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But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. ~Galatians 2:11-13 (ESV)Even Barnabas.
It is an interesting addition to this story Paul is telling. Out of all the people that were present at this meal in Antioch, Paul mentions only two. The first, Cephas (that is, Peter); and the second, Barnabas. We can understand why he mentioned Peter's wrong, but what was the point of mentioning Barnabas? This is what I want to focus on in this post.
We all have people close to us. There are people or perhaps a single person who means so much to us and we know this person really well. These are people who have stood by us when others have left; people who have supported us when others have not; people who continue to love us even in our times of fault. Consider them as we look at this story.
From this text in Galatians, I want us to get a better understanding of Paul. I hope at the end of this we see Paul's deep sentiment that comes from his comment, “even Barnabas.”
Paul can’t believe it. Barnabas. Even Barnabas.
So what’s the point and emotion behind mentioning Barnabas? I don’t think Paul is just simply pointing out that Barnabas was in Antioch acting this way. I think Paul is expressing something much more than that, and here is my attempt at understanding what is under the surface of the comment: "even Barnabas."
Let us take a stroll through the book of Acts. We are introduced to Barnabas in chapter 4. In verses 32-35, Luke writes of the preaching of the apostles and the generosity of the early believers. People gave and the believers were sustained together. Then we read verses 36-37:
Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles feet.We now know who Barnabas is. He is a Levite and one who is called a “son of encouragement.” This is our introduction to Barnabas.
Now turning to chapter 9, we read the following in verses 26-27:
And when [Paul] had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.So here we see first contact between Paul and Barnabas. Paul, who was persecuting believers in Jesus, had just been blinded and called by Jesus to preach the Gospel. Paul was well known to be a persecutor of the church, but now he was a voice for The Way. And Barnabas accepted him. Barnabas received him when all the others were scared or questioned his discipleship. Barnabas, I think, stuck his neck out for Paul in Jerusalem.
The son of encouragement. Imagine what Barnabas must have meant for Paul at this moment in his life.
Now turning to chapter 11 we have this from verses 19-26:
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.The church in Jerusalem knew and trusted Barnabas enough to send him to Antioch to see what was going on there. Notice the description Luke gives of Barnabas. He “was glad.” He “exhorted” and encouraged the believers to remain steadfast in their faith in Christ. And look at verse 24. Barnabas was “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”
I, for one, wouldn’t mind that description being on my tombstone.
But I want us to notice something more here. When Barnabas went to Tarsus, he went and “look[ed] for Saul.” He “found him” and “brought him to Antioch.” Paul wasn’t an afterthought for Barnabas. These are action words. These are words of intent. Barnabas wanted to find Paul and so he did. He wanted to be with Paul. And then for a whole year in Antioch, “they met with the church and taught a great many people.”
They were Gospel partners and they were friends. And for Paul, think about what this might mean to him at this time? Perhaps his thoughts echo the passage:
“Barnabas looked for me. He found me. He brought me to Antioch. He didn’t have to do any of these things. But Barnabas wanted to be with me and he wanted to teach the Gospel with me.”
“Even as others reject me, Barnabas cares for me.”
Now turn to chapter 13 of Acts. Here we have the first missionary journey kicking off. The Holy Spirit declares that Barnabas and Paul are to depart “for the work to which I have called them” (v.2).
God. The Creator of all things has now declared: “This is my pair, which I will use for this purpose.” The community affirmed this calling and sent them off; and the Holy Spirit sent them out. And for Paul what does this mean?
“Now the Lord Almighty has decided, Barnabas is to be with me!”
It is appropriate to mention here that I take the position that Galatians was written sometime in year 48, just before the (so-called) Jerusalem Council we read about in Acts 15. Therefore, the churches in Galatia were planted during the first missionary journey (year 46-47). So, who planted the Galatian churches with Paul?
The son of encouragement. Barnabas.
Now turn to the end of Acts chapter 15. Immediately following the decision in Jerusalem, we read of the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas:
And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are." Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.What I find interesting here is in this disagreement over John Mark; even though Paul and Barnabas end up separating over it, it is Barnabas, again, defending and siding with the underdog. Previously it was Paul, but now here Barnabas defends John Mark.
This is who Barnabas was. He never gave up on people. He was the encourager. He stuck by his brothers even when they made mistakes and others rejected them.
This is Barnabas.
Now returning to our text in Galatians, we have Paul making this comment “even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.”
Now consider that person or people I asked us to recall in our own lives. The ones who have stood by us when nobody else did. The ones who have encouraged us. The ones who we know well. The ones we rely on in our daily walk of life.
Now consider this situation in Antioch.
Can you feel Paul’s incredulity? “Even Barnabas was led astray! The man who first welcomed me! The man who defended me in the presence of the disciples of Jesus! The man who God chose to go with me on my first missionary journey! The man who planted these churches with me in Galatia! Barnabas is a man that the churches in Galatia know! Yes, this great man: Barnabas, my friend, my brother! Even HE was led astray by this action of Peter. No! No! Anybody but Barnabas!”
Can you feel that? Even Barnabas.
A final point to make is that what this shows us in that even the best of us, like Barnabas, will still fall short. We will still sin; we will still falter in the face of opposition; we will still stumble at the fear of men.
But yet still, we are secure in Christ.
Yes, even Barnabas.