• The Bible Studies for Life lesson for May 3 focuses on Acts 9:26-28; 11:21-26.
William invited my husband and me to have dinner with his family and a new friend of theirs. Their friend recently had become a member of our church and had been in recovery from drug addiction just a few months. William and his family were among the first in our congregation to befriend Robert, and he was a frequent guest in their home. Sharing a meal with Robert gave my husband and me the opportunity to get to know him better.
Soon, we considered ourselves to be Robert’s friends, apart from our mutual connection with William. Robert gradually became friends with more people in the congregation. Although he once was viewed with a certain amount of uncertainty because of his former addictions, now he is a well-loved friend of many people in our church. His acceptance largely was due to William’s encouragement and his facilitation of Robert’s relationships with other people.
Barnabas and Saul
The Bible recounts a similar relationship between Barnabas and Saul (Paul). Before Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was an enemy of Christians, hunting them down to put them in prison. Saul approved of the stoning of Stephen, traditionally considered the first Christian martyr (Acts 6-8:3). After he accepted Jesus his Lord, Saul “tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing he really was a disciple” (Acts 9:26). This fear is understandable, because Saul was an educated, powerful Pharisee with a well-deserved reputation for hating Christians.
Barnabas, however, accepted Saul as his personal friend. He introduced Saul to the apostles and affirmed Saul’s salvation experience was real. Because Barnabas mediated relationships between Saul and the apostles, Saul was able to then “(move) about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord” (v. 28). Consider the irony of this situation. Saul, at whose feet people had laid their cloaks while they hurled stones at Stephen, now was preaching the gospel message of salvation in the same city where Stephen was killed.
As Saul preached in Jerusalem, persecuted Christians scattered to nearby regions, sharing the gospel as they went. When many Greeks—Gentiles—turned to the Lord, the Jerusalem church decided to investigate. They sent the highly respected Barnabas to the emerging church at Antioch—near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey. Again,
Barnabas an encourager
Barnabas was an encourager to these new believers, just as he had been to Saul. He exhorted them to “remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (v. 23). Then, Barnabas retrieved Saul from Tarsus and brought him to Antioch. They stayed there for a year meeting “with the church and (teaching) great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (v. 26).
Scripture describes Barnabas as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (v. 24). Paul, his protégée, is considered by many to be the most influential Christian who ever has lived. When Barnabas faithfully followed the Holy Spirit’s prompting to befriend Saul, he likely had no idea he would be used by God to mentor someone whom God intended to be an incredible evangelist, church starter and the most prolific writer of the Bible. More importantly, Barnabas did not need to know how Paul’s spiritual journey would progress—he just needed to know God had saved him. Trusting Jesus’ redemptive work in Saul’s life, Barnabas could boldly befriend Paul and recommend him to others.
All of us have either needed an encouraging, Barnabas-like friend, or we have needed to be that kind of friend to someone else. The growing isolation of a culture that frequently develops “friends” through social media rather than face-to-face interaction challenges believers intentionally to nurture deep relationships with others so we function as either “Barnabases” or “Pauls” in others’ lives. This is one of the most important ways God matures believers and grows his kingdom.