How a Really Good Man Ends up Very Bad

The 260 Journey
The 260 Journey
How a Really Good Man Ends up Very Bad

Day 164

Today’s Reading: Galatians 2

Barnabas was not even his real name; it was a nickname given to him by the people in the early church. His real name was Joseph. In Acts 4 we read that Joseph was so positive in his conversations that people nicknamed him Barnabas, because everything he said made them feel great. 

His journey starts in Acts 4, and the last verse we get about him is in Galatians 2, today’s chapter. This is Barnabas’s journey on how a really good man ended up pretty bad. Strap in for a jolting journey.

I remember reading something interesting about the first Olympics in Greece. The ancient Greeks, the originator of the Olympic games, had a twist to some of their running events. The runners were all given torches before the race, which they had to pass on in a relay. The runner who won the race was not the man who crossed the line in the shortest time but the man who crossed it in the least time with his torch still burning.

That sounds about right for every Christian. We want to make sure we are not just doing “stuff” but doing things with a heart on fire for God.

Let’s check out Barnabas’s torch. His journey is all through Acts. He was the encourager in Acts 4. By Acts 9, we can see why he is called “encourager,” because his gift was exactly what the apostle needed at his conversion. Paul, who had been bringing havoc to the early Christians through imprisonment and death, had a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus and became a Christian. There is a big problem, though: no one trusts Paul. They think it’s a ploy to kill more Christians. Enter Barnabas:

Listen to these verses in Acts 9:

Upon arrival in Jerusalem he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They thought he was faking! Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Paul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus, what the Lord had said to him, and all about his powerful preaching in the name of Jesus. Then they accepted him. (Acts 9:26-28, TLB)

If it weren’t for Barnabas, Paul could have chucked it all and said forget this Christian thing if this is the way His people act. Truth be told, if there were no Barnabas, there may not have been a Paul. Barnabas played a key role in the church and in Paul’s growth and ministry.

Barnabas and Paul even go on the very first missionary journey together to share the gospel. Then in Acts 15, the torch seemed to have a gust of wind come against it. A very big disagreement happened between disciple and discipler, Paul and Barnabas, right before the second missionary journey. It was over whether they should take a young man named John Mark. These words in Acts 15 are important to note before we head to Galatians 2:

There occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left. (verses 39-40)

And then that’s it. No more mention of Barnabas until Galatians 2. It’s been six years after this disagreement. Now we read the last verse in the Bible about Barnabas, and we find out where the torch is:

When Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. (Galatians 2:11-13, nlt)

Barnabas, the encourager. Barnabas, the visionary. Now Barnabas, the hypocrite.

Paul’s ministry partner, Paul’s first mentor, Paul’s co-pastor and co-missionary became a hypocrite.

That word hypocrite is such an ugly word. It’s a Greek word that means actor on a stage. You start acting instead of being who you really are.

How does that happen? And how did it happen to Barnabas? The first verse about Barnabas, the encourager, was in Acts 4, around AD 30. The last verse about Barnabas, the hypocrite, was in Galatians 2, around AD 54. That’s twenty-four years later. Barnabas was finishing his race as a hypocrite with the torch going out.

Barnabas, no longer on the mission field, was back and had found a group of people bitter just like him. He was with people who fueled his fleshly flame and not the spiritual flame. If you are with people who let you talk about your offense that you have with others and they don’t challenge you to fix it, then you are with the wrong group.

Barnabas went to be with a group of people just as dysfunctional as he was.

So here’s the question: how does a really good man end really bad?

And the question for us: can this happen to me?

I don’t think I am out of bounds to think Barnabas’s choice stemmed ultimately from the disagreement he had with Paul in Acts 15. Something got in Barnabas’s heart when it happened and he didn’t fix it by resolving it. What’s dangerous about these kinds of issues is that what doesn’t seem to be a problem at first, over time can become toxic.

Which tells me something important: time doesn’t fix all wounds. A wound unfixed over time corrodes the heart. It is an awful doctor; it mistreats and deceives its patients. It isn’t time but forgiveness that heals the wounds.

I think God may be showing us through Paul and Barnabas’s relationship not to take disagreements lightly. Unresolved conflict has a way of blowing out our fire. As Rick Warren said, “It’s always more rewarding to resolve a conflict than to dissolve the relationship.” We can’t finish well with unforgiveness.

Barnabas’ journey should have ended in Acts on three missionary journeys with Paul and spreading the gospel. Instead a good man ended his journey by telling his people his side of the disagreement. Barnabas was supposed to finish with the torch burning, declaring the Good News.

One of my mentors and friends, Winkie Pratney, was insightful when he said, “There are a lot of happy young sinners, but you don’t see happy old sinners. Sin does not age well.”

Boy, that’s the truth. Sin does not age well.

Acts 15 to Galatians 2 was six years. This disagreement sat in Barnabas’s heart for six years. The sin didn’t age well.