In Acts 13 Barnabas himself was encouraged by others. Remember the purpose of prophecy is encouragement. Remember when we say encouragement, we’re not just talking about a warm fuzzy feeling. We’re talking about sometimes being thrust out, our passage begins “and in the church of Antioch, there were prophets and teachers.” (Barnabas is at the lead of this list, he seems to be the church leader there.) “Barnabas, Simeon, who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manean, a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. And while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me, Barnabas and Saul, for the work which I have called them.’ And after fasting and praying, they laid their hands on them and sent them off.“ (Acts 13:1-3)
So he was now on the receiving end of a prophecy. You must learn to receive and to give. I hate to say it, but there are some Christians who just like to receive all the time. How’s the worship leader doing this morning? Well, I’m not sure I like that keyboard player as much as the one we had last week. Hm, that preacher, I like him. Some people like to receive all the time and never give. But actually there are some who like to give all the time and never receive. The truth is this: God is calling you and me to be those who receive, so that we can give. Jesus said this: “Freely you have received, freely give.” Amen!
An encouragement here, in the form this prophecy, thrusts out Barnabas and Paul. It’s very interesting; they’re propelled now, into their next phase of ministry.
At this point neither of them are given a real title or an office as such. They’re not called apostles yet, they’re not even described as elders. I suppose they’re fulfilling that role, but it doesn’t say that in the Scriptures. They are fulfilling a function by now. Barnabas is a prophet or a teacher; remember as it said at the beginning of that verse “in the church there were prophets and teachers.” I’ve said that I suspect that he was a prophet, for all kinds of reasons, I think he has this functional role.
An apostolic ministry, interestingly, has an element of both the prophetic and the teaching coming together as well as obviously that kind of pioneering, overseeing type of role. Barnabas seems to be coming from the prophetic angle and it seems pretty clear that Paul was coming from the teaching angle. We know that Paul was the teacher “Par excellence” of the New Testament. We have so much of his teaching recorded for us. And so the two of them together formed this first apostolic team.
The apostles were doing things in Jerusalem. But here now, a team is being thrust out. The emphasis here is not on the title, the emphasis is not on whether they’ve got a ‘ministry’ or a ‘role’. The emphasis is on what they are doing. Now Barnabas moves on to another phase of his relationship with Paul. Up until this moment, he’s really led Paul. It’s been very clear, Barnabas was at the top of the list. Indeed, when they are sent out, it says “Barnabas and Saul”. He could have said later on, “Well, the Holy Spirit mentioned my name first.” But instead, he encouraged a leader who would then surpass him and he went through an amazing transition with Paul.
John Piper says this of this phase of Barnabas’ life: “With this strategic investment in Saul’s life and career, Barnabas secured forever his secondary status in church history and I love him for it.” It’s an interesting point isn’t it?
As Piper also puts it: “A Biblical leader is humble and self-effacing, he looks for people with greater gifts than his own and pushes them forward.”
So, Barnabas begins to fade into Paul’s shadow. It’s Barnabas and Saul at the beginning. Barnabas is even called Zeus, the king of the gods, he might have liked that, I don’t know, the powerful one. Pretty quickly, it becomes Paul and Barnabas. Even in this very chapter at one point it’s just Paul and his companions. What’s your heart like? Are you looking for position? Are you looking for a title? Would you rejoice if that baby Christian that you’ve been encouraging a little bit suddenly leapfrogs over you and becomes a small group leader before you do? Or perhaps you never do become a small group leader because that’s not what God is calling you to. Would you be disappointed? Would you be jealous? Or would you be thinking, “Go for it! I’m so proud of that young man and I’m so thrilled that I had a part to play in propelling him/her into the ministry that God called them to.”
Romans 12:3 says “But by the grace given to me, I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned to him.” What is your measure of faith? If you’re faithful in it, for sure, God may well increase it. But please don’t try to be something that God hasn’t gifted you to be. Sometimes in the world, people are promoted to the level of their incompetence. Have you heard that phrase? Someone who is a good deputy gets promoted to manager and you have to sometimes ask, even in the church, “Is it really all about Jesus?” I felt, as I was praying this morning, that there would be some here who would become a pastor. You’re an ex-pastor sitting here this morning because it didn’t work. Because actually God never wanted you to be out on your own in that way. He’s not finished with you, He’s got roles for you but you were never meant to do that and I would challenge you to please don’t hanker after position, don’t hanker after being like that person.
God doesn’t want you to be the next Terry Virgo or the next whoever. He just wants you to be you. You can fulfill a role that only you can fulfill. Barnabas was willing to be led as well as lead. Here at Jubilee, we have a need for many more leaders who will follow Barnabas’ example. We need many more leaders! People are coming to us; a crowd is being formed but that crowd must be shaped into a congregation, must be called to commitment, must be discipled, must be channeled into ministry. We need more leaders, brothers and sisters. We need leaders who will sign up first to be a follower. Who will be a servant and hence qualified to lead others? It’s about servant leadership, it’s not about self-fulfillment ‘I must have a role’. It’s about service of others, not about ‘my ministry’.
Interestingly, in the context of this switch that Barnabas has, finally he gets his title. He’s called an apostle in Acts 14. He does get his title but he doesn’t get to be the top dog. Barnabas is a real encouragement to us in this area. You and I can play a role without yearning for a position.