Barnabas: The Biggest Heart in the Church

Sermon preached by Rob Barber
on Tuesday 11th June 2019 (Barnabas the Apostle)

Acts 11.19–end; Psalm 112; Galatians 2.1–10; John 15.12–17

Barnabas has been described as “the person with the biggest heart in the church”.

Most of what we know about Barnabas is what we read in the Acts of the Apostles, with a few references in Paul’s letters as well, and, although not one of the twelve chosen by Jesus, he is described as an apostle.

His given name was actually Joseph, and he was given the nickname Barnabas by the other apostles, meaning “son of encouragement”.

We first come across him early on in Acts when he sells some land that he owns and gives the proceeds to the community. Later, when Paul returns to Jerusalem after his conversion, it’s Barnabas who introduces him to the apostles and it’s thought that he and Paul were already friends.

Although there’s no real historical evidence as to how he died, it is believed that he was martyred by being stoned to death and that John Mark, the writer of Mark’s gospel, was a witness to this and privately interred his body.

In the reading from Acts we heard this evening, Barnabas is described as “a good man, full of the holy spirit and faith”, and this is borne out by references we see of him elsewhere in Acts and in Paul’s letters.

When he saw need, he acted generously. Always ready to act, he was called to missionary service with Paul to the Gentiles. This involved strategic thinking and effective action of the gospel. In today’s church, he would be the one ready to cross the street to spread the gospel, but also to care for the poor and the elderly, to fix the gutters or help someone change a tyre. He was very much a “doer” as well as a hearer and speaker of the word.

I don’t know about you, but I find it very tedious when preachers tell stories with accounts from their recent holiday, but that’s what I’m going to do now!

You may know that Tina and I have just spent a very enjoyable week on a boat on the Norfolk Broads. It’s the first time either of us had ever done anything like this and some aspects of boating were a very steep learning curve. What struck me though was how nice everybody was who we encountered.

On our first botched attempt to moor the boat complete strangers came to help get us moored and tied up safely to the quayside. After a few days, I was feeling confident enough to offer similar help if I saw someone struggling in a similar manner. Everybody we encountered was incredibly friendly and we found ourselves in conversation with people we’d never met before and will probably never meet again.

I thought it a shame that you don’t often see that sort of behaviour back at home. We all need to follow the example of Barnabas and lend that helping hand to anyone we see struggling or to listen to someone going through a hard time.

Above all the preaching and good works though, Barnabas was renowned for offering encouragement to the early Christians and that is perhaps the most important example he gives us. It’s incredibly sad that some Christians can be dispensers of vitriol rather than love. After all, we all respond better to encouragement than criticism.

The more we show our love to a fellow human beings, the more we show our love for God and know His love for us. The more we do that, the more we will have big hearts like Barnabas, the person with the biggest heart in the church.

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