Let’s start with the modern Anglican Collect for the feast day of St. Barnabus:
Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of your faithful servant Barnabus, who, seeking not his own renown but the well-being of your Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
The traditional Anglican collect is a bit more vague, I like how this one specifically calls out two of Barnabus’ major contributions to the life of the infant Church: the relief of the poor, and the spread of the gospel.
for the relief of the poor
The first time we meet Barnabus in the Bible is in Acts 4:36-7. He is originally known as Joseph of Cyprus, but after selling a field and giving the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute as needed, he’s nicknamed Barnabus, or Bar-Nabus, “son of encouragement.” His generosity earns him some fame and renown in the Church, which the Collect interestingly points out that Barnabus was not seeking on purpose!
and the spread of the gospel
In Acts 9, Barnabus’ greatest legacy in the Church is revealed. While Saul of Tarsus (later to be known as the Apostle Paul) was fleeing for his life, Barnabus reached out and invited him in to the fellowship of the Apostles. They were otherwise rather afraid of him and unwilling to meet him, but Barnabus was ready and willing to “search out the cause of him whom he did not know” (as Job 29:16 says), and give him a chance. This, too, was an amazing act of generosity by Barnabus, and even more clearly for the well-being of the Church. Who, after all, can imagine what the Church would have been like without Paul’s ministry later on?
I came across a neat quote on this subject by Gregory the Great. It’s a comment on Job 29:17, where he was using much of that chapter to illustrate the ministry of Barnabus. He wrote, “Oh, what a spoil did the Church take from the mouth of the devil, when, by converting, she carried off Saul himself, the spoiler!” Granted, Barnabus had nothing to do with Saul’s conversion, but he did play a key role later in getting Saul connected with the rest of the Apostolic leadership and linking up their ministries together.
Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of your faithful servant
Grace Anglican Church has two main outreach ministries at the moment, and they actually kind of match this dual focus: 1) supporting CareNet is a relief effort to people in need, and 2) supporting college ministry is an effort towards spreading the gospel. I find this encouraging for us, a sign that we’re on the right track here, but also it should be a call for perseverance. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, we should never grow weary in doing good works. I don’t mean we should burn ourselves out or overstretch ourselves, but we should always be attentive to the needs of the world around us. What else might God be calling us to do for the relief of the poor ’round here? What else might God be calling us to do for the spread of the gospel? Or perhaps there are already things going on that we can support, assist, or join? What are other churches, organizations, or individuals doing for the cause of the Kingdom that we might be able to partner with?
Barnabus is one of those guys in the Bible that plays a key role, yet didn’t end up as famous as some of the others. That’s a helpful reminder too; sometimes the best ministry we can offer is to set up other people to do even greater works than ourselves! But whether we’re the famous Paul, the less-famous Barnabus, or one of the unnamed many who supported them in their ministries, we all have a place in God’s Church; it’s just a matter of developing our gifts and fulfilling our vocations (that is, answering God’s call upon our lives).