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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Acts 11

Verses 1-30

St. Barnabas' Exhortation

Acts 11:22-23

A very great work had been going on in Antioch. There had been many signal conversions. It was after this 'Mission' and these conversions that Barnabas, an older minister, came to Antioch.

I. What St. Barnabas Saw. He saw the real, secret spring, the very essence of it all. 'He saw the grace of God,' the free workings of God's own love, the decrees of God's sovereignty, the acting of God's omnipotence. 'And he was glad.' 'Glad' not only and so much that men were made happy, or that men were saved, but that God was glorified, that His 'grace' was manifested. 'When he had seen the grace of God, he was glad.' What did he do? He was very jealous that this 'grace of God' should continue, continue and be magnified.

II. His Exhortation. 'That with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.' The advice fits Christians of today.

(a) Purpose of heart. This may have many objects in view.

i. Purpose of heart. This may have many objects in Whom you serve.

ii. That some besetting sin may be conquered.

iii. That there shall be greater earnestness in devotion.

iv. That there shall be more love in daily life.

v. That there shall be more regularity and more frequency of attendance at Holy Communion.

(b) ' Cleave unto the Lord.' To 'cleave to the Lord' means to be feeling that He is your very life, that you are making Him your very necessity, and to be always trying to make Him closer, and closer, and closer, till you are actually one with Christ. It is God's word for marriage: 'A man shall cleave unto his wife'. It is David's cry, when he could not raise his thoughts or disentangle himself from his worldliness: 'My soul cleaveth to the dust'. It is like the limpet to the rock. It knows that once separated from that rock it dies!

St. Barnabas the Apostle

Acts 11:22-24

After the martyrdom of St. Stephen there followed 'a great persecution against the Church,' so that its members were scattered abroad into many regions. But those who had been scattered 'preached the Lord Jesus' in Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, 'and the hand of the Lord was with them; and a great number believed,' especially at Antioch. These tidings coming to the ears of the Mother Church at Jerusalem, so gladdened the hearts of its members that they sent Barnabas on a special mission to Antioch; and no better man could they despatch to ascertain the truth or otherwise of what they had heard. The writer of the Acts describes his characteristics.

(1) 'He was a good man.' 'Good,' not in the common acceptation of the term, but in the Divine. If a man lives morally; if he pays that which he owes; if he bestows his goods to feed the poor; if he conforms to the rules of society and the forms of religion, whatever his motives for so doing, by universal consent he is denominated 'a good man'. Now the goodness of Barnabas involved all this. He was of the tribe of Levi; a son of consolation as his name signifies, and as he was surnamed by his fellow-Apostles; and so kind and charitable that he sold all his lands at Cyprus, and laid the money at the Apostles' feet at Jerusalem, that they might distribute to the necessities of the poor. But the goodness of Barnabas was Divine the creation of the Holy Spirit; for He makes all really good men (John 1:12-13 ).

(2) He was 'full of the Holy Ghost'. Not that he was with the Twelve, when, on the day of Pentecost, 'they were all filled with the Holy Ghost'; but it has been surmised that he was one of the converts made on that glorious day. Be this as it may, the same Divine privilege was granted to him. And it had the same sanctifying effect in him, though not accompanied by the gift of tongues.

(3) He was also 'full of faith'. He was 'strong in faith, giving glory to God'. And because he believed in God he had faith in his mission. He knew and felt that Christianity was God's living remedy for the world's deadly ills, and therefore must ultimately prove efficacious in healing them. With this firm conviction, the offspring of his faith, he laboured most abundantly to spread it.

Of his visit to Antioch the Acts tells us two things:

(1) The triumphs of Divine grace made him glad. He saw that the work was genuine, and that precious souls had been converted that the cross of his despised Lord had prevailed. He was a perfect contrast to Jonah, who, because Divine mercy spared 'more than six score thousand persons 'in Nineveh, foolishly and angrily charged God for His 'great kindness'. He was rather like David, who, when he had seen the doing of the Lord, exclaimed, 'Thou hast made me glad through Thy work; I will triumph in the work of Thy hands'. This is a primary evidence of true saintliness.

(2) He exhorted the newly made converts to steadfastness. He knew that the same hostility and persecution would be shown to those of Antioch which had been shown to their brethren at Jerusalem; but he also knew that, like the Captain of their salvation, they must be 'made perfect through suffering'. So he exhorted them to Christlike steadfastness. The staple of his animating address was 'that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord'. The need of this was paramount. Barnabas was himself an impressive example of the principle he taught. Ever did he 'cleave unto the Lord'. From the moment of his call to the ministry (Acts 13:2-3 ) to the moment of his death he was found doing so. Nay, at his death he seemed more than ever the steadfast Apostle of Jesus. According to tradition, he ended his life where he began it at Cyprus. One day he went into the synagogue of Salamis, and began, as was his wont, to preach Christ to the assembly. Certain Jews, who had come over from Syria to the island to stir up the people against him, laid their hands on him, and confined him in the synagogue until night, when they dragged him forth, stoned him to death, and then tried to burn his body to ashes. But his body is said to have resisted the power of the flames, though it did not that of the stones, and St. Mark buried it. Such a man takes rank as a leader among 'the glorious company of the Apostles' and 'the noble army of martyrs'.

References. XI. 23. H. Arnold Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 20. C. Perren, Sermon Outlines, p. 201. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p. 88.

The Character of St. Barnabas (For St. Barnabas' Day)

Acts 11:24

Such, in these few brief words, is the character of St. Barnabas 'For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost'. There is no chance connection between the two parts of this sentence, 'He was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost,' and there are two things which it might be well for every one of us to take to heart: First of all, that all goodness is the gift of the Holy Ghost 'Who sanctifieth me, and all the elect people of God'. And the converse of that truth, so to speak, we might also bear in mind not only that all goodness must come from the Holy Ghost, but also, that where there is goodness there is always the work of the Holy Ghost. This was the great sin, the great offence, of the Pharisees, as you will remember, in the time of our Lord, that they saw His goodness but would not allow it; that they ascribed His goodness not to the Holy Spirit, but to the work of devils. That was the last and the lowest mark of their failure.

Those thoughts seem naturally to suggest themselves as one reads the account of St. Barnabas: 'He was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost'. Yet men may be good and weak, and St. Barnabas would certainly seem to have an element of weakness in his character, which came out in two ways: I. First of all, in the matter of eating with the Gentiles. You will remember how at Antioch he and St. Peter, with others, forgot their own prejudices and customs and had boldly sat down to eat with the Gentile Christians; but when there came certain Jewish Christians, we are told that first of all Peter (who in many respects was notoriously weak) silently and gradually withdrew himself, and ate no more with them; and even Barnabas, says Paul with some indignation, 'was carried away with their dissimulation'.

II. And, secondly, his weakness came out in another and still more famous episode in his life that which was connected with St. Mark. On one lonely journey, St. Paul and St. Barnabas determined to take with them Mark, the young cousin of Barnabas, who may have had a soft training, being the only son of a rich widow, living, perhaps, in a villa of Gethsemane outside Jerusalem. This young man, who had been brought up in considerable luxury, when the crisis of his life came, when he found himself face to face with the robbers and other unpleasant accompaniments of travel in Asia Minor in those days, losing heart, returned to Jerusalem. Then, later on, having, perhaps, gone through some silent struggle of his own, he offered himself again for the service, and Barnabas wished to take him, but Paul refused, and the quarrel waxed hot between them. Here Barnabas was weak. The young man had forfeited their confidence, but Barnabas said, like many others, peace at any price.

So we even have here the beginning of a system known as nepotism, or the favouring of relations the preference of kinsmen for this place or for that. So there came that great Apostolic quarrel. And they parted, those two Apostles, and after this parting from St. Paul, St Barnabas disappears altogether from the pages of sacred history, or remains the good-natured man. The merely good-natured man does very little, and, on the whole, gets very little thanks for what he does. It is the men who have principles to which they must stick, and for which, if necessary, they are prepared to die, who make a mark on their contemporaries and on history.

III. Yet, after all, when we have made these deductions for St. Barnabas' weakness and good-nature, these are the important words words which remain: 'He was a good man'. And his goodness was shown in more ways than one. There are three instances I would give you:

(1) First, it was shown in the recognition of the work of the Holy Ghost among the Gentiles.

(2) And, secondly, his goodness is seen in this that he was a peacemaker. 'Blessed are the peacemakers.' Twice Barnabas saved Paul for the Christian Church. It was this gentle, good man, 'full of the Holy Ghost,' a peace-lover, who, in the first instance, when all were suspicious of this terrible persecutor, took him by the hand and brought him into the Apostolic band. Let that be written down for Barnabas, that he served the Church by saving a greater man to serve it.

(3) And, thirdly, there is the love of the brethren shown by a capacity for selfsacrifice. No cheap religion for this Barnabas. The love of the brethren had to be shown by selfsacrifice. And by selfsacrifice the history of the Church began, as with selfsacrifice it must go on until the end. Here is always a sign of the love of the brethren, and of sincerity. Are men ready for any measure of selfsacrifice?

And so we may take this Apostle for example to ourselves.

References. XI. 24. A. 6. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. iii. p. 92. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 135. XI. 25. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 197; ibid. (5th Series), vol. x. p. 429; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 232.

Acts 11:26

Christian has become one of the vaguest epithets in the language.

Leslie Stephen, English Thought in Eighteenth Century, vol. ii. p. 395.

I dare not call myself a Christian. I have hardly met the man in all my life who deserved that name.

Max Müller.

References. XI. 26. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 328. F. D. Maurice, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 172. Marcus Dods, Christ and Man, p. 117. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 127. XI. 27-30. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 114. XI. 28. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 127; ibid. vol. x. p. 281. XI. 29. Ibid. vol. ix. p. 225; ibid. vol. x. p. 198. XI. 29, 30. Ibid. vol. iv. p. 298. XI. 30. Ibid. vol. iii. pp. 84, 225. XII. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 92. XII. 1. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 307; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 293. XII. 1, 2. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 314.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Acts 11". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/acts-11.html. 1910.