With the Olympic games quickly approaching, we are all excited to watch our favorite events and cheer on each country we call home. One of the events that is actively watched are the relay races. It is quite an art form to watch runners at full steam pull off a smooth passing of the baton. One slight mishandle can ruin a relay teams chances for a medal placing. On the other hand, a smooth transition can make up for slower running speeds. The idea of baton passing has been widely used for more than running though. We think of the “passing of the baton” when leadership is being handed from one person to the next. Though no one is running, the same smooth transition is necessary. In our sermon text this morning, Luke hints at a passing of the baton from Barnabas to Paul.
Barnabas and Paul were a team of missionaries and church planters that worked tirelessly to proclaim the good news found in Jesus Christ. They were set apart particularly to take this gospel message to the Gentiles, though they did preach to the people of Israel as well. When we first hear of this dynamic duo, we read of Barnabas and Saul, Barnabas’ name being placed first (Acts 11:30; 12:25; 13:2, 7). Yet in Acts 13:13, Luke writes that “Paul and his companions set sail,” yet we can be quite certain that Barnabas was with Paul. From this point on in the book of Acts, Luke places Paul as the primary character. Nothing has been done wrong here by Luke though, for within the history of the church it is clear that God used Paul in a mighty way; not only through his preaching and church planting, but also in the thirteen letters of Paul that the Lord has preserved for our benefit.
We clearly learn much from Paul’s writings, but there is something to be learned here from Barnabas’ (at least literary) example. Barnabas continued to preach and church plant, yet he does not hold primary space within Luke’s writings. Barnabas quietly steps off the scene and makes room for what God was doing through Paul. As commentator Darrell Bock notes: “Good leadership can often be measured by whether it leaves a trail of successors behind it. Barnabas not only encouraged Paul; he also enabled him. Barnabas did not feel the need to be always the front man. So, although Paul is the focus in this text, in many ways Barnabas is a hero in the passage because of the way he teamed with his partner.”1
The reality is that many of us will not serve in a capacity that will get our names in a history book. Like Barnabas, our names will fall from view. But thanks be to God that though men will forget us, our Lord does not. Let us be encouraged by the example of Barnabas to serve in whatever capacity God calls us and to encourage others in their ministry. May we serve not for our own aggrandizement, but for the glory of God. May we remember that our reward for service is not in the recognition of this world, rather it is stored up in the heavens with our God, who is our greatest treasure. And may we be ready to pass on to others, in order that they may serve as the Lord chooses. Let us live in the words attributed to German missionary, Nikolaus Zinzendorf: “Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten!”
1Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, Div of Baker Publishing Group, 2013.