God’s Word for You
Acts 4:36-37 Barnabas sells a field
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, October 4, 2019
36 Joseph, a Levite and a native of Cyprus, was called Barnabas by the apostles (which means “son of encouragement”). 37 He sold a field he owned, brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
This man is the same Barnabas who later traveled with Paul. Since many readers will remember him for his falling out with Paul later on over Mark (Acts 15:37-40), we will point out here that Barnabas was the one who first brought Paul (then Saul) before the apostles and convinced them of his conversion to Christianity (Acts 9:27).
Does the text of Acts give us the reason Barnabas was called “son of encouragement”? This Levite, born of Cyprus, had a gift for seeing the strengths and the usefulness of men in the Kingdom of God. The falling out with Paul was an example. Barnabas wanted to bring Mark along into Asia Minor even though the young man had deserted them in Pamphylia (Acts 15:38). Paul was so strongly opposed to this that they parted company. Yet this was precisely what Barnabas had done for Paul himself; he had brought him before the apostles when nobody else was willing to trust Paul. And to Paul’s credit, later on he once again relied on Mark, asking to seem him in his final Epistle: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Peter was the Apostle to the Jews, and Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, but Barnabas was the Encourager, the one who saw gifts that the apostles and that even Paul doubted.
Here we see that Barnabas was one of the land owners who sold some of their property for the sake of the Christian fellowship. In his case, it was an agros (ἀγρός), a field of some kind. He let the church use the proceeds as the apostles saw fit.
Barnabas did this as an expression of his faith in Christ. This is the difference between laws that insist on certain behavior and a spontaneous gesture of Christian love. Human attempts at a utopian sharing of wealth always stem from laws and rules of conduct, not from Christian love. Pythagoras and Plato dreamt of men living collectively in peace. The Essenes living in the caves near the Dead Sea made their attempt, but it was forced; it was based on human rules, and therefore it bred contempt for other ways of life. Such rules led the Christian monasteries to despise secular lives, and to insist that entry into the monastery through a vow was “equal to Baptism” and merited forgiveness of sins and justification before God (see the Augsburg Confession XXVII,8-9). But this was when Christian living was required rather than guided. Our good works must come from love and thanks, not from any sense of obligation; otherwise they are not good at all. When any motive apart from faith in Christ motivates an action, it is not acceptable to God. Luke illustrates this for us here in Acts by following the good example of Barnabas selling a field with the wicked example that follows in chapter 5.
Pastor Timothy Smith