“Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul.” – Acts 11:25
One of my greatest joys as a pastor is the friendships I have with other pastors in my town. I’ve been having Friday morning coffee for years with other pastors, and we’ve developed great relationships. I’ve taught in their church and they’ve come to mine when I was out of town. In fact, I’ve taught in four different churches and have had seven pastors or teachers from other churches fill in for me. One pastor uses me and my wife Barbara for all his marriage counseling, and another pastor is my computer guru.
Because of our friendships, we see one another not as competitors for souls, but companions in the work of the Kingdom. We support and encourage one another, share needs, prayer requests and, when needed, finances. We are working together to build the Kingdom of God, because we recognize each fellowship has different gifts with different abilities to minister to different people.
We see the same attitude with Barnabas in the book of Acts. This oft-overlooked character has been both an inspiration and a challenge to me. We first meet him as an example of a disciple who was “united in heart and mind” with the other believers (Acts 4:32). We read his real name was Joseph (which means, “May God add”), but the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas (“Son of encouragement”). We also know he was from the island of Cyprus and the priestly tribe of Levi. In his generosity, he sold a field he owned and gave the money to the apostles to use for the poor.
In Acts 11, we read about the first believers taking the Gospel outside Israel to Gentiles. Up to this point, most of the believers only preached to Jews, like those in Jerusalem, or to those in Israel, like Cornelius in Caesarea. Now believers from Cyrene (North Africa) and Cyprus (an island in the Mediterranean) are preaching to the pagans in Antioch. Because Barnabas would be more familiar with the disciples and the pagan nature of Antioch, the church of Jerusalem sends him to investigate. What he sees makes him rejoice because of all the people who brought to the Lord.
This is good, but what challenges me is Barnabas doesn’t stay in Antioch. Instead, he travels 100 miles west to get Saul, whose God-given commission was to the Gentiles. It appears Barnabas was aware that this ministry in Antioch was the specialty of another minister, so he seeks Saul. The two of them stay in Antioch one year, and it was here the believers are first called “Christians,” which means “Christ followers” or “those of the household of Christ.”
The inspiration and the challenge is the way Barnabas understood his gifts, understood the gifts of Saul, and proceeded to collaborate with his brother in Christ to bring the Gospel to new people. Barnabas didn’t “protect his interest” in Antioch. It wasn’t “his church and his people.” He knew it was God’s church and God’s people and he sought out the best person he could find to continue God’s mission.
My prayer is we all (pastors, people and churches) learn to step aside and allow God to use God’s people without there being any spirit of “ownership” over a group or a ministry. Perhaps then the world will realize we are all “those of the household of Christ.”