Sunday, August 19, 2007

Good Friends I: Barnabas (Acts 9:26-28; 11:19-26)

Sermon by: Robert Austell

August 19, 2007


Have you ever needed a good friend?


I sure have. I’ve needed one when I was down, when I felt lonely, when I was discouraged. I’ve needed one to encourage me, motivate me, press on me to be a better person.


For those who believe in God and for whom God is at the center of all things, good friendship is inter-woven with our spiritual life. A good friend isn’t just one who hangs out with us or cheers us up, but who helps us grow closer to God.

And that’s true whether we are moving towards God or moving away from God. A good friend… a real friend, can help us run that race toward Jesus. Remember Hebrews 12:1? We are running the race, hopefully with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, avoiding the entanglements of sin along the way.


Well, we are not running alone. Here is the role of holy friendships: to spur us on towards Jesus if we are running towards him and to stop us and help us turn around if we are running away or are tripped up by sin.


Today, we will be studying Barnabas, who exemplifies holy friendship as an “encourager” of those running towards Christ. Next week we will be studying Nathan, who exemplified holy friendship when he confronted King David in his adultery and helped him turn back towards God in repentance.


Barnabas is a wonderful study in holy friendship. Today we will look at four godly character traits demonstrated by Barnabas. These are worth our study and emulation as we look for and try to be good friends to those who would seek God.


Before looking at these traits, look at verse 24. This verse describes the core reality from which Barnabas’ character flows. He is described as a “good man,” and that is then defined in this way:


[He was] full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.


While it is possible to have, in a non-spiritual way, each of the character traits we will discuss, it is the faith-relationship with God through Jesus Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit in Barnabas’ life that made his friendship a holy friendship. At the recent church retreat to Bonclarken and in the church newsletter, I’ve been talking about what it means for the Holy Spirit to dwell in a Christian as well as to be dampened by distraction or sin. The foundational reality for a holy friendship is loving God and being right with Him. From there we are then able to love each other as God intends.



Joy


The first trait is joy. There was a “situation” that developed in the early days after Jesus’ death. Those who believed were persecuted greatly, even tortured and killed, and so they scattered away from Jerusalem. But along the way they told the story of Jesus. Mostly, these were believing Jews explaining to other Jews how the Messiah had come. But in verse 20 we read that there were some who told the story of Jesus to non-Jews. Particularly in Antioch, they told the Greeks there about Jesus and many believed.


When the disciples and other believers in Jerusalem heard about this, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. What was his reaction to this rather unexpected spread of the Gospel? We read in v. 23:


…when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced…


He was thrilled. Never mind that these people were different. Never mind that they were “outsiders” to the Word and promises of God, given to the people of Israel. Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit and faith and he rejoiced to see these Greek people believe.


I’ve been in more than one downtown Presbyterian church that is now an empty building because the members moved to the suburbs and the church did not see the changing demographics as a ministry and mission opportunity. I’ve also been in churches that found themselves in the middle of huge change, whether ethnic, generational, or economic, and they were just thrilled at the new opportunities for the Gospel.


The disciples probably knew Barnabas was the right one to send to Antioch. He was not hung up on Jewishness or ties to Jerusalem, but was simply thrilled to see God at work anywhere and with anyone.


The first trait of holy friendship is joy. Will we celebrate what God is doing, even if it is not what we would choose to do? Will we look for what God is doing and enthusiastically jump in with both feet? If people are being drawn to Jesus, is there any reason we would not rejoice at that?


A good friend is full of joy at what God is doing.



Encouragement


In the same sentence, we read that Barnabas not only rejoiced, but also…


…began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord…


As you may know, Barnabas’ nickname was “son of encouragement.” And here is a description of that trait in action. Barnabas found new Greek believers in Antioch. Not only was he thrilled at this, he got involved with them and encouraged them to remain true to the Lord. We don’t know the content of his teaching, but it’s not hard to see the wisdom behind his words. How easy it is for new believers to get side-tracked from following Jesus. (How easy it is for old believers to get side-tracked from following Jesus!)


This is the heart of holy friendship for those who are face-towards God. “Press on! Run the race! Don’t turn aside!” How seldom we dip beneath the surface, even with our good friends, to encourage one another in Christ. It’s even rarer to get involved with someone we don’t know well at all.


Be intentional with your friends. Get involved with those you know who seem to be trusting God with their lives. Offer some godly encouragement. Share out of your own experience. You know where it gets hard for you. Maybe you can offer someone else hope or reassurance where you’ve needed it before.


We are not solo Christians. That is perhaps where the “run the race” analogy falls short and gets misleading. It’s more like “play the soccer game” with the goal of Christ. We are to work with one another towards the common goal of Jesus.


A good friend offers encouragement.



God’s Way Over Mine


Next we read that “considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.” (v. 24)

That’s not the point I’m going to focus on, however. We know that people were already coming to the Lord before Barnabas arrived and that it is the Holy Spirit who brings people to the Lord.


What I want to focus on is the next part. When many began coming to the Lord, Barnabas “left for Tarsus to look for Saul… and he brought him to Antioch.” (25-26) I’m not sure of Barnabas’ motives. Maybe it was getting to big for him to manage. Maybe he thought of Paul as the perfect one to bring into this situation. Back in Acts 9, Barnabas and Paul interact when Paul comes to Jerusalem and all the disciples are afraid of him, but Barnabas believes in his conversion. Barnabas saw Paul “testify boldly” in Damascus and vouched for Paul with the Jerusalem Apostles. Maybe it is this same bold testimony that he wants now to bring to Antioch.


The point is that Barnabas does not declare Antioch the church of Barnabas or jealously protect his new disciples and protégés. Rather, he calls in one that he has seen God use in a powerful way so that God’s mission may be furthered. He puts God’s plans above any he might have.


The point of good friendship isn’t ME; it’s loving the other person. That’s the point of “love your neighbor as yourself.” You are to take the way you would love yourself and put the other person there. In spiritual terms, this is even more significant, because that love is godly and God is first elevated at the heart of the friendship. That means that I will be your friend, not for what I’ll get out of it, nor even for what you’ll get out of it, but for what God would have you get out of it.


And I’m willing to share you. You don’t belong to me, anymore than those believers in Antioch belonged to Barnabas. I might think of someone who would help you even more as you grow towards God. That’s because a good friend seeks God’s purpose in the friendship.


A good friend aligns his or her plans with God’s.



Persevering and Committed


After Barnabas brought Paul [still called Saul sometimes] to Antioch, we read:


And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers… (v. 25)


This was no short-term pass-through mission. Barnabas, and Paul with him, were committed to these new believers in Antioch. They got involved with them, teaching them about following Jesus. By themselves persevering among the believers, they demonstrated the very thing Barnabas first encouraged them about: remaining true to the Lord.


This is the logical extension of a friendship that says, “I’m not in it for me.” If I’m in it for me, I’ll get what I want and get out. But if I’m in it for what God would have you get out of it, then I am committed for the long haul.


Commit to be a good friend. Pray for those God brings into your life.
Communicate regularly with them. Ask the deep questions. Follow up and don’t let things slide. Persevere.


There are only two kinds of people on the earth. There are those turned or turning toward God and there are those turned or turning away. Next week we will talk about being a friend to those turned or turning away from God. The people we’ll study are Nathan and David.


Barnabas is the prime example of how to be a good and godly friend to those turned or turning toward God. Joy, encouragement, God’s way over mine, and persevering commitment are all traits that will spur one another on towards Jesus.


Take time today to identify several people who need you to be a good friend to them and think how you might extend these traits into their lives. Amen.



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