Ode to "Scripture Searcher:" the Son of Encouragement
Gene Bridges has written this ode. We are posting it both at Triablog and here as a tribute to a man who has been an encouragement to lots of Christians–especially pastors–over the years.
Acts 4:36-37: “Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement) and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
Luke introduces us to Barnabas very early in the Acts narrative. The Jerusalem church is new and, it seems, has not left the immediate confines of Jerusalem. The church is, nevertheless, growing. God has poured out the Holy Spirit upon them. Peter and John have been confronted by the Sanhedrin. They have proclaimed the gospel boldly and defied them, saying they are bound to obey God and not men. The church at this time is of one mind; they “held all things common,” and the Apostles testified with great power. At the end of chapter 4, foreshadowing the time to come, Luke introduces us to Joseph, also called Barnabas, who brought what he owned and laid it at the Apostles feet.
The first picture we have of Barnabas is his submission to the authority of the Apostles, his participation in the life of the Jerusalem church, and the moniker “the Son of Encouragement.” He sells a tract of land, and gives the money to the church. The impression Luke gives us is that this man, from the beginning of this walk with the Lord, was a man who had the gift of giving. Barnabas would give his possessions, his time, his energy, even risk his reputation for the sake of his brethren and the churches he served.
One would expect him to be in the group chosen to serve in Acts 6. His name is conspicuously absent. Those selected for this service are all Hellenistic Jews. Either Barnabas was not yet ready for more public service, or he was from the Hebraic Jews in the church at that time. The latter is likely the case, as he was a Levite. This is highly significant. As a Levite, Barnabas understood the sacrificial system and Judaism intimately. He may have written the Book of Hebrews, as it bears the marks of a writer who was likely a Levite himself. His gift speaks volumes. Here, we have a Levite who is converted who sells his land and gives it to the church, effectively as a kind of free will offering acknowledging the role of the Apostles and the importance of the church, whom Peter would later call “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” (1 Peter 2:9).
As a Levite, he understood what God had said about the selling of land in Leviticus. Land was not to be sold in a manner that took advantage of the seller. The price was set based on the number of years since the Jubilee. When years were many, they were to increase the price. When they were few, the price was lower, because what was being sold was the number of crops. If a countryman became poor and sold some of his property, his nearest relative could redeem the land. The property of Levites consisting of houses was always redeemable and was to be returned in the year of Jubilee. Pastureland was a permanent possession.
In bringing the proceeds of the sale of his property to the Apostles, Barnabas was effectively signing away his right of redemption. He was giving all he owned to the Lord. This lends a whole new meaning to the term “sacrificial giving.” If what he was selling was pastureland, an otherwise permanent possession, he was effectively renouncing his status in the Levitical priesthood. If he sold a house, he was submitting his legal rights as a priest to the Lord and His church. Either way, we see here his understanding that the work of Christ was once for all and that his rights as a priest were superceded by Jesus’ High Priestly office. As a Levite, his submission to the priesthood of Christ and joining a royal priesthood of believers speaks volumes about the grace of God at work in this man. He encouraged the church by sacrifice. This pattern would continue throughout his ministry.
Stephen takes the narrative’s center stage for a time, and it is through his stoning that a great persecution breaks out. God uses this to move the church from its original confines and spread the gospel into Samaria, thus beginning to fulfill Jesus’ words in the Great Commission. However, Luke gives us a foretaste of the time to come…for Saul was there “giving his approval to Stephen’s death.” (8:1)
Saul is later converted, when the Lord confronts him on the Damascus Road. The Lord tells him to get up and go to Damascus and there be told what to do. The Lord calls to Ananias in a vision and tells him of Saul’s commission and the instructions to give him. Saul then spends time in Damascus and later in Jerusalem, where he is received less than enthusiastically.
9: 27 “But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.”
If the murderous public official who had openly gone after people you loved and with whom you had worshipped was found in the synagogues preaching the gospel, you’d be suspicious too, wouldn’t you? If he tried to join your church, you’d be very afraid and you’d doubt the truth of his story too. I doubt any of us would dare say we are so spiritual not to empathize with the reaction of the Jerusalem church. Barnabas is, here, not only the Son of Encouragement but the Son of Courage itself. He, and nobody else, has the courage to go to Saul, and, believing his testimony, be his advocate to the disciples in Jerusalem. Barnabas risked his reputation in the church; in fact, he may have felt he was risking his own life, but somebody had to step up for Saul. Barnabas was convinced that Saul was a genuine convert and saw the need for him to be integrated into the life of the church, both for Saul’s growth in the faith and for the sake of the church. If the church could not learn to forgive, even welcome, it’s former enemies after their conversion, what would this have said about Christ Himself? Such behavior contracts the gospel and the love of God, which does not keep account of wrongs done. Barnabas recognized the grace of God at stake in the church’s actions and the grace of God at work in Saul’s life. He would not hold Saul’s sins against him and he would forgive him as Christ had forgiven him. He would view Saul as a new creature, as Christ has recreated him. He would rejoice in the truth, protect, trust, hope, and persevere and did this to encourage his peers to do the same. We are still reaping the benefits of this action today.
The next time we see Saul, he is connected to Stephen. Because of the wave of persecution set off by Stephen’s execution and continued by Saul, though Saul had been converted, the gospel reached Antioch.
11:22-24 “The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. When he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.
The Son of Encouragement, the Son of Courage, the Son of Joy…Barnabas saw what God was doing and the first thing he did was rejoice! The gospel came to Antioch out of the persecutions begun with the stoning of Stephen. Barnabas understood the providence of God. He knew that men had intended the persecutions for evil, but God had intended them for great good. Luke, under the inspiration of the Spirit, calls Barnabas a “good man, full of the Holy Spirit, and faith.”
Stephen was also full of the Holy Spirit. In his own epistles, Paul parallels being filled with the Spirit with being filled and grounded in the Word of God. Barnabas draws upon that grounding here and instructs them to remain resolute and stay true to the Lord. However, as more persons were converted, Barnabas realized he couldn’t handle this work alone. Realizing he needed help…
11:25 “And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”
Barnabas remembered Saul and gave him an opportunity to serve the Lord in Antioch. Then, in a twist of dramatic irony, “11:27 – 30 Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.”
Barnabas was still the servant of the Jerusalem church. He began his service there, laying a gift at the feet of the Apostles from the sale of his land. Now, he found himself representing the church at Antioch bringing a gift from the church to help provide relief for the church at Jerusalem. How very Levitical.
Serving the churches became a lifelong vocation. He and Saul, later Paul, went on to their first missionary journey shortly thereafter. We speak frequently of Paul’s status as a Pharisee before his conversion. How ironic that the first missionary journey was conducted by a Pharisee and a Levitical priest, the very kinds of men who had opposed Jesus Himself just a few years before.
For a time, Paul seems to have served in the background, but he becomes increasingly prominent in the narrative, and Barnabas begins to step back. The pair testify of the work of God among the Gentiles at the Jerusalem Council and are called upon, yet again, this time to take the ruling of the Council to the churches. This leads to their second journey, but they come to a sharp disagreement.
15: 36 – 39.After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.”
Even in disagreeing, Barnabas still found a man to disciple and encourage. This time, he chose John Mark, and probably sacrificed some of his pride in doing so. This disagreement allowed Barnabas and John Mark to do their work, while Paul and Silas planted churches elsewhere. Thus, the effectiveness of Barnabas and Paul was multiplied. Moreover, John Mark was paired with the man who had encouraged the church from very early on, who had discipled Paul and believed in Paul when others doubted him, who had remembered Paul when he needed help in Antioch, and who God used to mold Paul into the missionary he became, and no doubt taught him much which we read in the New Testament today. Later, Paul speaks favorably of Mark. He asks Luke to pick up Mark and bring him with him for a final visit as he languishes in prison. Peter speaks of his son, Mark, whom we believe to have been the stenographer of Peter who penned the gospel that bears his name. Some believe Barnabas may have penned the Book of Hebrews.
We have a Barnabas among us. It seems we spend time citing anti-Calvinists or pointing at the flaws in the SBC or asking hard questions or offering often sad commentaries about various theological and practical issues on our respective blogs. The work of ministry is hard work. None of us, however, would be able to do what we do if somebody had not discipled us, encouraged us, or taken the time to believe in us when it seemed like nobody else did. There is a certain value to visible sacrifice. Sometimes, what most of us do goes unrewarded in this life. At other times, we have opportunity to recognize the service and sacrifice of others. It is altogether fitting, then, to take notice of those among us who we believe have done that for us today.
This person has not ceased to be an encouragement to me or Tom. Tom’s relationship extends into the real world and, I understand, goes back to his days in Texas. My own relationship with him comes by way of the Founders blog and Triablogue. Whenever this individual posts in the comment threads, he has something encouraging to say. I often get the impression he’s beginning to feel his years and reads our blogs to find some encouragement for himself.
Scripture Searcher, Charles…you, sir, are our Barnabas. We and the readers of Triablogue and the Founders Blog wish to commend you for your years of tireless service of the churches and our Lord Jesus Christ. You have not ceased to be source of wisdom, of challenge, of admonition, of truth, of love, of encouragement to us all. To be honest, we’re not sure you visit other Baptist blogs. We believe you do, and we’ve looked high and low for comments you may have made there. However, we are certain that we count it a great blessing and encouragement when we are “Scripture searched!”
For our own readers, we are producing some of the comments you have made to us in the past. We want you and them to know exactly why we wish to accord you this esteem. For our readers, please, feel free to cite other likeminded comments by Charles if you’ve been “Scripture searched” yourself at your own blogs. Even if you have none to add, please join us in signing your name to this commendation of our dear brother, Scripture Searcher, in the comments sections at Founders and Triablogue.
Who is Scripture Searcher? Our sources tell us, “Scripture Searcher is 71 years old, educated at Baylor and Southwestern, who has spent nearly 53 years in the Christian ministry ~ reading his Bible, theology, history and all the related disciplines for his work as a Southern Baptist pastor, evangelist, hospital chaplain, missionary and teacher.”
Our sources tell us that Scripture Searcher has said many kind and sometimes challenging things. May this account of your actions find you well, this day, sir, and may it be an example for us all to follow in our posting and in real life. If called to witness for you on Judgment Day, we will gladly step forward and testify to the kind service you have rendered among us.
In the words of Scripture Searcher:
It thrills me to read all these comments from these YOUNG scripture searchers. May their tribe increase and I am confident that it will happen! While traveling the nation and world with the good news of God’s sovereign, saving, sustaining grace I find MANY Bible believing Calvinists in and out of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was not that way when I was studying at the world’s largest Baptist university and seminary many years ago. This scripture searcher came to embrace the TRUTH of Calvinism (not hyper-Calvinism!!!!!) by reading the New Testament 52 years ago. (Acts 20:24)
Beloved GMB: The thoroughness with which you present your case is most refreshing! Thanks! If you were a surgeon and I needed your knowledge and skills (fortunately I do not need surgery) ~ I would joyfully jump on your table, believing that you would do all my sick body needed! I love the way you leave no stone unturned! Nothing would be missed or overlooked if you performed any operation I nee
ded! PERSEVERE! Physician of the soul, PERSEVERE! If you are a pastor, I dare say none of the sheep leave your services hungry. As they have say of another THOROUGH teacher of the Bible: He doesn’t simply feed us, He gorges the food down us! We leave his services stuffed! PERSEVERE! Continue to give your readers/listeners their moneys worth! PERSEVERE
YES, may his tribe increase! Editor Tony appears to be understandably confused but teachable. How refreshing! And judging from the notes he has received regarding his comments on a basic, fundamental scriptural subject, his enlightenment is about to begin. I call it CONTINUING EDUCATION. It bears repeating from this older participant in the discussions on this informative (and at times inspirational) Founders blog directed by the honorable Dr. Tom Ascol: I am thrilled at the growing number of Bible believing members of the Southern Baptist Convention who, in these exciting times, are courageously speaking the truth in love! Persevere, Tom! Persevere, all young Bereans!
I have been reading (over and over) to be certain I understood all the sincere contributions so many of the brethren have offered regarding the current, over- heated discussion about the qualifications of those who serve as missionaries (both national and international) with the SBC. I seriously (very seriously) doubt that our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ would have participated in such hair-splitting words of fury signifying almost nothing! (Read again and again I Corinthians 13) Get real, dear brothers, and cease wasting your time and effort with this topic,and begin sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ ~ with the daily fervent prayers that Satan will cry as the truth of JOHN 6:37 is fulfilled ~ and it will be fulfilled with or without the efforts of Southern Baptists! While Satan and the world laughs at most professing Christians and the paganS (religionists and secularists) smile and snicker, millions are dying without having heard about Jesus Christ!!! I have been through some of the old Landmark Baptist battles and can testify, in hindsight, nothing worthwhile was accomplished for the glory, honor and praise of God! Next, someone whose priorities are wrong, will revive the ancient controversy regarding the number of angels that can stand on the head of a needle – without falling off and losing their ecclesiastical reputation in the convention – which God may bypass for another group to take His Truth to the world! God forbid ~ and I write this in love! (Ephesians 4)
All I desire to post today is my gratitude to God for the growing number of Berean-like SCRIPTURE SEARCHERS that (in my seventh decade) I am discovering across the Southern Baptist Convention. Many I think have been around a long time but have been given by God new courage and fresh boldness in recent years to speak and write the truth in love. Some have discovered and make excellent contributions on this stimulating blog originated by a beardless, balding “brave heart” from Beaumont, Texas named Thomas. Great gratitude to our sovereign Lord and many thanks to all – I pray the contributors will continue and that many others will join their ranks! Persevere, brethen!!
Please leave this exchange or dialogue up until others have had time to contribute. ALL are excellent statements! As stated previously, this is VERY stimulating, far beynd the usual. Now let’s get that beard on your face and a few additional pounds on your skinny frame, Thomas Spurgeon of 2006. Cheers! (oops) AMEN!!!
Completely scriptural. Lovingly pastoral. Your church is blessed to have you as pastor/teacher. A Christ centered season to you, your family and congregation!
Thomas, you have rendered all SBC churches (pastors and members) a great service by your condensed explanation. From all the state (and the national) denominational headquarters you deserve a hearty and sincere note of thanks. See how many bother to express their appreciation. Please do not hold your breath until they write or call.
Thomas, at times you are so funny you make me cry for joy. Your ability to differentiate the “greens” indicates that the Beaumont (South Park) Texas boy has skills far beyond the classroom and pulpit. Persevere!
Please continue to provoke, stir up and stimulate us unto love and good works. (Hebrews 10:22-24) I am confident you will. How refreshing it is to read your sane statements in an insane world.
Thomas, I appreciate all you have penned regarding our beloved brother, mutual friend and fellow soldier in God’s spiritual army. There are no PERFECT people on earth and Adrian Rogers was no exception – a truth he often openly admitted. He had his failures and blind spots and his serious misunderstanding of the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners was one of the most glaring! He understands the full truth of this (and other) subjects now. I, too, thank God for the life of Adrian Rogers. I loved him – warts and all. He was one of the finest men I ever met and debated.
Every Southern Baptist pastor, evangelist, deacon, teacher and denominational leader/servant – plus all the members of all the local SBC congregations – would be wiser if they read all of Dr. Nettles books. Tom, you grow wiser and more courageous as you grow older! Persevere! Persevere! Persevere!
A LOVING Arminian CHRISTIAN is of FAR greater spiritual value than a LOVELESS Calvinist CHRISTIAN!!!! The conciseness of this much needed TRUTH makes it a TREASURE!
From a much older and frequently accused “pestilent fellow,” “gadfly,” “trouble maker” and “disturber of the peace” both in and out of the Southern Baptist Convention, I salute your courage in pointing out the superficiality (and sometimes falsity) of so much that goes by the name of Biblical theology and Christian spirituality in these (to quote Vance Havner) “wild, weird, and wacky” days before the return of the King of kings and Lord of lords Jesus Christ. PERSEVERE! PRESS ON!
WOW! I am joyfully weary after reading all the insightful statements from the YOUNG Bereans (Acts 17:10-12). Some of their comments (above) are classics! Tom, your growth in divine grace, knowledge, and courage blesses and greatly encourages many of us OLDER scripture searchers. Press on, dear brother. PERSEVERE! You are correct: If the UNTRUTHS (“straw men”) were removed from the arguments (and caustic comments) of Graham, Rogers, Patterson, Lemke, Vines and others against the TRUTHS of God’s sovereign, saving and sustaining grace ~ the dividing issues would soon be settled. But it requires genuine humility to acknowledge our ignorance (errors) and so many lack this spiritual virtue. It would require a public confession of their misunderstandings and few (leaders especially) are interested in performing such a Christian action. (James 4:17) Ignorance and arrogance are keeping the people of God apart and, apart from His supernatural intervention, it will continue! How sad! How tragic!
May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord cause his face to shine on you, and give you peace forever, Charles.
Tom Ascol: Founders Blog
Gene M. Bridges: Triablogue