The news of what was happening in Antioch - many Gentiles turning to the Lord - soon travelled back to Jerusalem. Because this was quite a new phenomenon the elders decided that it should be investigated. They might well have condemned it out of hand because it was new, but instead they took the more difficult course by having the work investigated. One of the work’s advantages was that it had not proceeded from the efforts of one man, for, had it done so, it may have been linked solely with him and his particular view of things
We need to learn not to condemn new things out of hand but to sympathetically investigate them, and the circumstances, to see whether the things be of God or not.
The brother chosen to investigate was Barnabas, the ‘son of consolation’. This was a wise and spiritual choice. His personal background, i.e. from Cyprus, made him an appropriate and an acceptable choice. The Jerusalem church not only had ‘ears’ but also along with this a willingness to learn what was going on with the spread of the gospel (they were literally ‘all ears’). They rejoiced not only in what was happening but saw their own spiritual responsibility to help. Barnabas was very much his own man -he supported Paul when everybody else was suspicious of him. He thought the best of people and did not hold a man’s past against him in the things of the Lord. We need more men today of the character of Barnabas. We learn too that he was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith. There is a great shortage today of good men. The work of Christ and of the church demands good men - those who have a selfless interest in the work and have a large heart and a generous spirit. Such a man was Barnabas.
He was full of the Holy Ghost. This is not to say that he had a larger allocation of the Spirit than others. The Holy Spirit is a divine Person and is therefore the same in that sense to each believer.
However, in Barnabas more of His presence was evident as He lived with him in an ungrieved situation. Barnabas was also full of faith. He trusted God and believed that this new work, although not entirely appreciated by the brethren at Jerusalem, was of God. The choice of the man to send on the mission was critical - and the right choice was made in Barnabas.
Barnabas was sent forth to go ‘as far as’ Antioch. One suspects that on the way he visited and helped other refugee believers and encouraged other churches in their work. Eventually he arrived in Antioch. As he came he was not impressed by the size of the congregation, nor the place where they met. What did impress itself on his heart was the evidence,of the grace of God. Clearly there was a work of grace in the lives and hearts of the Gentiles that could not be spoken against. He shows no suspicion nor envy, but is sincerely “glad’. How we too should rejoice at the work accomplished by others! It is a mean man who is critical of the work of others while accomplishing little himself. It is a generous man who although he has achieved much himself rejoices at the efforts of others in the work.
His ministry at Antioch was one of encouragement and exhortation. It was directed to them all and was to the effect that they should show purpose of heart, i.e. to use a grim determination, in spite of opposition, to cleave unto the Lord. New converts need help and encouragement, but most of all they need to be taught to stick close to the Lord. These were what we would perhaps describe today as ministry meetings - for the building up of the saints, yet it is clear that at these meetings many were converted. The Word of God is not bound by our selective teaching. All should be welcome at all meetings and the Holy Spirit can use the Word of God effectually in conversion from any part of the Scriptures and however presented.
As the work progressed Barnabas saw that he could not do it all by himself - many preachers and elders have not yet learned this lesson! He decided, perhaps in fellowship with the believers at Jerusalem, that the man to help was Saul. He therefore set off to Tarsus to seek him out and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch.
Saul had been out of the limelight for a period, perhaps for nearly 9 years. However these were years when he was preparing and being prepared for the great tasks that lay ahead, i.e. the year at Antioch, the missionary journeys and the writing of the epistles that would serve to guide and encourage the saints down through the years. Such preparation is still necessary in the service of God today. It is not necessarily a formal instruction in the classroom but very much an ‘on the job’ type of training which bears results in conversions and in the planting of assemblies, as perhaps those in Cilicia in this particular case. Many have ‘gone to school’ but few have been ‘educated’ in the things of God. Most of the truly great preachers amongst assemblies today, and in the past, have been ‘Spirit-taught’ with the commitment of their leisure time to the Lord’s work, while paying their way by means of secular employment. There may well be some for whom a formal structured approach is helpful, but it qualifies them but little in divine service. It provides a disciplined approach to study and to work but is only useful if the gift and enthusiasm are already evident. It is worthy of note that Barnabas not only identified Saul as the man for the work but put a good deal of effort into finding him, perhaps persuading him, and finally bringing him to Antioch. He knew Saul well, had confidence in his manner of life and ability and felt that he would be a real help to the young and thriving assembly. In the event Saul stayed for a whole year at Antioch in the pursuit of this calling.
This raises a number of important lessons for us today. It is the responsibility of leading brethren in the assembly to identify the type of ministry that the saints need at any particular time. Hopefully they can do so not only after problems have arisen (fire-fighting) but also before problems arise - i.e. a ministry of building in for the future.
Having identified the need there is then exercise to identify the teacher most suited to meet that need, through the Spirit. Once he is identified then there is real effort expended to find him and to bring him.
Regrettably today assemblies often identify the man they would like to hear. He is then invited, and if and when he is free he may come for a conference or a few meetings and he may give a message or messages depending on his own individual exercise at that time, without any real consultation with the elders as to their exercise.
Let us be clear that not all teachers are good at all subjects! It may be argued that if the assembly does identify the subject for teaching and the man to do it, they may be frustrated by the fact that he is booked up for 2 or 3 years ahead. It is probable that some are on the ‘preaching circuit’, good for one meeting or for a week, but quite unable or unwilling to respond to the real needs. Elders must be like Barnabas. If the brother says he can’t come because he is elsewhere (Paul was!) then real efforts should be made. Go to see the brother, don’t just use the telephone, describe to him the need, the exercise, the desire of the saints and ‘bring’ him to meet the need. He may, after all, be able to postpone some of the arrangements already made. If he can’t or won’t, then perhaps the man identified was not the right one in the first place. There is a sort of ‘first division’ of teachers among us and many assemblies are unwilling to move away from these and give opportunity to others to exercise their gift, thus contributing to a broader base of experienced teachers in due course.
Teaching not only needs exercise and teachers, but also takes time. They continued a whole year! This may not be feasible today (one wonders why), but if the church is to be built up it will only come through long-term consecutive instruction in the Word of God. Teaching should also be assembly based. They assembled themselves with the church - they gathered in among those gathered out. There are lessons here for both teachers and assemblies. The teacher should be exercised that his gift is for use among the assemblies and not elsewhere and the assembly members should be exercised that where they will be best instructed is in the assembly and not elsewhere.
In these days there appears to be lack of opportunity for ministry to all the saints in fellowship. The annual conference is a once a year effort which is often more beneficial to the visitors from other assemblies, as the members of the host assembly are understandably too busy with arrangements and catering to hear all the ministry. Then there is the usual ill-attended midweek ministry meeting. Most of the believers are together in assembly for the breaking of bread, but there is usually time only for a ‘wee word’ which may, or may not, be helpful. If there is a Sunday afternoon ministry meeting then only a few of the assembly will attend.
There is a strong argument for concentrating the effort for teaching when most of the believers are together - i.e. Lord’s Day morning, and elders should give thought to the possibility of starting the breaking of bread meeting earlier so that there is time for consecutive teaching ministry with the opportunity for all to stay and yet for all to be free early enough to prepare lunch etc. in what is a very busy day. Some may say this is new; is not the way things have been done before. Yet look where we are now! Men of Barnabas’ character should investigate and endeavour to meet the need that so evidently exists.
Merely to struggle on with something that does not work is a dereliction of responsible leadership. In assemblies where all the saints attend the teaching meeting in any case, one should leave well alone. Where no teaching is arranged one should not wonder at the lack of well taught believers and at the lack of blessing which follows an understanding of the Word of God.
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