Barnabas Supported False Teaching Before Becoming God’s Missionary

Last week we read of Peter’s many insufficiencies and sins against God, things that gave him every reason not to be in ministry. We saw the one reason Peter should have been in ministry- the name of Jesus Christ. In Galatians 2, we see that Peter was not the only preacher who struggled against sin in insufficiency. Barnabas, who was there with Peter and Paul in Antioch directly preceding the first missionary journey, was “carried away by their (the Judaizers and Peter) hypocrisy” (Galatians 2:13, parentheses mine). This is the second great New Testament preacher we read about who was carried away into supporting, in some way, a works-based, or merit-based, view of justification. This works-based view of justification, according to Scripture in context, causes one to stand condemned (Galatians 2:11).

Even directly following his hypocrisy in Antioch (Galatians 2:11), Barnabas was chosen, along with Paul, to be God’s missionary (or apostle, “sent one”) to the Gentiles (Acts 13, 14:14). At the end of the first missionary Journey, Barnabas was established as a leader and preacher in the church at Antioch (Acts 15:35).

Here, we have another example of someone in the Bible who, after subscribing to and supporting a false Gospel, was given a prominent role in the building of God’s kingdom by God through the Holy Spirit. Again, we recognize that false teaching, unsound doctrine, is a damnable offense as we see it described in the New Testament. How is it, then, that someone like Barnabas, who with Peter, got swept up by this unsound doctrine and carried away by this hypocrisy, could become so prominent in Christ’s church?

The answer for Barnabas is the same that was for Peter. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Here, we have to notice something about the preacher-teacher’s maturity in the faith. He, like everyone else, is always growing in his knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and love for Christ. Last week, we saw that it is guaranteed that every preacher-teacher will be wrong about something and he will be ignorant, hopefully not willfully, about his mistake. Here we learn that early in our ministries we are wrong about more than we are later in our ministries. At least, we hope that we are growing in our knowledge and understanding as we age- not feeling like we must defend everything we ever taught. God has grace when we are wrong. No one understands the depth of Christian faith in his first year of ministry. Everyone, it seems to me, starts at a place of teaching some sort of works-based or merit-based view of justification. We have to come into an understanding of the doctrines of Grace. None of us begin there. Like He did with the ministry of Barnabas, God uses our ministries and Godly men who “oppose us to our faces” to teach us to preach and teach grace alone.

There are two applications we can make as we come, a second time, from Galatians 2. First, we strive to understand the depth of God’s grace as we age, knowing that we don’t begin with the correct understanding. The older we get, the more powerful our preaching and teaching should become because we have each been brought more and more into the correct understanding of God’s grace. Second, we practice patience with other preachers and teachers who don’t seem to understand God’s grace as deeply as we do and still tend toward some degree of works-righteousness in their preaching and teaching. Not everyone matures at the same rate. What we know is that God is bringing His people into a correct understanding of His work by His own grace and according to His will in His perfect timing. It is part of our sanctification. So, our lack of understanding should not keep us from desiring to serve Christ- so long as we are growing. When it is time, according to God’s own qualifying work, we will be in the place and position that God has prepared for us from before the foundation of the world.

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