Real Talk with Roderick Beyond Our Boundaries with Bridge-Building Barnabas (Acts 11:22-26)
Introduction If Peter's preaching to people outside of the Jews was not enough to make the Judaizers of Jerusalem lose it... this may do it (Acts 11:1-3). Beyond the seemingly wayward work of the most eminent apostle we now have the work of a few radical disciples. The outcome of their efforts has begun to make the news (Acts 11:22). It all started when some of the Jews that were scattered with the persecution of Stephen went as far as Antioch (Acts 11:19). Initially they stayed with the practice of presenting the grace of God through the gospel to Jews. Only Jews.
But eventually some of them began to go off road and present the gospel to the Gentiles. And although that causes consternation for people who want to keep the faith - away from nations, the decision was confirmed by Christ Himself. Similar to what happened when Peter preached to the centurion's household, the hand of the Lord was with those roguish preachers; a great number of heathen believed and turned to the Lord (Acts 11:21).
But, lest this thing get out of hand and the faith become feral, the church in Jerusalem needs to get someone to Antioch to make sure that things are being done right going forward. To that end they selected Barnabas and sent him over 300 miles as far as Antioch to investigate (Acts 11:22). What happens next is a set of powerful lessons for anyone that is serious about supporting the work of God among the nations. A close examination of bridge-building ministry of Barnabas yields a bounty of truth on going beyond our borders.
(Acts 11:22-24) Barnabas himself was a Cypriot Jew by birth, like some of those who had begun to preach the gospel to the Antiochene Gentiles, and his sympathies would in any case be wider than those of such Jerusalem believers as had never set foot outside Judaea. Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 226). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Principle 1 - Content with the Core The gospel finds its best support and promotion in people who know it well. They are not deceived by dangerous deviations and will readily recognize and refute error. But when the gospel has been really received they are not distracted by cultural differences orthogonal to an unconditional commitment to Christ. Their deep understanding of God's grace gives them the ability to be genuinely glad when the critical part and core of salvation has been received: the Lord Jesus Christ. They do not need to hear in new believers their own music, agreement with their own political positions. They do not need to see conformity to their own preferences in the arranging of hair or adorning of the body. The gospel finds it best support and promotion in people who are content with the clear communication of the need to receive Christ - Christ alone.
Barnabas was a wise choice for several reasons. First, he, like some of these Christian ambassadors, was from Cyprus (4:36; 11:20). Second, he was a generous man (4:37) and therefore thoughtful of others. Third, he was a gracious gentleman as attested by his nickname (4:36) and Luke’s testimony about him (11:24). Toussaint, S. D. (1985). Acts. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 383). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
The presence of a man of such sterling character and faith, a man “full of the Holy Spirit,”29 gave them the stimulus they needed to prosecute their evangelism still more vigorously; the number of converts increased rapidly. Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 227). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Several years had gone by since Saul of Tarsus had been escorted to Caesarea by his new friends in Jerusalem and put on board a ship bound for his native city. Barnabas could think of no one more eminently suited for the responsibility of sharing his ministry in Antioch. He therefore went to Tarsus in person to seek him out30—a task of some difficulty, perhaps, since Saul appears to have been disinherited for his joining the followers of Jesus and could no longer be found at his ancestral home. Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 227). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
The text of Acts is compressed and selective, but the most likely reconstruction of Pauline chronology from Gal 1–2 would indicate that some ten years or so had elapsed from the time he first departed from Cilicia to when Barnabas set out to find him. Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 272). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Principle 2 - Capable of Collaborations The gospel finds its best support and promotion in people who are able to receive by faith the fruit of its transforming power. Looking at life through the lens of the gospel and their confidence in Christ, they see marvelous works of God where some can only see the mistakes of the past. They see an agent for good and apostle born out of time where others only see the adversary that once wreaked havoc in the church. They no longer see the persecutor of brethren but see by faith the eventual writer of powerful epistles. The gospel finds its best support and promotion in people willing to collaborate with the formerly violent and insolent man who has become in Christ a new creation.
Jesus’ disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. The ending “-ian” means “belonging to the party of”; thus “Christians” were those of Jesus’ party. The word “Christians” is used only two other times in the New Testament: in 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16. The significance of the name, emphasized by the word order in the Greek text, is that people recognized Christians as a distinct group. The church was more and more being separated from Judaism. Toussaint, S. D. (1985). Acts. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 383). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Second, it reflects that Christianity was beginning to have an identity of its own and no longer was viewed as a totally Jewish entity. Again, the success among Gentiles would have hastened this process in Antioch. Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 273). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
But “would-be” Barnabases of today need to heed a further lesson from this outstanding biblical figure. Barnabases want everyone to be happy, but sometimes it simply is not possible to please everyone without serious compromise of one’s basic convictions. Barnabas found that out later at Antioch when, in order to placate the conservative Jewish Christians “from James” (Jerusalem), he withdrew from table fellowship with those very Gentile-Christian converts we see him here witnessing to so enthusiastically (Gal 2:11–13). Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 272). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.