“But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.” Acts 9:27, KJV
Such a simple verse. A verse I probably would have read right over if not for a gifted pastor and a Sunday service that spoke right into my heart, so much so that I felt the desire to pass it on.
“He” is Saul – later named Paul. A great contributor to the New Testament, yet he wasn’t always so good. In fact, Saul was a main persecutor of the new Christians, even to the point of death (Stephen – in Acts 7-8). He was, essentially, a boogeyman to the disciples and all who spoke of Jesus. Until his “conversion”, where his eyes were opened (quite literally) and he acknowledged Jesus as Lord. It was a complete 180, and he spent three years proclaiming his new faith before making his way to Jerusalem.
Three years of preaching. Yet, when he got to Jerusalem, “they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple”. (Acts 9:26)
You are a raging alcoholic or drug addict. You’ve done some pretty horrible things – lied, stole, cheated. Maybe you were physically violent, or maybe you just hurt people emotionally.
But – you change.
You are completely different. A new creation, a new person. Yet… you still can’t escape the old.
People whisper, people talk – they’ve already judged you. In their eyes, you will never be anyone but who you were.
This is, essentially, what it was like for Saul. He had raided, persecuted, even applauded the murder of an innocent man. But then, God changed him, made him new – “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Yet, no one wanted to believe him. They were afraid of him, they didn’t want to accept him.
But Barnabas did.
Barnabas saw the light in him, even when no one else could. He accepted him, and not only did he accept him, he vouched for him. When everyone else would have turned their backs, sent him away, hid from him, or treated him with contempt for his past – Barnabas took him.
It’s amazing, really.
After hearing this, I had to ask myself, “Am I a Barnabas?”
…Sometimes…. the truth hurts.
There have been times in my life I have judged people. I have judged people for what they’ve done in the past, for the person they’ve used to be, or even the person I think they are just because of what I’ve heard from someone else. Sometimes, that judgment will come so fast I don’t even realize I’ve passed it. But can they? Can they see the judgment reflected in my eyes by the way I talk to them, act around them?
Sometimes we justify our judgment, even as Christians. Heck, I’m sure the disciples justified theirs – and they had good reason to! After all, doesn’t the Bible also tell us to protect our heart, to watch with whose counsel we keep? And this Saul guy was like the Grim Reaper!
Yet, in the end, I think we are also called to love others. Can we really love if we have a preconceived notion of another person? If we are holding them to their past mistakes? If it’s so easy for us to see all the bad they can do or have done – yet we blindly forget all the good, too? I don’t think so.
My charge to myself – and anyone who reads this – is to be more like Barnabas. To really look at a person and their heart, and stop judging them on their past sins. After all, we all have a past. Not one of us is perfect; we could all use a little grace. Sometimes it’s hard – oh so hard. I know first hand how hard it can be when someone disappoints, hurts, or betrays you. And there are people who were once in my life who, for the safety of my family, might never be again. Yet, I can still show grace. I can still pray. I can still watch God do miracles – if I only get out of the way. And if, they, like Saul, experience their own conversion, their own meeting with God, I may yet have the chance to be their Barnabas.