Read Acts 11 today.
In Friday’s devotional about Acts 10 I suggested that transitioning the church from a group of Jewish believers in Jesus into a trans-national, worldwide group with no ethnic distinctions was going to create some tension. Here in Acts 11 we read about that tension. Despite facing criticism for his fellowship with Gentiles (vv. 1-3), the Jewish believers accepted Peter’s account of how God saved the Gentiles and how they received the same sign of the Holy Spirit as the Jewish believers did in Acts 2 (Acts 11:4-17). They then praised God for his mercy on the Gentiles (v. 18) and a church that had begun gathering Antioch began actively evangelizing Gentiles (vv. 19-21).
Barnabas emerged at the end of today’s chapter. He was sent from Jerusalem here when the church their heard about all that God was doing at Antioch (vv. 22-24). We’ve actually met this man before in Acts 4. His real name is “Joseph” (Acts 4:36) but was nicknamed “Barnabas” because he was always so encouraging. He’s the guy who sold some property and gave all the money to the church which led Ananias and Sapphira to do what they did in Acts 5.
Barnabas also showed up in Acts 9:27 and he persuaded the church to accept Saul after his conversion. Now, here in Acts 11, when he saw how much God was doing in Antioch, he went and found Saul so that Saul could contribute to the growth and strengthening of that church (Acts 11:25-26).
Although Barnabas did not have the same role that God called Saul to occupy, he knew how to connect people together for the growth of God’s work. By no means was Barnabas a man who just served in the background; verse 36 says that he... met with the church and taught great numbers of people.” So he had a strong teaching gift and used that gift publicly to strengthen and grow God’s church but he was in the shadow of Saul because Saul was such a giant in the early days of the church. Yet he never viewed Saul as his rival or was jealous of how God chose to use Saul. He was a man who was all about the work God was doing, not about who was getting the credit for doing it.
Barnabas could have stayed in Antioch and held even greater authority and respect than he had, but he knew that this church would benefit from Saul’s gifting. So, unselfishly, he recruited Saul’s help because it would be best for the church. This is the attitude that all of us as followers of Christ should have. God’s work is never about you or me; it is about doing what is best for the Lord’s church. If that means serving in someone else’s shadow, then let God be glorified.