The Power of an Obeying Man: Barnabas

Acts 9:26-30

September 4, 2005 | Brian Bill

Squirrels had overrun three churches in town.  After much prayer, the leaders of the first church determined that the squirrels were predestined to be there and there was nothing they could do about it.  Soon, the squirrels multiplied.  The leaders of the second church decided that they could not harm any of God’s creatures, so they humanely trapped the squirrels and set them free outside of town.  Three days later, the squirrels were back.  It was only the third church that succeeded in keeping the pests away.  Their leaders made them members of the church and now they only see them on Christmas and Easter!

Last week we learned how God used Deborah’s obedience and her extraordinary faith to accomplish some amazing things.  As we focus today on the power of an obeying man, it strikes me that many men today are absent from the church.  And many who are physically present on a Sunday are not really here in their hearts.  There’s a new book out called, “Why Men Hate Going to Church.”  The author gives a couple reasons but I wonder if it’s because we haven’t given men good models to follow.  Hebrews 13:7 challenges us to find some models of mentoring so we: “Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”

There are a number of godly examples in Scripture of men that we would do well to imitate.  I’d like to set forth a manly model named Barnabas this morning.  Actually, that’s his nickname.  Have you ever noticed how guys like giving each other nicknames?  If Kelly, Karen, Mabel and Mary go out for lunch, they will call each other Kelly, Karen, Mabel and Mary.  If Mark, Chris, Eric, and Tom go out, they will affectionately refer to each other as Fat Boy, Godzilla, Peanut-Head and Scrappy.  

Please turn to Acts 4:36: “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement).”  His given name was Joe but those who knew him best called him Barnabas, because this nickname means “encouragement.”  To be the son of someone meant that you took on the characteristics of the one you were a son to.  It’s as if “Encouragement” was his father, and he was encouragement’s offspring.   The word “encouragement” literally means to “put courage into someone.”  If one could uncover a first-century dictionary and look up this word, you would find a snapshot of Barnabas.  We’re going to look briefly at seven Scriptural snapshots to get a composite picture of this man’s character so we can become more like him.

1. A Generous Giver (Acts 4:37). 

Because believers in the early church faced pervasive persecution, they did not have much money.  In response to this need, we read in Acts 4:37 that Barnabas “sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” Interestingly, as a Levite, Barnabas would not have been allowed to own any property in Israel (see Numbers 18:20), but he did have some real estate on the luxurious island of Cyprus.  Perhaps this was a piece of property that he inherited.  Wanting to make a kingdom impact, Barnabas willingly gave it to the church.  Even though his home was hundreds of miles away, he made himself one with the Jerusalem church.  

He didn’t worry about what he gave up but instead rejoiced in what he was able to do to help

John Piper points out that Barnabas experienced two immediate effects that came from believing in Jesus.  First, his heart was loosened in relationship to things; and second, it was tightened in its relationship to people.  He didn’t worry about what he gave up but instead rejoiced in what he was able to do to help.

That reminds me of the minister who was really worried about how he was going to ask the congregation to give more so they could make some building repairs.  As he was getting ready for the service he found out that the regular organist was sick and so a substitute came to play.  She wanted to know what songs he wanted but because he was so flustered he just told her to pick something on the theme of giving.  He then stood up and made this announcement: “Brothers and sisters, we are in great difficulty.  The repairs will cost twice as much as expected and we need an additional $4000.  If you can pledge $100 or more, please stand up.”  As if on cue, the substitute organist started playing the “Star Spangled Banner” and the whole church stood.  And that is how the substitute became the regular organist.

The early church did not have to use any gimmicks to get people to give.  God worked within people’s hearts and they willingly responded.  Barnabas gave because his heart was in the right place.  Guys, if you want to be like Barnabas, learn to be a generous giver.  I like this quote: “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”  That’s important to remember on this Labor Day weekend as we give honor to the American work ethic.  Men, we really need to get a grip on our giving because most of us are consumed with getting.   A.W. Tozer once said, “I do not think I exaggerate when I say that some of us put our offering in the plate with a kind of triumphant bounce as much to say: ‘There…now God will feel better!’  I am obliged to tell you that God does not need anything you have…It is your own spiritual welfare at stake in such matters as these…” 

One more point here.  If you keep reading into Acts 5, you’ll come across a couple that tried to copy the generosity of Barnabas but because their hearts were not in it, they ended up keeping some shekels for themselves and lied in the process.  This cost them their very lives.  Their names are Ananias and Sapphira but we could say that their nicknames were Barnacle and Barracuda.  Watching the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina really reveals both the good and the bad of human nature.  We’re hearing about incredible acts of giving, and we have an opportunity to give through our special offering today.  We’re also hearing of those who are more interested in getting as looters have caused the police to halt their rescue operations just so they can control this display of human depravity.  Men, are you known as a giver or a getter?  Are you a lover or a looter?

2. Empathy for the Underdog (Acts 9:26-28). 

Please turn now to Acts 9.  In this chapter we read of Saul’s conversion. Let’s look at verses 26-27: “When he 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.”  Barnabas, at risk to his own reputation, put his arm around Paul and brought him to the apostles.  He went with him and he also spoke up for him, telling these leaders that Paul was genuinely converted and was already preaching without fear.  

Barnabas took the time to stand with Paul and to speak for him.  Men, are you known as someone who comes alongside the underdog and do you help others accept outsiders?  Are you willing to believe in, and befriend a new believer?  I think that this church does a pretty good job of welcoming people from different lifestyles and backgrounds, but there’s always more we can do to improve.  I talked to a visitor recently who told me that he often gets judged when he goes to a church.  I smiled and confidently said, “No one will judge you here.”  He laughed and said, “Then you don’t know your church.”  Guys, it’s time to stop ignoring outsiders and to start having empathy for the underdogs.  Who can you come alongside this week?  Do you have the courage to speak up for a new Christian when others are tearing him down?  

3. Grace-Based (Acts 11:23). 

In Acts 11, we read about the explosive growth of the church in Antioch.  Look at verse 21: “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”  Recognizing that these new believers needed to be mentored and discipled, what do you think the church in Jerusalem did?  They sent the Son of Encouragement to Antioch, a distance of over 300 miles.  They knew this church needed someone just like Barnabas.  When Barnabas arrived, verse 23 tells us what he looked for: “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 saw evidence of God’s grace everywhere and because of that, he was glad.  This gladness then led him to encourage these new believers to keep on going with the Lord.  Grace led to gladness which led to growth.  I talked to a new Christian this week who said, “I’m a work in progress.”   I agreed with him and told him I was too.

Barnabas never got over God’s grace in his own life and he had a radar to spot God’s grace in other people’s lives

Barnabas never got over God’s grace in his own life and he had a radar to spot God’s grace in other people’s lives.  He was even able to celebrate grace in an imperfect church.  Don’t you love people who give grace?  That’s so much better than being around those who blast away at imperfections.  James 2:13: “Because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!”  Barnabas practiced the teaching of Jude 22 in the New Living Translation: “Show mercy to those whose faith is wavering.”   John Piper describes those who deal in the currency of grace: “They have their heat sensors adjusted and alert for embers of grace that they can fan; while the other kind of people, it seems, have their buckets of criticism ready to pour on the ashes of imperfection.”  

Notice what he did when he gazed at this grace.  He “encouraged” them.  Men, let me ask you a few questions.  Are you an encourager or a discourager?  Do you give grace to people or do you hammer away at their weaknesses?  Dads, do you celebrate God’s grace in your kids or do you explode when your unrealistic expectations are not met?  Last week I called out us men to treat the women in our lives better.  Ladies, now it’s your turn.  Are you harboring resentment toward any man right now?  Wives, do you encourage your husbands with words of grace or do you discourage them with words of grief?  I’ve said this countless times before but it bears repeating: Let’s stop being so tough on people who sin differently than we do. 

The devotional writer Oswald Chambers once said: “Anyone who is continually criticized becomes good for nothing; the effect of criticism knocks all the gumption and power out of any individual.”  That reminds me of a PEANUTS comic strip I saw some time ago.  Linus has just written a comic strip of his own and he wants Lucy’s opinion.  He says, “Lucy, would you read this and tell me if it’s funny?”  In the next frame, Lucy is tapping her foot and asks, “Well, Linus, who wrote this?”  With his chest out and a big grin on his face, Linus proudly declares, “I wrote that.”  In the next frame, Lucy wads it up, throws it to the side, and says, “Well, then, I don’t think it’s very funny.”  Linus picks up his comic strip, throws his blanket over his shoulder, looks at Lucy and says, “Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life.”

Gentlemen, are you known as the crab grass in someone’s life today?  Are you a discourager or an encourager?  When people see you coming do they take cover or do they try to get close to you?  Alan Redpath had his church members follow a simple formula when they were speaking to one another that follows the acrostic THINK.

T – Is it true?

H – Is it helpful?

I – Is it inspiring?

N – Is it necessary?

K – Is it kind?

4. Fully Faithful (Acts 11:24). 

Acts 11:24 tells us the key to the character of Barnabas: “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” He was a good man because he was filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith.  Our goodness can only come out of God’s grace because it is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in our lives.  Barnabas obviously took the time every day to cultivate his relationship with Christ.  As a result he was directed by the Holy Spirit, known as a man of faith and people saw him as a good guy.  In summary, Barnabas was the real deal.  He had a genuine faith.

Men, how are you doing in this regard?  Are you walking with God on a daily basis?  Has it been awhile since you’ve practiced the spiritual disciplines?  Let me urge you to make the monthly men’s breakfasts a part of your schedule. We’re studying character qualities that should be evident in our lives.  Last month we focused on anger and we were all greatly challenged.  Go back to the last phrase of verse 24.  Because Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and because he was known as a good guy, “a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”  The way you live can bring others to life.

5. A Team Player (Acts 11:25-26).

Years ago a book came out called, “The Friendless American Male,” in which the author described how men like to fly solo through life.  Barnabas knew that one of the secrets of a fruitful life was to play on a team.  He encouraged the people at Antioch but he knew that he needed some help.  Look at verses 25-26: “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.” 

Barnabas left Antioch on a mission to find Paul so that they could minister as a team.  Perhaps he knew that Paul was a better teacher and that the church needed some significant training.  This shows his humility because after Acts 13, when their names are used together, Paul is always listed first.  Guys, do you have the humility to admit that you need someone?  

Let me quickly add three other significant points about the teamwork of Barnabas.  First, because of his encouragement, the believers in Antioch received a nickname as well.  Do you know what it was?  It’s still used today: Christians.  Second, Barnabas mobilized a church-based relief effort and delivered this gift to those in a famine.  Notice Acts 11:29: “The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea.  This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.”  People gave according to their ability in order to help believers in another geographic area, and they sent it through trusted Christians.  That’s what we’re doing with our special offering today.  Related to this, I want to call on the men of this church to take the lead in an ongoing ministry that we can have with a local church in the Gulf Coast area.  Will you pray with me in this regard?  Third, this dream team of Barnabas and Paul were “finishers.”  According to Acts 12:25, they “finished their mission.”

6. A Forgiver of the Fallen (Acts 15:36-41). 

Working as a team is not always easy.  Apparently Paul, Barnabas, and a young man named John Mark ministered together previously and according to Acts 13:13, Mark bailed on them and went back to Jerusalem.  This was not the first time he had failed for we read in his own gospel some autobiographical words in Mark 14:51-52: “A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus.  When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.”  Mark has two strikes against him and when Paul wanted to take another missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take Mark along.  Paul did not think very highly of Mark and refused to have him on the team.  Acts 15:39 says that Paul and Barnabas “had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.”  Barnabas took Mark and went one direction and Paul settled on Silas and went a different route.

Don’t miss the significance of this.  Barnabas was willing to have conflict with Paul in order to forgive and restore a fallen brother.  Paul had labeled Mark a loser but because Barnabas was a lover he never gave up on him.  The only label he put on Mark was this: You matter to God and therefore you matter to me.  We know from Scripture that because Barnabas poured courage into Mark, this discouraged and defeated man became a contributing member of the team once again.  Paul eventually realized that Mark mattered to his own ministry.  Listen to Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:11, penned right before he died: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”  Have you ever stopped to wonder if we would even have the Gospel of Mark if Barnabas had not reached out to Mark when he did?

Men, who have you written off?  Have you labeled anyone a loser and been leaving them alone?  It’s time to give grace and stop gossiping.  Who will you contact this week?  It’s time to give grace.  

7. Knows his Fatal Flaws (Galatians 2:11-14). 

I love how the Scriptures are so real when it comes to human character.  Even the heroes of the faith had fatal flaws.  We don’t have time to fully develop this, but Barnabas was called out by Paul for hypocrisy.  Evidently, Barnabas was a people-pleaser and afraid of conflict.  Look at Galatians 2:13: “…so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.”  Guys, it’s far better to admit that you are not perfect than it is to allow pride to enter your heart.  1 Corinthians 10:12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Let those five words put some holy fear into you: even Barnabas was led astray.  Because this is such a big problem for us men, let me share four helpful steps.

  • Acknowledge your fatal flaws.  What’s your spiritual soft spot?  What area of your life has the most potential to ruin you?   Is it lust?  Coveting?  Revenge?  An unforgiving spirit? Anger?  Lying?  Psalm 38:18: “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.”
  • Admit you need help. Until you admit that you are vulnerable, you will never experience victory.  Psalm 34:17: “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.” That’s one of the reasons Alcoholics Anonymous is so effective. The entire program is built on the principle of people admitting that they have a problem. 
  • Avoid temptation.  Don’t put yourself in situations where you know you’re vulnerable.   If you have a problem with drinking, don’t go to bars.  If you have a wandering eye, don’t flirt with anyone.  Genesis 4:7: “…Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
  • Ask for help.  He who thinks he needs nothing or no one needs more than he can imagine.   First of all, ask for God’s assistance. Samson did this in Judges 16:28 when he prayed and said, “O Sovereign Lord, remember me. O God, please strengthen me once more…”  Second, ask for the help of others.  Sadly, when you look at Samson’s life, everything he did, he did by himself.  He never mustered the troops.  He never partnered with a buddy.  Don’t make the same mistake.  Find a trusted friend and open up.  Ask someone to hold you accountable.  If you need some specific help, find a Christian counselor.

Men, it’s time to show up!  Be God’s man in your home.  Be God’s man in this church.  Be God’s man in your workplace.  Be God’s man in your neighborhood.  Be God’s man in responding to Hurricane Katrina.  And be a Barnabas as you extend encouragement to those around you.  Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Dante Bartiel Rossetti, the famous 19th-century poet and artist, was once approached by an elderly man who wanted Rossetti to look at some sketches and drawings and tell him if they were any good.  Rossetti looked them over carefully and quickly concluded that they were worthless.

The visitor was disappointed, but seemed to expect Rossetti’s judgment.  He apologized for taking up Rossetti’s time, and then asked if the expert would look at some paintings from a young art student.  Rossetti looked over the second batch of sketches and immediately gushed over the talent they revealed. “These,” he said, “Ah, these are good.  This young man, whoever he is, has great talent.  He should be given every help and encouragement in his career as an artist.  He has a great future, if he will work hard and stick with it.”

Rossetti could see that the old man was deeply moved. “Who is this fine young artist?” he asked. “Is he your son?” “No,” said the man sadly. “It is me—40 years ago.  If only I had heard your praise then … for you see, I got discouraged and gave up—too soon.”

Guys, let’s not let others give up.  Let’s follow the model of Barnabas.

  • Be a generous giver
  • Demonstrate empathy for the underdog
  • Be grace-based in all you do
  • Become fully faithful
  • Be a team player
  • Forgive the fallen
  • Know your fatal flaws

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?