The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. (Acts 11:22-24)

The above passage is about the Jewish Christian Barnabas. Before Acts 10, evangelistic work concerning Jesus Christ was done among Jewish people. The Jerusalem congregation was the first congregation of Christians, so it, with its leadership, was considered the “source” congregation. When new developments occurred, the first question was, “What does the church in Jerusalem think about this?”

In Acts 11 the first gentile congregations were formed (that we of today know about). Not all Jewish Christians approved of Peter’s work with Cornelius and his friends in Acts 10. The hot issue: was Christianity a Jewish reform movement only for Jews and proselytes, or was Christianity a movement that included non-proselyte gentiles as well? To recognize that this decision was a pivotal moment in Christianity is an understatement!

A truly special Jewish Christian must be sent to the gentile congregation in Antioch. He must observe and encourage. He must not alienate or judge; he must not be hostile; and he must not say the wrong things. There were more Jewish Christians NOT equipped for this delicate task than Jewish Christians equipped for this challenge.

Who was sent? Barnabas. Why? He was capable of rejoicing when he witnessed God’s grace working among the gentiles—he did not feel threatened for Judaism or question gentile commitment. He could encourage gentile Christians to remain committed to the Lord—he understood the difference between faith in a Savior and faith in a system. How could he have this understanding? He was a good man who was full of the Holy Spirit and faith in Jesus. He could be committed to Christ instead of defensive for Judaism.

Because Barnabas was committed to Jesus when many Jewish Christians were hostile, in a few years there were more gentile Christians than Jewish Christians. A problem became opportunity. The majority of the Roman Empire had opportunity to respond to Jesus because a Jewish Christian was committed to the Lord rather than his heritage.

Can God use you fully in delicate situations because of your commitment to Jesus Christ? Are you better as a spouse, a parent, a child, a worker, a citizen, and in a congregation because you grasp God’s meaning of Christian commitment?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 12 March 2009

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