Barnabas and Paul

18 May

Before I say good-bye to Barnabas, I’d like to magnify his clash with Paul a bit more, because their differences are more about personality than they are about wrong-doing, and should not be viewed as weaknesses in the faith. It is simply a matter where the spiritual gifts of both leaders clashed as their human hearts expressed those gifts.

Barnabas was more of a “people-person” than Paul, and Paul was more of a goal or task oriented person than Barnabas. Paul was interested in the best way to get the job done. He wrote of pressing on for the prize and the upward call of God in Philippians 3:13-14), and later summed up his own ministry as “finishing the race” that God had set before him, saying he fought a “good fight” (2Timothy 4:7).  On the other hand, Barnabas was more interested in peace and harmony. He was a very generous person, selling his land to support the poorer brethren at Jerusalem, being called the “son of encouragement” by the disciples (Acts 4:36-37). It was Barnabas who believed in Paul’s conversion and won over the disciples at Jerusalem who didn’t trust him (Acts 9:26-27), and when the new gentile churches in Antioch needed to be established in the faith, it was Barnabas that was sent by the church in Jerusalem to encourage them in Christ. In fact, his so-called “faults” arise out of his eagerness to encourage others. For example, Peter was in a “lose-lose” situation in Antioch when “those of the circumcision” came from James saying gentiles must be circumcised (read become Jews) in order to be saved (Acts 15:1; Galatians 2:11-12). Peter had been freely associating with the gentile believers in Antioch. However, when the “party of the circumcision” came from Jerusalem, he felt he had to separate from the gentiles to keep harmony with those who were more legalistically inclined from the church at Jerusalem. We must remember that Peter was sent to the Jews—not the gentiles. Paul was sent to the gentiles. So, Peter was trying not to create any misunderstanding in the field of his own ministry. When Paul saw this, he called him a hypocrite (Galatians 2:14), which taken literally meant Paul was accusing Peter, and Barnabas by association (Galatians 2:13), that he talked a good talk but it was his actions that spoke the loudest!

Peter had taken an unpopular move in Antioch. He was between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.” If he continued to associate with the gentiles at Antioch when those from James arrived, he would damage his own ministry with the Jews at Jerusalem. However, he had to also know by separating himself from the gentiles in Antioch, when the party of the circumcision arrived, that would not have been perceived well either. He had to hurt the feelings of one group no matter what he did, so he chose to keep peace within the confines of his own ministry, which I believe is perfectly understandable. When in a position where one must lose something, chose the path where one would lose the least. This is what Peter did, and he took the “knocks” from Paul, probably without complaint.

Barnabas, having the heart of an encourager, had to have known Peter was taking an unpopular stand there in Antioch. Barnabas shared the orthodox view of Paul, when it came to accepting the gentiles just as they are, but he took the unpopular seat with Peter in order to “encourage” him, for it does appear Peter and the other Jews were in the minority in Antioch. When Paul called Peter a hypocrite, he was saying the same to all who sat with him. This had to hurt. Nevertheless, Barnabas also stood with Paul when the discussion or debate got hot and heavy (Acts 15:2) at Jerusalem when Paul’s stand was a minority position. Do you see his heart here? He sat with Peter even though he believed as did Paul, concerning the acceptance of the gentile believers, because Peter was trying to do the best thing in an unpopular environment. He was an encourager in season and out of season. He was willing to take the “knocks” in whatever form they might come.

When it came to Mark, Barnabas was willing to receive him back into the ministry and encourage him, as he matured in Christ. Paul, on the other hand, was not so willing. A good example was much more important to Paul than right theology. For him, it was indeed important to be in Christ, but it is more important to be a good example as one lived out the Christian life. Barnabas was more like a fatherly pastor, while Paul was more like the frontier missionary, blazing the trail for the pastors who would come later. The “gifts” of Barnabas and Paul clashed in Mark and any “fault” that can be pointed to for either man grew out of expressing those gifts of the Spirit. It was more of a personality thing rather than a wrong thing. In any event, as I said in my previous post, God worked it all for the good of the whole church, in that, now we have two missionary teams going out instead of only one. And—the praise and the glory all go to God! Amen!

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Posted by on May 18, 2011 in Encouragement


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