missions—that is, missionaries going from rather than going to third world countries. But one of the perceptive third world leaders there told me over lunch one day that this really wasn't all that new. He said, "Hardly anyone knows about them because there haven't been any biographers for third world missionaries."

So hundreds of God's great and faithful servants have vanished from history like Horace's warriors. They are remembered by no one but God.

Memory as a Means of Grace

But not all the great men and women of God have been forgotten. And there is a reason: God intends for their lives to give us inspiration and guidance. God intends for memory to be a great means of grace.

Hebrews 13:7 says, "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith." Hebrews 6:12 says, "Do not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." And of course Hebrews 11 is a collection of excerpts from the lives of great men and women of faith. The author of Hebrews was convinced that the dead can and will go on speaking for our encouragement if someone will take the trouble to preserve their memory.

Views on the Value of Biography

Proverbs 13:20 says, "He who walks with wise men becomes wise." Philips Brooks (an Episcopalian pastor in Boston 100 years ago) applied that proverb to the reading of Christian biography like this:

While it is good to walk among the living, it is good also to live with the wise, great, and good dead. It keeps out of life the dreadful feeling of extemporaneousness, with its conceit and its despair. It makes us always know that God made other men before He made us. It furnishes a constant background for our living. It provides us with perpetual humility and inspiration. (In W. Wiersbe, Walking with the Giants, p. 15)

Isaac Watts, who wrote so many of our great hymns, loved to read Christian biography. He said,

The lives or memoirs of persons of piety, well written, have been of infinite and unspeakable advantage to the disciples and professors of Christianity, and have given us admirable instances and rules how to resist every temptation of a soothing or a frowning world, how to practice important and difficult duties, how to love God above all, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, to live by the faith of the Son of God, and to die in the same faith, in sure and certain hope of a resurrection to eternal life. (In James Reid, Memoirs of the Westminster Divines, p. iv)

Jonathan Edwards said,

There are two ways of representing and recommending true religion and virtue to the world; the one, by doctrine and precept; the other, by instance and example.

And probably the most influential book he ever wrote was The Life and Diary of David Brainerd. It has inspired generations of missionaries for over 200 years.

So I am encouraged both by Scripture and by the testimony of church history that God wills for us to be inspired and guided by the study of the lives of great men and women. Specifically, as I have been pondering the people in the book of Acts, Luke (the writer) seems very much intent on calling attention to the character of Barnabas. So I have decided to spend three Sundays focusing our attention on this man—or, more accurately, focusing our attention on his faith and the God reflected in it.

Seeing the Root of Barnabas' Goodness

Our text this morning is Acts 11:22–24. Disciples had been scattered all over the Mediterranean coastlands after the persecution of Stephen. Some went about 400 miles north to Antioch and preached to Gentiles. A great number believed (according to verse 21) and this news reached the church in Jerusalem. This is where verse 22 picks up:

News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a large company was added to the Lord.

What we want to try to see today is what makes this man tick. It is obvious that Luke admires Barnabas. After he describes his ministry in verse 23, he says, "For he was a good man." We are going to look at his goodness for three weeks. Today I want to focus on the root of that goodness. Where does it come from? And how does this particular root produce the fruit of goodness we see in this text? How might it produce the same goodness in us?

Goodness and Fullness of the Spirit and Faith

Let's make brief work out of verse 24. It has two assertions:

  1. Barnabas was a good man, that's one assertion;
  2. and Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit and faith, that's the other assertion.

How do they relate to each other? Probably fullness of the Holy Spirit and faith is the root or source of Barnabas' goodness. Paul unpacks this relationship in Galatians. He says in Galatians 5:22 that goodness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. You don't get the Holy Spirit because you are good. The Holy Spirit takes over your life and starts to make you good.

But what do we do in that process? We are not passive in this affair of becoming good. That's why Luke doesn't just say that Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit. He is full of the Holy Spirit and faith. Faith is what we do. Now what does faith have to do with the work of the Holy Spirit?

Galatians 3:2 tells us: "Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" The assumed answer is that we received the Spirit by faith in the Word of God. Then verse 5 says, "Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" And again the assumed answer is FAITH! The Spirit is received by faith and goes on being supplied through faith.

Putting It All Together

So let's put it all together: At the very beginning of the Christian life we receive the Holy Spirit by trusting in the truth of the gospel (Galatians 3:2). Then as the Christian life goes on and there is need again and again to be strengthened and filled with the Spirit, this too happens by faith in the word of God's promise (Galatians 3:5). One of the practical fruits or products of this Spirit-filled faith is goodness (Galatians 5:22).

So when Luke says that Barnabas was "a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith," my understanding is that Barnabas had a great faith in God, and that by this faith the Holy Spirit became powerful in his heart, and that the result was a lot of practical goodness in Barnabas' life.

So if you asked Luke what made Barnabas tick, what was the key to his life as a Christian leader, I think Luke could have said two things.

  1. If he wanted to focus on the divine enabling of Barnabas's life, he could have said, "The key to his life was that he was full of the Holy Spirit."
  2. Or if Luke wanted to focus on the human side, he could have said, "The key to his life was that he was full of faith."

Now how can the life of Barnabas become living and effective for us at this point? How can we get encouragement and guidance from Luke's portrait?

Six Demonstrations of Barnabas' Goodness and Faith

I think what will be most helpful will be to point out the specific ways that Barnabas' goodness showed itself and how faith made that possible. I have seen at least six demonstrations of Barnabas' goodness in today's text. Let' take them one at a time.

1. His Empathy to Outsiders

Barnabas is known for his empathy to outsiders.

Notice from verse 22 that of all the apostles and elders and deacons that the church in Jerusalem could have sent to help the Gentile believers in Antioch, the church chose Barnabas. Why? Because he had earned a reputation for caring for the underdog. For example, in Acts 9:26–27 after the conversion of Saul—the former persecutor, and Pharisee—the whole church was so afraid of him that he couldn't even join their fellowship as a new Christian. Only Barnabas was willing to stand by him and be his advocate.

In fact, according to Acts 4:36 Barnabas' real name was Joseph and the apostles called him "Barnabas" because it means "son of encouragement." It's obvious that Luke wants us to see Barnabas' goodness in his remarkable gift for encouraging others, especially underdogs or outsiders. So the church in Jerusalem chooses Barnabas to go to Antioch to encourage and establish the new Gentile church.

Now how does faith produce this kind of goodness?

Surely part of the answer is this: faith feels the wonder of being accepted as an outsider to God's blessing. Faith is the apprehension that we were once cut off from the heavenly Jerusalem and willfully locked in the Antioch of sin. And faith is the apprehension that God built a bridge between Jerusalem and Antioch, constructed with the cross of his own Son. And therefore faith has a kind of built-in empathy for outsiders.

This was very strong in Barnabas' life for some reason. So of all the apostles and elders who could have gone to encourage the Gentile converts in Antioch, the church chose Barnabas.

He had the goodness of empathy with outsiders because faith still feels the wonder of being accepted by God.

2. His Submission to God's Call Through the Church

Barnabas yielded to the call of God through the church.

Verse 22 ends with the words, "They sent Barnabas to Antioch." And verse 23 begins with the words, "When he came . . . "

There was a need. The church saw in Barnabas the necessary gifts. They sent him. He went. And that was that. In fact, there is no evidence that he ever returned to Jerusalem to live.

At the beginning of chapter 13 Barnabas is praying with some of the teachers in Antioch and it happens again. The Spirit says, "Set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." They fasted, prayed, laid their hands on them, and they were off. And that was that.

So the second feature of goodness I see in Barnabas was an extraordinary yieldedness to go anywhere God directed, and to take his cue from the guidance of the church.

How does faith produce this kind of goodness?

Faith banks everything on the missionary promise of Matthew 28:19–20, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me . . . I will be with you to the end of the age." Barnabas knew that if he followed the leading of God, he would always be in the presence of omnipotent protection and unparalleled pleasures.

So Barnabas had the goodness of being yielded to the call of God because he had faith in the promise of Christ's ever-present fellowship and protection.

3. His Vision of God's Grace in an Imperfect Church

Barnabas saw the grace of God in an imperfect church.

Verse 23: "When he came and saw the grace of God . . . "

It is part of Barnabas' goodness that he had eyes to look beyond the imperfections of a church that had just been planted and see the grace of God. Not everyone can see the tokens of God's grace in the lives of the saints, especially the newer saints. But Barnabas could, and that is why he had such a remarkable gift for encouragement. He saw living embers of grace that he wanted to fan into flame, where others saw only the ashes of imperfection.

Why did his faith produce that kind of goodness? Because faith lives by grace. Faith spends all of its time looking for grace and locking eyes with grace. And so faith has a kind of homing device for grace. Faith is like a radar screen designed to pick up the slightest motion of grace. It's like one of those little metal detectors that men use to hunt coins around Lake Calhoun. If it gets near to a tiny little fragment of grace, the signals go off.

So Barnabas had the goodness of being able to see the grace of God in the imperfect lives of the Gentile saints in Antioch, because his faith was tuned in to the frequency of grace. Because faith can't survive without grace.

4. His Joy over God's Grace in Other's Lives

Barnabas not only saw the grace of God, he rejoiced over the grace of God in the lives of others.

Verse 23 goes on: "When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad."

Faith not only sees grace, it delights in grace. Faith is not only like a homing device and radar and metal detector that spots grace in an instant. It is also like an addiction. The more grace you see and taste, the more you must have. And when you get near it, you not only spot it, you savor it, you rejoice over it!

And so the goodness of Barnabas was his readiness to rejoice over the grace of God that he saw in the young church in Antioch. And the reason he was so ready to rejoice was because his faith had in it a deep and thrilling addiction to grace developed over a long period of dependence.

5. His Exertion for the Saints' Perseverance

Barnabas exerted himself for the perseverance of the saints.

Verse 23: "When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose."

Genuine saving faith has in it an impulse to persevere and to fight for its life every day against all the temptations to unbelief. Genuine saving faith feels that it would be utterly inauthentic if it took off the armor of God, laid aside its vigilance, and acted as though past decisions could guarantee future blessings.

And since genuine saving faith knows that its own life depends daily on the Word of God and prayer and moral vigilance, therefore faith will produce in us the same vigilance for others. And this is a great goodness. Barnabas "exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose; for he was a good man."

His goodness was his exertion for the perseverance of the saints and it came from the living persevering reality of his own faith.

6. His Trustworthiness with Other People's Money

Finally, Barnabas was utterly trustworthy with other people's money.

Notice verses 29–30: "And the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brethren who lived in Judea; and they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul."

In other words, Barnabas, along with Saul, was chosen to be trusted with the collection. Luke seems to want to emphasize this part of Barnabas' goodness because he gave Barnabas as the main example of generosity in the Jerusalem church back in Acts 4:36–37.

Thus Joseph, who was surnamed by the apostles Barnabas (which means, son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field which belonged to him, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.

Barnabas had a reputation for being trustworthy with other people's money because he lived in a way that showed he did not love money or things. He was willing to sell his land for the cause of the gospel. He was willing to leave his land for the cause of the gospel. Money had no hold on him. He was free.

Why?

Because he trusted God, not money, to take care of his future. He was laying up treasures in heaven, not on earth. He was banking on the promise, "I will never fail you or forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).

And so again it was his great faith that gave Barnabas the goodness of being utterly trustworthy with other people's money.

Summary

So what have we seen in our first look at the life of Barnabas? We've seen that his goodness was the goodness of a great faith. As Luke put it: "He was a good man full of the Holy Spirit and faith."

  1. Barnabas felt empathy for outsiders, because faith still feels the wonder of once having been an outsider but now accepted by God.
  2. Barnabas yielded to the call of God, because faith rests in the missionary promise, "I will be with you to the end of the age."
  3. Barnabas saw the grace of God in an imperfect church, because faith has a homing device for grace.
  4. Barnabas rejoiced over the grace of God in the lives of others, because faith not only sees but savors grace; it is not only alert for it, it is addicted to it through long dependence on it.
  5. Barnabas exerted himself for the perseverance of the saints, because genuine saving faith knows the necessity of vigilance for itself and therefore for others.
  6. Finally, Barnabas was utterly trustworthy with other people's money, because the power of greed had been broken by his faith in the love of a never-failing God.

Therefore I say with the writer to the Hebrews, "Consider the outcome of his life and imitate his faith" (Hebrews 13:7).

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