There are some people who always seem to be at the right place at the right time. Barnabas seems to be one of those people. Here and there throughout the first half of the book of Acts, Luke has mentioned Barnabas and his activities in the church. These snapshots of Barnabas’ actions help to paint the picture of a saint committed to building up the body of Christ. Since our text this week is the third significant instance of Barnabas’ efforts to build up the church, I thought I would spend a few moments highlighting how his humble service can encourage us to do the same.
The first time we meet Barnabas is in Acts 4 when Luke calls him out as an example of one who was concerned to support the needy within the early Jerusalem church. In this brief reference to Barnabas, we are introduced to a man who actively seeks to build up the body through diaconal ministry. As Paul will point out to the Corinthian church, a lack of generosity is one avenue for division within the church. When the material needs of fellow saints are not met because those who have been blessed with material abundance are not willing to sacrificially give, internal division is a threat to the unity of the church. Barnabas, whether he knew it at that moment or not, served as a quiet bodybuilder by sacrificially giving for the sake of fellow believers.
As we think about how Barnabas can inspire us today, the takeaway is simple: giving to diaconal ministry is a means to build up the body of Christ. Note that Barnabas had no involvement in the distribution of the funds. He did not set up a non-profit and direct his giving. No, he simply gave and trusted that the apostles and later the deacons would distribute those funds well. So, then, the important point is that he gave faithfully. He gave so that the church would have something to distribute. And by giving, he enabled the church to build up the body not only in word but also in deed. My prayer is that our deacons fund would always be healthy so that we might use it to build up the body of Christ.
The second time we meet Barnabas is in Acts 9 when the newly converted Saul of Tarsus returned to Jerusalem to join with the disciples there. As Luke notes, the disciples were wary of Saul. They knew his past, and they maybe wondered if he was just a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Saul’s past was hindering his full communion with the saints, a situation that would have weakened the church had it persisted. “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:27 ESV). That is to say, Barnabas built up the body by clearing up suspicions. He advocated for a true brother in Christ so that Saul might have fellowship with the body and so that the body might be built up by Saul’s ministry.
The third time we meet Barnabas is in Acts 11. He is sent by the Jerusalem church to look into the reports that a great many souls had been added to the church in Antioch. Being encouraged by the response to the gospel, Barnabas sought to build up the body of Christ in Antioch by exhorting them to be faithful in a faithless cultural context. He did not question the ethnic issue, but rather dove into discipleship. He sought to build up the body enthusiastically.
Taking these last two instances together, first note that Barnabas had good reasons to enthusiastically support Saul and the church in Antioch. He did not blindly trust, but once he saw or knew of fruit, he wholeheartedly supported fellow believers and sought to build them up. Secondly, neither past history nor cultural differences hindered his efforts to build up the body. Though upcoming chapters clearly point out that cultural differences were live issues in the early church, Barnabas cut through that so that the body might be built up.
With all that said, my prayer is that we would not be passive in the building up of the body of Christ. Rather, my hope is that we would see Barnabas’ example of active engagement in building up the body.