In 1986, we planted a Church in Bloemfontein in the Free State Province. It grew and developed over the years. We left the area in 1991 and visited the Church twice and were then invited to the 30th Anniversary Celebrations. By this time, the Church was very large in number, had a few people on staff and the buildings were substantial, shape in something like an auditorium.
It was a wonderful delight to visit and see the great progress the team there had achieved under the good hand of God. To me, this is the immediate picture Barnabas was introduced to when he arrived at Antioch.
1) It was evidence of God’s grace.
Ac 11:23 When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God.
Although there were great numbers here who came to faith, numbers don’t always reflect the blessings (grace) of God. Many today in the “prosperity movement” gathering in crowds, giving huge sums of money and other possessions because they are taught that, like their “spiritual leaders” (whom I believe are often false prophets), they can “name it and claim it” from God. If they want a particular job, vehicle, house or possession, all they need to do (so they are taught) is to “name it to” God and then “claim it from” God because, as they are taught, God wants the best for them and this includes giving them all the tangible possessions they “want” here on earth to make them happy and be seen as successful because they belong to this “specific prosperity movement”. This is far, far from the Truth of Scripture, irrespective of which Scriptures are floated to “prove” their theology.
What Barnabas saw when he arrived was people transformed by the Holy Spirit. They had left their pagan religions and all culture that were in opposition to the Gospel and were following Jesus Christ as Lord as they pursued holiness of life. That was what they demonstrated and that is the meaning of … saw the evidence of the grace of God.
The other matter to address is that Barnabas saw the number of true conversions. The measure of the “evidence of the grace of God” is that hearts are transformed, life follows after holiness and behavior follows after Gospel principles. The internal and spiritual transformation is the evidence of grace, and when this is lacking, questions need to be asked about authenticity.
Let me add a caution here … be careful of what people say, be it from the pews or the pulpit. Let their actions speak as time passes. Look for evidence of grace in people’s day to day living and lifestyle, at Church, home and friendship circles.
2) The evidence of grace relates into rejoicing … he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. Barnabas experienced a few things.
(1) He was glad. He rejoiced because he saw the sphere of grace upon the Church. Although this was New Testament times and the Holy Spirit was establishing the Church of the Lord Jesus, we need to pray that we will experience this. Twenty to Twenty-First Century history of Christianity shows the drastic decline of the Visible Church in morals, numbers and conscience in all walks of society.
Oh beloved, we need to prayer for ourselves firstly and the Church in general that God will revive the Church and allow Her a demonstration of His glorious grace to manifest throughout our world. Pray for a personal and corporate return to the pursuit of holiness. Pray that we shall refuse any presentation of compromise. Pray that we will hold the Bible high, having a high view of Scripture and a high view of the holy demands and requirements of God for His Kingdom people. Gladness or rejoicing in a local Church, denomination or in the Church in general must come from her displaying true conversions and a passion for Christlikeness.
(2) He encouraged them. Barnabas was gifted with the spiritual gift of encouragement. Remember what we read of him earlier:
Ac 4:36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Once he saw the evidence of grace, it so thrilled him … but as a seasoned believer he needed to motivate them to pursue faithfulness to Jesus. This is where his “Gift of Encouragement” came in. Some of us have such a gift whilst most of us are able to express encouragement because of our salvation. We see new believers and spur them on.
(3) He encouraged them to remain true to the Lord … to remain true to the Lord. This phrase is very important. It is easy to encourage people to remain true to a Church’s constitution, hymnal, creed, pastor or eldership. In some ways this is needed … but before this there is “remaining true to the Lord Jesus!” We must grasp that a Church’s constitution, hymnal, creed, pastor, eldership or anything else man might put together is prone to error in some way or the other because it is put together by men … although saved by grace, still sinners. We need to remain true to Jesus and to remain true to Jesus means being true to the Scriptures. This is why I said earlier that we need to high view of Scripture. We need to study it, memorize it, love it and obey it, if we want to remain true to Jesus as Lord. There is simply no other way of remaining true to our Lord apart from what He says and requires in His Word.
(4) He encouraged them to remain true to the Lord … with all their hearts. At the end of the day, Christianity is a heart matter. Jesus instructed His disciples, drawing from Deuteronomy:
Lk 10:27 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’”.”
The breakdown of the four parts we love God with (heart, soul, strength and mind) starts with the heart. This is our emotional side, and our emotions need to be supported by the soul, strength and mind. This is why we give strict adherence to what Jesus said in Matthew 15:
Mt 15:19 “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what make a man ‘unclean’.”
What we put into our hearts will affect what comes out of our hearts. Read verse 23 again … “encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” Obedience to Scripture needs to drive remaining true to the Lord Jesus.
We are weak, Lord, needing Your help to remain true to You. Amen.