“he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith…”
I want this passage engraved on my tombstone.
I know it’s too early to think about that sort of thing, but since I am turning 40 in a couple of weeks, one might as well begin thinking about the inevitable.
All kidding aside, wouldn’t we all want this said about us at the end of our lives? This passage comes from Luke’s description in Acts of the growing church in Antioch. Believers who fled persecution in Jerusalem had assembled in Antioch, a predominately Hellenist (read Greek, or non-Jewish) community. We read in Acts 11 that “the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.” When news of this tremendous growth reached Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to teach and encourage the believers there, and while Barnabas was there, God continued to prosper and grow the church. Barnabas rejoiced when we saw the grace of God present in Antioch, and he exhorted them all “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.” Then we are given a clue as to the success of Barnabus’ ministry, “he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”
That Barnabas was a good man has been previously established in the book of Acts. We first read of Barnabas in Acts 4:36-37. There we find a man called Joseph, whom the disciples called Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement,” who, with many other believers, sold his property and gave the money to the poor.
This is the kind of guy people want to be around. He was an encourager, building up others, helping equip and strengthen them for service. And he was generous and charitable, considering the needs of others before his own. This characterizes Barnabas as a “good man.”
But, as Matthew Henry notes, “the goodness of his natural disposition would not have qualified him for this service if he had not been full of the Holy Spirit.” That is a phrase that is worth considering. It’s used to describe only two other people in the New Testament, Jesus, just after his baptism in Luke 4, and Stephen, when he was selected as a Deacon in Acts 6, and as he was martyred in Acts 7.
So what does it mean to be full of the Holy Spirit? It think that first we must remember that it is the Holy Spirit who awakens us to the gospel, who convicts us of our sin, and who leads us unto a saving knowledge of our savior Jesus Christ. One cannot be a believer, one cannot be saved, unless the Spirit has first come and given life. There is no such thing as life in Christ apart from the Holy Spirit – for it is the Spirit who gives life (John 6:63).
But there is a sense in which, once quickened by the Spirit from death unto life, the Holy Spirit may also fill individuals with power and equip them for ministry. It was this outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that filled the disciples and enabled them to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ for salvation to the nations gathered in Jerusalem. It was this outpouring of the Holy Spirit that strengthened Stephen to boldly proclaim the risen Christ even as he was being killed. It is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that equips and gifts the Church for ministry (1 Corinthians 12). When the Holy Spirit fills a person, the result is a dramatic and mighty demonstration of God’s saving power.
Inwardly, the fullness of the Holy Spirit must also imply the crucifixion of the spirit of flesh. Paul writes in Romans 8 that “the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus…” that we “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit…” and “you, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” To be full of the Spirit is to live according to the Spirit, to seek the leading of the Spirit, through the Word of God (read and proclaimed), and through prayer. It is following the lead of God’s Holy Spirit in every decision, every action, every word – placing yourself captive to the sovereign and gracious power of God’s Holy Spirit.
And, of course, Barnabas was a man of faith. He knew and trusted the power of God for salvation. He could give his possessions knowing his life was secure in the hands of his Provider. He could encourage others to faithfulness because he knew that Christ was the Faithful One. Again, Matthew Henry writes, “He was full of faith, full of the grace of faith, and full of the fruits of that faith that works by love.”
If you try to make a name for yourself, you will probably lose it. But if you live selflessly, living by faith, living in the fullness of God’s Spirit, God will let the quality of your character be known. “Seek first the Kingdom of God,” Jesus said, “and all these things will be added unto you.” Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. Can the same be said of you? It is my prayer that it be said of me.