Barnabas is an encouragement to us in another way: Like so many heroes of the Bible, he wasn’t perfect. Don’t you find that encouraging? God is in the business of using servants who are not perfect, people who blow it, people who make mistakes. Maybe you’re sitting here this morning and you’ve mentally disqualified yourself from being used by God because of mistakes you’ve made in the past, sins you’ve committed in the past. I want to say to you, “There’s another chance for you!” We see in Galatians 2 that Barnabas makes a clear mistake. The context of this is about food. I believe eating together is very important. As I was thinking about this talk, I was thinking about all the people who have been like Barnabas in my life and there were many of them, some do stand out, people who really shaped my life. I could list them, but don’t really have the time to do that. One thing suddenly struck me about all of them, there is one thing they all have in common. All of them have eaten together with me. There’s something about eating together that communicates acceptance, love, and that builds trust, that gives people the right to sometimes even rebuke me. There’s a love that comes from that. That’s an interesting point; don’t underestimate the importance of eating together.
Barnabas and Peter were eating with the Gentiles, showing their acceptance of them. When some people came from Jerusalem, they were frightened of what they would say and Barnabas’s strength became his very weakness. He didn’t want to cause trouble, and it led to him being led astray by Peter. In this example, he was too easily led. We must remember that no leader can be relied upon to always get it right. So he withdrew.
Gal. 2:11-13 “And when Cephas(Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles, but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. ”
In the past, Paul had needed Barnabas to encourage him and help him. Now, Barnabas needed Paul to rebuke him. This really was an example of the right boot of fellowship. Sometimes the most encouraging thing someone can do for you is tell you off, say “Come on, sort it out!” Real encouragers tell you off. The truth is this, in the church, we all need each other to sometimes cover our weaknesses, to look out for each other and sometimes to rebuke us, to correct us, to develop us. That’s what teamwork’s all about. We don’t have all the answers. So, Barnabas blew it, but was that the end of his ministry? No! It wasn’t at all!
A big row over a good principle
Next we see another thing that’s often described as a mistake in Barnabas’ life. He had a disagreement with Paul, you probably know the story. I wonder whether Barnabas had learned from his mistake of being too easily led and this time decided, “No, I am not going to allow Paul to make this mistake. I am going to stand up to him, to challenge him.” This argument almost becomes an argument about people versus mission and you see that sometimes in the church. Some people say, “Church is all about the people, we must care for them, we must look after them, we must encourage them, we must develop them.” Other people say, “No, it’s about the mission. We must get out there and get others.” What had happened was that John Mark had let them down in the mission. He was a leadership casualty. For fear he ran away, you know the story. Paul says, “He can’t come again.” But Barnabas says, “No, I am not prepared to discharge John Mark to the scrap-heap yet.”
If you’re an ex-pastor here this morning, God does not want to leave you on the scrap-heap. If you’re someone who feels like you’ve messed up your Christian walk, God does not want to leave you on the scrap-heap. Barnabas stands by John Mark partly because he’s a member of his family, a cousin, and he says, “I will put my family before my ministry. I will sacrifice ministering with Paul because I want to encourage this leadership casualty.”
There’s another lesson in this: God sovereignly directs our paths. What happened as a result of this strong argument? As a result of the argument, a number of things happen.
First of all, another apostolic team gets planted. Suddenly, we have 2 apostolic teams. Barnabas begins to lead his own team. But Barnabas is honored by Paul. It’s not that Barnabas becomes suddenly independent . Later on, in one of the letters, Paul speaks very specifically about Barnabas and what a blessing he was. As we’ve often said over the summer, we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good. Even here in this instance, their disagreement, God works it around for good.
But what about the others involved in this? John Mark gets to write the first Gospel. He’s the author of the book of Mark. No doubt, his Gospel inspired Matthew and Luke to write, because we know they used his Gospel and it would seem he probably inspired John as well. Perhaps without Barnabas, we’d have no Gospels. John Mark is actually described as ‘useful’ by Paul later on.
Barnabas gets to lead. Some people think Barnabas disciples wrote a major chunk of the New Testament! Some even think he wrote the book of Hebrews- it certainly would be like him not to sign his name, but we don’t know that. That was an early tradition, but he might or might not have done that. And Paul gets to be Paul. What we see here is God sovereignly ordaining even a big disagreement and turning it around for His glory.