I was sitting in church last week and I’m pretty sure the speaker read my ideas list of blog posts and then decided to speak on one of them, then mention the rest. As I’m sitting and listening to his sermon he mentions in passing three relationships that everyone should have (the list from this post). They caused me to think and research a little bit more than what he presented. It started with Barnabas and ended with Paul.
Paul is probably the more well-known of the two. He was led by God to help found the church in the known world. He led four mission trips to spread the gospel, had a miraculous conversion, survived a shipwreck, snake bite, stoning, and threats. He was the epitome of a cross-cultural missionary, and was a multiplier within the church. But he wouldn’t have been able to start without a risk taken by Barnabas.
1. Paul and Barnabas
We often think of Paul and Barnabas as the missionary companions that eventually split apart because of some young, immature missionary name John Mark. Well yes, that’s part of their story. But their story actually started right at the beginning of Paul’s Christian life. See Barnabas was the reason Paul got an audience with the Apostles. The Apostles knew Paul as Saul and how he persecuted the church and was killing Christians because of their faith. They also knew that he had been “converted” and now wanted to preach the gospel. So they had good reason to be extremely hesitant to bring him into their fold. Well, Barnabas took the risk. He welcomed Paul into his company and presented him to the Apostles and trained him. He equipped Paul by doing ministry with him. Barnabas was the older, more experienced companion to Paul. He was Paul’s “in” when it came to ministry. Barnabas was able to look passed the history and differences, and see the potential for the advancement of the kingdom. And guess what? When Paul and Barnabas decided to part ways, Barnabas did the same thing he did with Paul with that young, immature missionary named John Mark. It appears that this was a habit of Barnabas.
The church needs this type of relationship. We need to be either the older generation willing to take a risk on the younger despite our differences of opinion, methods of accomplishing ministry, or personal history. Or we are the younger generation and need to be willing to learn from the older, even if their methods, opinions, and person history are different than ours. That generation has been doing ministry longer than us, so yes we can learn from them. But the goal on both sides, like Paul and Barnabas, is to encourage Christlikeness, unity, and advance the gospel, not create another you or change a generation to be like another.
2. Paul and Silas
Everybody needs a Silas. Paul’s relationship with Silas is best described by a scenario. I have a very unique relationship with one of my brothers-in-law. We try to go grab coffee once every other week or so. And our conversations generally entail deep life questions and concerns. Like the struggles and joys of work, church, home, and personal lives. They’re filled with transparent answers and questions and both of us leave with burdens lifted off our shoulders and hearts because of the encouragement of the other. I feel like this is the kind of relationship Paul and Silas had. They spent three years traveling together on their missionary journey, doing ministry with each other. They did life together and shared each other’s pain, burdens, and joys. They endured jail, earthquakes, and death threats together. They had this life on life relationship that we all need. It was the two of them encouraging each other as they both worked to advance Christ’s kingdom here on earth. It was not necessarily one mentoring the other, it was iron sharpening iron.
3. Paul and Timothy
Timothy was the project child. He was the kid that Paul saw had a gift and just grabbed hold of him and mentored. He encouraged him to use his gifts even though he was young and told him don’t let anybody despise you because of your age. He put him in positions that he was forced to grow spiritually and make decision that were well beyond his years while being discipled by Paul.
This is a prime example of mentoring. This was a cross-generational, transparent, gospel-focused relationship. From what I’ve seen in Scripture, Paul wasn’t trying to make a little Paul out of Timothy, he was trying to encourage a little Christ. He gave principles drawn from Scripture to guide Timothy. He helped draw doctrine-related lines, but encouraged practical conversations (think eating meat offered to idols). He guided, was supportive of wise decisions, and gave advice when needed. I’m pretty sure Paul and Timothy didn’t do everything the same way, because they weren’t the same person. But they were both striving for the same goal and that’s what they focused on.