Paul and Barnabas
Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, February 14, 2021
Throughout history there have been
many famous partnerships.
Some of the names were found together so often
that it’s hard to think of one without the other.
Bonnie & Clyde
Hansel & Gretel
Abbot & Costello
Romeo & Juliet
Simon & Garfunkel
Lewis & Clark
Batman & Robin
The list goes on and on.
But, for Bible readers, we find another
matched pair of names in Paul & Barnabas.
Throughout the 13th, 14th and 15th Chapters of Acts
we find Paul & Barnabas together.
But this morning, as we continue to look at
the 11th Chapter of Acts, we’ll see
how their friendship and partnership in ministry
actually got started.
Paul & Barnabas, Paul & Barnabas—
we keep hearing their names in concert,
because they worked so closely together
in the Lord’s work.
Sometimes the passages read “Barnabas and Saul,”
because that was Paul’s Hebrew name,
while Paul was his name in Greek.
The 13th Chapter of Acts tells how the Holy Spirit
appointed the two of them—Paul & Barnabas
to work together on a missionary tour
that would take them hundreds of miles
across land and sea.
Their journey would start out from the Christian church
in the ancient city of Antioch
at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea.
Acts 13:2 tells us what happened in that church,
to begin their partnership in ministry.
The Holy Spirit spoke to the congregation.
2 As they served the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate Barnabas and Saul for me, for the work to which I have called them.”
3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. 4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia. From there they sailed to Cyprus. [ MAP ]
[ MAP ]
And then, from the island of Cyprus,
they would sail northwestward until the reached
the mainland of what is now modern Turkey,
and travel about to the inland cities of that land,
bringing the Gospel of Christ
to both Jews and pagans alike.
The Holy Spirit gave them that assignment
by speaking miraculously—
either as an audible voice from heaven,
or speaking by inspiration
through a member of Antioch church.
The Holy Spirit yoked Paul and Barnabas together
to do the missionary work of taking the Gospel of Christ
to pagan lands
where the people had never before heard
the name of Jesus.
So, the 13th through the 15th Chapters of Acts
relate the details of how Paul and Barnabas
traveled and worked together in ministry.
We’ll get to that eventually, in coming weeks,
as we continue through the Book of Acts.
But, some time before that,
other events began to shape the partnership
of these two men of faith.
We first read of Barnabas at Acts 4:36,
which refers to him as
...Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus.
Although Jewish, Barnabas
came from the island of Cyprus.
which means he grew up in the midst of
a non-Jewish, Greek-speaking culture.
As we move on,
we’ll see that this Greek-speaking background
equipped Barnabas for the work
of bringing the Gospel to pagan Gentiles.
Barnabas and Paul first met, apparently,
when Paul was a new believer
and was still going by his Hebrew name Saul.
He had been raised as a Jewish Pharisee,
and had been active in persecuting, and even killing,
Christians in Jerusalem.
The Jewish authorities had sent Saul off to Damascus
with letters authorizing him to
arrest Christians there.
But our Lord Jesus interrupted Saul’s journey
by appearing to him on the road to Damascus
in a blinding light
that left him blind for days afterwards.
The risen Christ was the last thing Saul saw
before going temporarily blind.
Jesus spoke to Saul there,
in that blinding light
in a way that both converted him to Christianity
and gave him the assignment as Apostle
to the pagan Gentile nations.
But the Christian community knew him
only as a dangerous enemy
who was authorized to arrest
as many Christians as he could find.
So, naturally, they were skeptical
when he arrived back in town
looking to meet with Christians.
Acts 9:26 tells us,
26When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.
This is where Barnabas steps in,
dealing with Saul for the very first time.
Barnabas met with Saul
and believed the story of his miraculous conversion.
He realized that Saul was no longer a persecutor—
no longer a danger to the Church.
So, we read at Acts 9:27,
27Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and described how Saul had seen the Lord, who spoke to him on the road to Damascus, and how Saul had spoken boldly in that city in the name of Jesus.
The trust that Barnabas put in Saul
must have forged a bond between them—
a bond that would bring them together again later.
But here in the 11th Chapter of Acts,
we see first the role that Barnabas played
in the early Church.
And the account begins by summing up, again,
what happened after deacon Stephen
was stoned to death in Jerusalem
for preaching Christ.
We’ve read earlier how that murderous action
began a wave of vicious persecution against Christians
that scattered most believers from Jerusalem
to the surrounding area,
as they fled to avoid being arrested.
We saw earlier how deacon Philip fled first to Samaria,
and then converted an Ethiopian
on the road to Gaza.
Others, too, were scattered by that persecution.
Acts 11:19 says,
19 They therefore who were scattered abroad by the oppression that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews only.
[ MAP ]
Phoenicia was 100 miles North of Jerusalem,
along the coast
and Antioch about 300 miles North,
while the island of Cyprus sits in the
eastern Mediterranean, about 100 miles off shore.
So, the Jewish-Christian refugees from Jerusalem,
fleeing the persecution that was going on there,
went to these locations,
sharing the Gospel of Christ as they went.
But they spoke the Gospel message
only to fellow Jews in the Jewish communities
found in those places.
But some of those Jewish Christians,
although fleeing from Jerusalem,
were themselves natives of Greek-speaking lands,
and they began preaching the Gospel
to the Greek-speaking pagans.
Acts 11:20 says
But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.
Cyprus is the island mentioned earlier, 100 miles off shore
in the eastern Mediterranean. [ MAP ]
And Cyrene was a major Greek-speaking city
in North Africa, in what is now Libya today.
Jewish men from those places
were evidently among those who were visiting Jerusalem
for the Jewish holiday of Pentecost,
and who became Christians.
They were scattered by persecution,
along with all the other Jerusalem Christians,
and when they fled to Antioch,
they began speaking to the Hellenists there.
Commentators disagree over whether those Hellenists
were pagan Greeks or Greek-speaking Jews.
The word “Hellenists” could be used for both.
But the context alone seems to imply
that these Hellenists were Greek pagans.
In any case, they were receptive to the Gospel.
Verse 21 says of those
who went there preaching to the Hellenists,
21 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. 22 The report concerning them came to the ears of the assembly which was in Jerusalem.
The church in Jerusalem was eager to help
with this harvest of souls being saved in Antioch,
and with the need to firmly establish the new believers
in the faith.
So the Apostles and others in Jerusalem
sent Barnabas to help with the ministry work
in and around Antioch.
So, we read,
They sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch, 23 who, when he had come, and had seen the grace of God, was glad. He exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they should remain near to the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, and many people were added to the Lord.
Barnabas was very successful in his ministry there.
But, he recognized the need for more help,
to accomplish more than he could on his own.
And his thoughts naturally turned to Paul
who was well-educated, not only in Jewish culture,
but also in the Hellenistic culture of the Greeks.
And Barnabas knew that Paul—[ MAP ]
still known by his Hebrew name Saul—
was living in Tarsus, which happened to be
a relatively short distance up the coast.
So, Verse 25 tells us,
25 Barnabas went out to Tarsus to look for Saul. 26 When he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they were gathered together with the assembly, and taught many people. The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
So, Paul and Barnabas worked together there
for a whole year.
That was some time before Paul’s 1st missionary journey,
and it set the pattern
for his working together closely with Barnabas.
It also gave Paul the experience
preaching the Gospel to Greek-speaking listeners—
experience that would later help him
take the message about Christ
to Greece and Italy,
and perhaps even Spain and Portugal.
Also, notice that the account states that
The disciples were first
called Christians in Antioch.
We use the word “Christian” today automatically
to refer to anyone who professes belief in Christ.
We might have assumed that the Apostles and disciples
always used that word to describe themselves,
but they did not.
It was in this Greek-speaking city
some 300 miles north of Jerusalem that
The disciples were first
And, from there, that name for followers of Jesus
came into use worldwide, as it is today.
So, we see in this passage here in Acts Chapter 11,
not only the beginning of the ministry partnership
of Paul & Barnabas,
but also the beginning of the use
of the word “Christians”
to describe us believers.
The account goes on in Verse 27
to tell of a relatively short trip—300 miles each way—
that Paul & Barnabas took
before their missionary travels together.
This was a trip back to Jerusalem carrying money
to deliver financial aid.
27 Now in these days, prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up, and indicated by the Spirit that there should be a great famine all over the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius.
Claudius was the Roman Emperor
depicted as narrating the story of the Caesars
in the 13-episode television series “I Claudius,”
that featured well-known actors
Derek Jacobi as Claudius and Star Trek’s
Patrick Stewart—Capt. Picard—in another role.
History tells us that Claudius was Rome’s Emperor
from the year 41 to the year 54 A.D.,
so this helps us connect to secular history
the time period discussed here in Acts.
And secular historians do refer to a widespread famine
during the reign of Claudius.
Warned in advance of the coming food shortage
by a Holy-Spirit-inspired prophet in their church
the Christians in Antioch prepared to send money
to help their fellow-believers
to secure food in advance.
And they sent this financial assistance to Jerusalem
by the hands of Paul and Barnabas.
The account continues,
29 As any of the disciples had plenty, each determined to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea; 30 which they also did, sending it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
We tend to think of this dynamic duo as
“Paul and Barnabas”
because the Apostle Paul has a much larger role
throughout the rest of the Book of Acts
and through his letters that fill
much of the New Testament.
But, at this stage in their relationship,
the writer of Acts names Barnabas first,
as the senior of the two,
and refers to Paul by his Hebrew name Saul.
Later on, in Acts Chapter 13, he switches
to calling him by his Greek name “Paul”
and putting him first,
as Paul began to take the lead
in preaching to the Greek-speaking world.
So, we learn from this 11th Chapter of Acts,
more about the background
of Christ’s Apostle to the nations,
the one Jesus selected to bring his Gospel
to our non-Jewish ancestors.
And we learn where the word “Christians”
first came to be used
as the name for us believers in Christ.
These are key lessons in the early history of the Church
as outlined for us in the Acts of the Apostles.
And they help us better understand and appreciate
the rest of the New Testament that follows.
We also learn from Paul & Barnabas
a lot about friendship
and about working together
with our brothers & sisters in the church.
We need each other.
Paul couldn’t have done everything he did
without the help from his partnership with Barnabas.
And Barnabas couldn’t have accomplished as much
without the help he received from Paul.
They helped each other be more effective.
The Proverbs tell us that,
As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.
And Ecclesiastes Chapter 9 tells us that
9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return
for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
And that’s true in the Church today.
We need each other, to accomplish
the work Christ has called us to do.
Working together can be difficult, at times,
because we all have rough edges
to our personalities—some rougher than others.
And we’ll see that, too, in the case of Paul & Barnabas,
when we continue to follow them in ministry
in coming weeks.
As they were about to set off on a 2nd missionary trip,
they had a disagreement
about who to take with them.
And the dispute became so heated
that they separated
and went off in opposite directions.
Like us, they too were only human,
and so were subject to having hurt feelings
But their rift was healed later, as we can see
from Paul’s kindly mention of Barnabas
in his letters to the churches.
So, as we continue to consider Paul & Barnabas
in coming weeks,
we’ll continue to learn lessons
that will help us with personal friendships
both within & outside the Church.