For many, our New Testament hero is Paul yet we do not know what would have become of him if it were not for Barnabas whom the Bible, in Acts 11:24, describes as a good man full of the Holy Spirit. What process then brought the admired and respected Paul to fore?
Acts 11:25-27 sees Barnabas going to Tarsus for Paul and bringing him into Antioch where for a year they meet with the church and teach the Gospel to a great number of people. It is Barnabas who sees the potential in Paul, ropes him in out of oblivion, mentors him and advises him on what to do. Barnabas is fully committed to the Gospel. Is it a wonder then that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch? Further more little else is heard of the rest when Paul is finally established in ministry.
Barnabas was the one sent to Antioch from Jerusalem to go and witness the work of the Lord in the midst of the Gentile Greek as He had done with the Jews. He was the one who introduced Paul to the other apostles, not only standing up for him, but also declaring him credible. He is also known to have mentored John Mark whom Paul had had differences with and refused to go on the second missionary journey with; preferring Silas instead. In this case, Barnabas takes John Mark under his wing and shapes him to the extent that many years later we see Paul recommending him. In 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul writes, ‘Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry’. Peter calls him his son in 1Peter 5:13 and we wonder at the changes that produced such a trusted man from the one who had abandoned Paul in their first ministerial journey.
Barnabas sacrificial heart transformed the hearts of men who may otherwise not have realized their full potential! He may not have been adversely mentioned as Paul yet we see how he developed men of diverse gifting. It his in his mentorship of Paul that we see the latter also mentoring the likes of Timothy. Pauline epistles might never have been, without him. And this is what we need in our society, men and women who are willing to speak into the lives of others, encourage them to be more than what they are and embrace the full potential that God has put inside them. We need spiritual parents who will walk with the Pauls and John Marks of our day. Let us then ask God for a Barnabas for our own lives. Let us also ask for hearts that can sacrificially and patiently stay on with others until they are fully grown.
What then can we learn from Barnabas? Firstly that he was sacrificial and took his time to mentor those who he recognized, through the Holy Spirit, had potential. We too must posses this quality of not only recognizing but also helping bring out the potential in those around us.
Secondly, he was a good man. In Acts 4:36-37 he sells his field and puts all the proceeds at the apostles’ feet for distribution to others; he does not try to swindle them like Ananias and Sapphira did. His real name was Joseph but due to the good qualities that he possessed he was preferably referred to as Barnabas meaning Son of Encouragement. Barnabas saw the gold inside Paul and chose to be engaged in his reformation. His goodness is also seen in his leaving the comforts of Jerusalem to go into cosmopolitan Antioch and get a report of the goings-on in Antioch. And we do not see him hurrying back, instead he stays there for a year together with Paul. Like him, our character should positively speak to people.
Thirdly, he was humble and secure in the Lord. After mentoring his mentees, he lets them go as he did Paul and John Mark. If we are not secure within ourselves, we will find it difficult to let go, yet God’s purposes must be accomplished and they will be, because visions come from God. By selfishly hanging onto others, we will not stop God’s purposes from being achieved but we will only stop our own growth and blessings.
Fourthly, he was accountable. In Acts 14:26-28 we see how, together with Paul, they gathered the church together and gave a report of what God had done through them in their journeys.
Mentorship unlocks greatness and great potential. We stand on the shoulders of those who have mentored us but we too must let others stand on our shoulders so that they can see further than us. Jesus Himself declared that his disciples would do much greater things. When we fail to mentor our children, they cannot realize their full potential. We should therefore use our talents to mentor others and pass on that which we too have acquired. Paul advises Timothy on the same in 2Tim 2:3, ‘And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others’. Barnabas mentored Paul who in turn mentored Timothy. Paul now is advising that what he has shared be passed on to other reliable men who will in turn teach others. Are we mentoring our children, our students or our workmates?
Moses mentored Joshua but the latter failed to mentor anyone, as a result of which we see idol worship seeping into the Israelite populace. Can we stand and be counted as mentors? Will we take what God has given us and pass it on to others? Will we challenge ourselves to be mentors?
For we all need someone to look up to but also someone to look up to us. Barnabas showed us how.
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