It was time for the message of Jesus Christ to move far beyond Israel and Syria, and God had picked the two men for this special mission. As the prophets and teachers of the early Syrian church met together in worship, prayer, and fasting, “…the Holy Spirit said, ‘Dedicate Barnabas and Saul [Paul] for the special work I have for them’” (Acts 13:2).
It surely was a special work. But it was also a work that would turn Paul and Barnabas’ world upside down. What were their reactions to the news that they were going on a long journey—long in both time and distance? What were their reactions to leaving their obviously important work in Syria and embarking on the unknown? Did they wrestle with concerns about their future, their safety, leaving behind their friends, and entrusting their work in Syria to others? Did they bargain with God, trying to swap this great unknown work for something familiar?
It appears that Paul and Barnabas were so attuned to the Holy Spirit and so trusting of God’s promises to them that they went with gladness, not looking back but feeling secure in God’s mission. We are told that “after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way” (Acts 13:3). Case closed for Paul and Barnabas.
What would our reaction be to God’s directive to make a drastic change in our location and lifestyle in order to serve Him more fully? Think about that carefully. I want to be able to say that I would be like Paul and Barnabas, but I wonder if I actually am that trusting of God. And if I am not, what is holding me back? The answer to that question may identify the barrier that is possibly keeping me from being all that God wants me to be.
But Paul and Barnabas had no barriers that kept them from readily obeying God. They and another helper, John Mark, set off to do what God had directed. Surely God’s blessings would be given to them after their willing obedience. And blessings there were! As Paul and Barnabas spoke to the crowds, many people accepted as their own truth the fact that “in this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in him is freed from all guilt and declared right with God” (Acts 13:38-39).
Although there were many blessings, there were also numerous adversities. There were hardships that caused a younger and healthier John Mark to leave the journey, illness that was severe enough to be, in Paul’s own words, “revolting” to others (Gal. 4:14), angry mobs that ran Paul and Barnabas out of their towns, an attempted stoning, and an actual stoning that caused Paul to be left for dead. Let’s think about these harsh conditions and put ourselves in their place. Would we be confused? Would we be resentful? Would we question God?
Why, after they had given everything to God, would He allow these horrendous things to happen to them? Where was God’s love and protection from harm? Those questions often echo all around us. When our trust and focus falter in the face of difficulties, our hearts whisper, “Why?” or declare, “It’s not fair!” But that was not Paul and Barnabas’ story.
It seems that they did not even consider such thoughts, for we are told that after Paul had been left for dead from his second stoning, “he got up and went back into the city” (Acts 14:20). He went right back to the place where his life had almost ended—back to, once again, tell the Good News and to encourage and strengthen the new believers. Talk about persistence in the face of adversity and keeping one’s attention fixed on one’s purpose. This was beyond human persistence; this was God-given persistence.
What is even more amazing is that this was only the first of three journeys! How hard would it be to sell journeys two and three to most of us after suffering through the hardships from journey one?
What a difference their lives made and still make. Have you ever thought about how many Christians’ genealogies, even today, could be traced back to Paul and Barnabas’ missionary journeys? Maybe even your own? Their story has shown us the way to a life with purpose and meaning. It takes many small steps in trusting and obeying God before we can even come close to the trust and obedience of these giants of the Christian faith. But this kind of life starts with one small step and grows with each step that follows it. It doesn’t matter where you are in the journey; it only matters that you are moving forward.
There is much to admire about Paul and Barnabas. Are we willing to follow their lead?
© 2010 Arlina Yates