Did you have a best friend at school or through University? A friend that has stood by you through thick and thin? Maybe you have that friend that although you don’t see them regularly, when you do meet them you just pick up where you left off?
Friends and friendships are precious things.
Mandie and I have known each other since we were 8 when we met doing drama together, and although we only see each other once, maybe twice a year, when we meet it’s as if it was yesterday.
We are designed for relationship, as we have been exploring over the last couple of weeks by looking at the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the Trinity last week
God is found in relationship – it is his blueprint – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and as we are made in his image, we too are made for relationship.
I read once in a survival book that we can only last 1 week without water, 3 weeks without food and 3 months without companionship. We need people, we need friends. But what constitutes a good friend?
Today we celebrate Barnabas, his name meaning Son of Encouragement. May I suggest that we all need a Barnabas in our lives?
But what was it about Barnabas that made him such a good friend?
What does a Barnabas-type friendship look like? Here are six attributes that Barnabas modelled for a ministry friendship.
A Barnabas Will Be Supportive:
Barnabas was a Jewish priest from Cyprus, whose real name was Joseph. The Apostles preferred to use his nickname, which is translated Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36).
We all need a Barnabas who will speak words of encouragement, and sometimes rebuke, into our lives.
When his nephew John Mark “wimped out” on his first mission trip, Paul wanted to permanently kick him off the team. Barnabas chose instead to mentor Mark, who got back on his feet and became a contributing author to the best-selling book in history. Mark would also become an invaluable partner to Peter, and yes, even Paul (2 Timothy 4:11).
A Barnabas Will Be Unselfish:
We read in Acts 4 that, Barnabas sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:36-37).
We have enough takers in our world. A Barnabas is the type of friend who will think of your needs as more important than his own (Philippians 2:3).
A Barnabas Will Be Loyal:
When the Jerusalem church leaders sent Barnabas to Antioch to preach, he took along a risky new convert named Saul, also known as Paul. Paul had a reputation for persecuting Christians before his conversion, and few assumed Paul was really a Christian. However, the Apostles trusted Barnabas, and Barnabas trusted Paul. Otherwise, Paul may not have got his first ministry opportunity (Acts 11:22-30).
A Barnabas Will Be Mature:
When the church at Antioch began to grow exponentially through the conversion of Gentiles, the leaders in Jerusalem got a little nervous. They sent Barnabas to check it out, “For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11:24).
We all need a confidant to share victories and defeats with—someone to talk us off the cliff when we are on the verge of giving up.
A Barnabas Will Be Humble:
Paul was a good writer and speaker, yet there was no evidence of Barnabas doing either. Most Christians are not called or gifted to take up the pen or microphone, so we may be tempted to assume that our gifts are inferior to those up front.
Somewhere along the way, “Barnabas and Paul” became “Paul and Barnabas.” A change that Luke subtly, but intentionally, makes in the book of Acts.
A Barnabas Will Be Bold:
Barnabas was more than just a nice guy. He didn’t back down to Paul when they had a sharp disagreement about John Mark (Acts 15:36-39). Sons and daughters of encouragement don’t look casually beyond our weaknesses, they walk through those challenges with us.
Some lead best from the stage, while others, like Barnabas, lead best from the shadows. While Barnabas is not credited with having written a word of the New Testament, through his impact on the lives of the Apostle Paul and John Mark and their subsequent influence on other writers, it is possible to say that Barnabas had a significant role in sixty percent of the New Testament. That would make him truly an “unsung hero” of the New Testament, a background guy who shunned the spotlight.
So Barnabas was a supportive, unselfish, loyal, mature, humble and bold friend. Qualities to look for in a friend and qualities to aspire to in our friendships. But it has deeper connotations.
Jesus calls us friends, in John 15: ‘you are my friends, if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my father’.
So we are offered friendship with Christ. A mutual, sharing relationship, one that gives equally to each other. We may think that Jesus is supportive, unselfish, loyal, mature, humble and bold as a friend to us. But do we ever reflect on what our friendship looks like to him? Friendship is a two way process.
These are qualities of a church too. How wonderful if our church was thought of as supportive, unselfish, loyal, mature, humble and bold. Our church is made up people, ordinary people with an extraordinary calling. A calling to live and walk the way of Jesus. A gently trod, humble and loving path.
My former principal of the local Ministry programme, Steve Summers, thought that friendship, as discovered through the bible, was a subject often overlooked, with far reaching consequences. For his doctorate he wrote a book on it. He acknowledges the struggle of the church in modern society and bewails the fact that church leaders are fixated on new programmes for growing numbers. He brings us back to the simple but costly act of friendship and its role in hospitality.
He has the brain the size of a planet so some of it is a little academic, but I’d like to close with a paraphrase of his final passage;
Being ‘church’ is relational. The church is called to be friends of Christ and thus friends with each other. Historically, friendship is attractive, even if the best sort of friendship is rare, and a community willing to take the risk of hospitality and befriend the ‘other’ is in a position to offer something unusual if not unique’.