A Good Man
By Mark McCrary
“For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”
In Acts 13, two men prepared for a journey that would change the world. One was known and respected throughout the church, the other was a newcomer with a tainted past—Barnabas and Saul of Tarsus. However, 2000 years later, the lesser known is now considered one of the pivotal people in the history of the early church (if not history itself), and the one well known at the time little more than a footnote in the history of the New Testament. But, what a footnote he was!
If there is one passage that sums Barnabas up it is Acts 11:24, “For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” While many would wince at what the world views as a rather drab description (“good”), his goodness made him quite distinct and worthy of imitation. “Goodness” is a character trait that is to be found in a disciple of Christ (Galatians 5:22). So, what made Barnabas so good?
First, Barnabas was good because he thought of others. The first time we are introduced to him he is seen as a giver (Acts 4:36-37). In the early church, many of the pilgrims to Jerusalem at Pentecost stayed behind to learn and were in deep need of care. A spirit of generosity arose (4:34), with Barnabas being specifically mentioned. We don’t know how much he gave, but we can be certain it wasn’t pocket change! How many of us would have done the same for people we barely knew? You can answer this question today by looking at how you spend your money, time and energies in helping others. What the church needs today are more people who take their faith seriously like Barnabas (James 1:22; 2:13-14; 1 John 3:14-19). The need is for Christians who are always looking for ways to help others. We learn from Barnabas that good people look to others and earnestly try to make a difference in their lives.
Second, he was good because he encouraged others. In the same text, we find the apostles named him “Barnabas,” which meant “Son of Encouragement.” For lack of a better term, it was a nickname—a term of endearment. One does not get such a name unless it is earned. He proved his ability to encourage others. “Encouragement” did not mean he went around patting people on the back and telling them to “hang in there!” It means to comfort, console, entreat, or counsel. He was a man who noticed people and wanted to bring out the best in them—he pulled for the underdog. This was seen in his standing next to Saul when he came to join himself to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-27). We need more people like Barnabas; Christians who are willing to work with the weak and lift them up, giving them time, attention and encouragement. This demands we look outside of our own world and into the world of others; to those who have fallen (Galatians 6:1-2); to those who sorrow (Romans 12:15); to those who could be more in the Lord’s service if helped.
Third, Barnabas was good because he included others. His reputation was so good among the saints in Jerusalem, when an incredible preaching opportunity arose in Antioch, Barnabas was the one the church sent to evangelize. Naturally, he encouraged these new saints (Acts 11:23). However, the work seemingly was greater than one man could really accomplish. Lesser men may have desired to keep all of the glory for themselves, but not this good man. He was not threatened by including others and sought out Saul of Tarsus to help. For a year they assembled with the church and taught, accomplishing, together, a great deal. Leonard Bernstein once said that the hardest instrument to play was the second violin, because no one wants to play second fiddle. Barnabas did not seem to mind as long as he could play in the band. There is always a temptation, unfortunately, to be more like Diotrephes (3 John 9), excluding others in order to gain more glory and importance; not wanting to share the responsibility because we don’t want to share the glory. To Barnabas, a good man, the work was more important.
Finally, he was a good man because he stood for the truth (Acts 13:46 and Acts 15). He had a deep love for the Lord. This was why he thought of others, encouraged others and included others. We learn from Barnabas that compassion and strength are not mutually exclusive of one another (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Compassion without strength is empty; strength without compassion is brutal. Because Barnabas understood this, he was a good man.
In the end, Barnabas was good because he allowed himself to be used by God and God in turn worked through him. “He was a good man”—a simple description, but how significant!