On the door of the lawyer’s office, in large, bold font: Lou Pole, Esquire. In smaller font, less bold: Gil T. Arnot, Frieda Convict, and Anna Turney. Obviously, Mr. Pole is the big guy. He’s the senior partner. His name comes first. Ms. Turney, the most junior partner, probably joined the firm recently.
Dr. Luke, in the Book of Acts, lists the five teachers who served in the church at Antioch. “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul” (Acts 13:1–4, CSB). Barnabas is listed first, maybe because he was seen as the senior pastor. Saul’s name is listed last. He just joined the team.
From this group of leaders, the Holy Spirit selected two. “As they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off. So being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus” (Acts 13:1–4, CSB).
The church’s first two missionaries were Barnabas and Saul, in that order. Barnabas first. Saul second. Barnabas, the encourager, was the leader.
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the first missionary journey described in Acts 13-14 changed the world. Barnabas and Saul, faithful ambassadors for Christ, carried the Gospel to the Gentile world and Christendom exploded in growth, spreading like wildfire into every corner of the globe. Praise God for the church at Antioch. They saw beyond their borders. They took the Great Commission at face value and commissioned missionaries to the uttermost ends of the earth.
As they traveled, Barnabas, ever the encourager, must have continued to mentor his companion. They evangelized the Island of Cyprus before sailing north into Asia and the region of Galatia. While still on Cyprus, two things changed. First, Saul became known as Paul (Acts 13:9). At the same time, Barnabas and Paul began to change positions. Paul became the leader, and Barnabas willingly stepped into a supporting role.
When their work on Cyprus was complete, it was “Paul and his companions” who set sail (Acts 13:13, CSB). When the dynamic duo is next mentioned, it’s no longer Barnabas and Paul, but “Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 13:50-51).
Jesus once asked His disciples, “ ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, because on the way they had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest. Sitting down, he called the Twelve and said to them, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all’ ” (Mark 9:33–35, CSB).
Barnabas, the encourager, was happy being least and last.