By Connie W. Adams
We are first introduced to Barnabas when this man of Cyprus sold a piece of property in Jerusalem to help relieve needy brethren (Acts 4:36-37). We next meet him in Acts 9:26-28 when he stood up for Paul in Jerusalem when the disciples were afraid of him because of his history of persecuting the church. The church at Jerusalem sent him to Antioch where he rejoiced to see the grace of God at work there “and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith: and much people was added to the Lord” (Acts 11:22-24). Then this good man went to Tarsus to find Saul and bring him back to Antioch that together they might work to build up the church at that place.
The name Barnabas meant son of exhortation or encouragement. His other name, Joseph, was related to the notion of prophecy and there is a hint of eloquence in the term. His demeanor reflects a character given to standing up for those who were misunderstood and giving them a chance to succeed. Not only did he show that quality toward Paul, but also toward his cousin, John Mark. When the church at Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas forth on their first preaching journey, they took Mark with them (Acts 13:5). For some reason, Mark left them after they arrived in Asia Minor and returned to Antioch. After the Jerusalem meeting attended by Barnabas and Paul, they returned to Antioch “teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also” (Acts 15:35).
“And some days after” Paul suggested that they go again and visit the brethren whom they had helped on their first journey. Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them again. Paul opposed the plan because of Mark’s return on the last trip before the work was done. They disagreed sharply over this. “And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; and Paul chose Silas, and departed . . .” (Acts 15:39-40). It is evident that the encouragement Barnabas gave Mark was of great benefit. Paul later wrote to Timothy and said, “Take Mark and bring him with you: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). Then it was Mark who wrote the gospel of Mark. If there was ever a Barnabas party and a Paul party formed over this disagreement in judgment, there is no indication of it in the New Testament. It is a good thing they did not have the Internet back then, for the news would have spread by the next morning around the Mediterranean and brethren would have been choosing up sides. There was no element of the truth of the gospel involved in this difference of judgment. Both men continued in the Lord’s work and it did not suffer.
But there was an occasion when Barnabas was clearly wrong and the New Testament points that out. During the work of Paul and Barnabas at Antioch, Peter came and spent some time working with them. This was an inte- grated congregation. There were Jews and Gentiles in it. Peter, a Jew, was getting along famously with his Gentile brethren until certain influential Jewish brethren came up from Jerusalem. Then he “withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy” (Gal. 2:12-13). Peter had preached that “the promise is unto you and to your children and to them that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). At the house of Cornelius, Peter had said, “But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). Peter’s preaching was right. But at Antioch, on that occasion, his practice did not keep up with his preaching. He yielded to prejudice and pressure. He was wrong. For that reason Paul said, “I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed” (Gal. 2:11).
But “even Barnabas” was carried away in this hypocritical conduct. Special note is made of that, for it was out of character for a man who stood up for Paul and for Mark, and who was ready and willing to go to Antioch in the first place and “encourage them much” in their work for the Lord. How that sudden aloofness must have stung those Gentile brethren. Even Barnabas!
What About Us?
It is easy for us to read all this and wonder how “even Barnabas” could do such a thing. What was he thinking? Was he temporarily swayed by the strong influence of Peter? He was pretty persuasive, was he not? Or was he concerned about his standing with the brethren in Jerusalem should these aggressive Jewish brethren go back home and raise doubts about him? The Holy Spirit does not at- tempt to satisfy our curiosity. What Peter did was wrong. It was hypocritical. What Barnabas did was wrong. It too was hypocritical. Paul was right in rebuking this conduct. He was right in doing so “before them all.” It was public knowledge and the consequences were far reaching.
If “even Barnabas,” this good man known for helping and encouraging others, could be “carried away” then the rest of us ought to pay attention. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Peter said, “Beware lest you also fall from your own steadfast- ness, being led away with the error of the wicked” (2 Pet. 3:17). The antidote to that is in the next verse “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
Preaching and practice must march in cadence. Many of our problems have come about because one has not kept up with the other. If “even Barnabas” could be “carried away” then “even” can do likewise. When we do, let’s pray there will be a Paul around to rebuke us and get us back on track.