I preached this sermon on Sunday, June 4 at the ordination of my brother – Benjamin Stertz. He was ordained that day by Bible Baptist Church of Hudson, Wisconsin. I publish it here as a tribute to my brother and also as reminder of the high call of gospel ministry.
To my brother – Benjamin Stertz
It is a fearful thing to be set apart, ordained for gospel ministry. What an awesome calling to hold forth the word of God, to minister the gospel to souls, and to speak the truth of God’s word in the place of God and for God day by day and week by week.
It is also fearful to encourage someone, exhort someone, and challenge someone who is being set apart for these things. Anything I might say today needs to be said as much to me as to you. Both of us, then, are in a fearful place. I feel wholly inadequate to tell any man what he ought to do in the ministry of the gospel. And you, if you have not learned already, will feel and probably do feel inadequate to be a preacher and a minister of the eternal words of Christ. After all, “who is sufficient for these things?” However, I speak today not in confidence in myself or having confidence in you. Rather, our sufficiency, our confidence, and our boldness are in Christ and in Christ’s Word.
As I was considering what to speak about this day, I was perplexed as to where to start. This is not the kind of sermon I normally preach. But I remember a good teacher that we both have had in our journey in pastoral training who spoke about the man Andrew Fuller. Andrew Fuller was an 18th-century British Baptist who spoke at many ordinations. And so, I looked up some of his sermons.
The very first one that I saw immediately captured my attention. I didn’t read the whole sermon, just a few lines. But it was the title and the text that got me thinking. Pastor Fuller preached this sermon on October 31, 1787, at the ordination of Pastor Robert Fawkner. Here is the title and here is the text – “THE QUALIFICATIONS AND ENCOURAGEMENT OF A FAITHFUL MINISTER ILLUSTRATED BY THE CHARACTER AND SUCCESS OF BARNABAS.” And then he quoted Acts 11:24 – “For he [Barnabas] was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people were added unto the Lord.” That title and that verse captured my attention and I hope it will for you too.
You and I are brothers in so many ways. Of course, we are related by blood. Even though there is a 12-year gap between us, you and I demonstrate that relation in that we have so much in common in our likes and dislikes. We have followed largely a similar path in education. Some of your best teachers and favorite teachers have been mine. We like a lot of the same books. We hold so many of the same philosophies.
I would suspect that when we think about that kind of minister we would want to emulate and follow, we might think of the apostle Paul. I know you. I know your mind. You love the rigor of theological study. You love to consider the details of the text of Scripture and organize them in your mind. You think about culture and society and how the Bible relates to it. And a guy like Paul fits us in many ways. You and I and guys like us love books like Ephesians and Romans and Galatians. Some men need encouragement to study and drink deeply of the word and theology. I don’t think that will be your challenge for much of your ministry.
More likely, you and I need to think about a man like Barnabas. For what we see of him is much more than a theologian and a scholar. We see a minister, a pastor, a shepherd – the kind of person men who lead God’s people need to be. Your son bears his name. Your life needs to bear his character.
Our text is just this single verse in Acts 11. In it, we have three qualities that are worth your following as a good minister of Jesus Christ. I want you to consider each one. And all the rest of you here will be blessed to hear and to follow in your own way as well.
Quality number 1 – Barnabas was a good man.
In the context of our verse, Barnabas had been sent by the church in Jerusalem to the fledgling new group of Christians that had formed in the city of Antioch. Persecution had forced many Christians to flee Jerusalem and go elsewhere. A bunch of those Christians landed in Antioch. At Antioch, some of those Christians began to preach Jesus to the Hellenists or Greek-speaking Jews. Many of these turned to the Lord according to Acts 11:21. This is to say, they were converted.
All of this happened relatively quickly and the church of Acts was still very new. So, news of these events wafted down toward Jerusalem, and the church there thought it would be good to send someone to Antioch to help them organize. The church chose Barnabas.
Barnabas was the name that was given to him by the apostles of Jesus. It means “son of Encouragement.” His given name was Joses or Joseph, according to Acts 4:36, but his nickname has stuck well and for a good reason. He was generous according to Acts 4, having sold a field and donated the whole proceeds to the church in Jerusalem. He was apparently an encouraging soul. We see him doing just that work of encouragement in Acts 11:23. He was bold and even took risks – like when he took Saul the persecutor to the apostles and convinced them that Saul had really become a follower of Jesus. I think these are the kinds of things that caused Luke to say this about Barnabas – he was a good man.
Some Christians get a little uncomfortable about calling someone a good person or a good man. We know theologically and Scripturally that there is none who does good. That is true. We know that all have sinned and come short of God’s glory. None of us claim to be good. Also true. We are declared righteous only through the blood of Jesus.
But Luke’s point as he records this is about Barnabas and his character. Luke uses almost this exact same phrase to talk about the man Joseph of Arimathea. Luke 23:50 describes Joseph as a good and just man. There is a sense in which someone can be “a good guy” or “a good man.” That is the point of the qualification lists for pastors in books like Titus and Timothy. Their reputation, your reputation must be good.
Benjamin, your wife needs you to be a good man. Your children need you to be a good man. The world is dying for good men today. Your neighbors need you to be a good man. Your community needs you to be a good man. Your church needs you to be a good man.
A good man is faithful to his wife and children. A good man is respectable in his community. A good man knows when to be like Barnabas and encourage souls who are tired. He can be gentle. But he can also be bold. He can stand up and say the truth with grace and honor and dignity even to people who are skeptical, opposed, or even hostile to that truth.
Our world is starving for good men. We have many boys in our society. Some of them are trapped in a man’s body to use the parlance of the day. There are boys who are 20, 30, and 50. They don’t lead. They don’t take responsibility. They don’t do the hard things of giving up themselves for their families or for the community and certainly for their church. These people do childish things in that they are caught up in entertainment, pleasures, frivolities, and so on. They can’t control their tempers or their passions. They care about themselves. They won’t fight for anything good but fight only for their own lusts. The world has plenty of so-called “men” like that. The world needs something different. Your family needs something different. Your church needs something different.
Barnabas was different. We might forget how bold he was even as he was an encourager. He was willing to go through great persecutions with Paul. He was kicked out of Antioch of Pisidia, had to flee for his life from Iconium, fended off people who tried to worship him in Lystra, stayed with Paul after Paul was stoned in Lystra, and even went back to all those cities again to strengthen the churches they planted. Barnabas was a good man.
C.S. Lewis, in his essay “The Necessity of Chivalry,” spoke of this kind of man. In it, he spoke of the ideals of a knight of the Middle Ages – “The knight is a man of blood and iron, a man familiar with the sight of smashed faces and the ragged stumps of lopped-off limbs; he is also a demure, almost a maidenlike guest in the hall, a gentle, modest, unobtrusive man. He is not a compromise or happy mean between ferocity and meekness; he is fierce to the nth and meek to the nth.” Benjamin, you are to be that in your home, your community, and in your church.
Quality number 2: Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit.
To be full of the Holy Spirit is not something magical; rather, it means to be a person who is filled with God’s Word. The Holy Spirit takes that Word and applies it to your life. While Luke does occasionally mention the filling of the Holy Spirit with great supernatural gifts, it is likely not what he is referring to here. Instead, it is similar to what Paul expresses in Ephesians 5 when he urges believers to be filled with the Spirit. In Colossians, Paul uses the phrase “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” in the same type of context. This filling of the Holy Spirit refers to a person who knows God through His Word, and the Spirit transforms their life to live righteously. It is nearly impossible to separate the Word of God from someone who is under the control of the Spirit of God. These two go hand in hand, just like a hand in a glove. In other words, if you want to see a spirit-filled person, look for someone who knows, treasures, loves, and holds fast to the Word of Christ.
You and I share a common interest in reading. For those who may not know us well, when Benjamin and I spend time together, we discuss what we have read. We both enjoy reading about sports, especially the Green Bay Packers. We have a great affinity for history and share that passion. Additionally, we both dabble in areas of culture, philosophy, and some classic fiction. The irony here is that although we are brothers, we did not really grow up together. I went to college while Ben was only 5 years old, and I wasn’t around much after that—just brief visits. Nevertheless, our shared passions have developed over time.
However, dear brother, please understand that the latest biography about a great American statesman will not sanctify your soul. A wonderful work of fiction will not transport your heart to the throne room of heaven. An entertaining article about sports will not empower you to live righteously. None of those things will make you a Spirit-led person.
Above all other books, the Bible should be your book of choice. It should serve as a lamp to guide your steps and a light to illuminate your path. You should know it, memorize it, meditate on it, and keep it as a constant reminder before your eyes. It is the only book that can shield you from sin. It is the only book that reveals the glory of God, who dwells in unapproachable light. It is the only book that contains the true words of life. It is the only book that provides us with a complete understanding of the beauty, grace, and dignity of our Lord and Master—Jesus. It is the book that the Spirit uses to set our souls aflame for God’s glory and to ignite a thirst for Christ’s eternal kingdom. A person who masters this book, a minister who makes it their guiding light, and a messenger of God who delves into its unfathomable depths will become a powerful agent in this dark world, shining the light of the gospel of Jesus. Be filled with God’s Spirit. Be filled with God’s Word.
Quality Number 3 – Barnabas was full of faith.
There is one other man in the Book of Acts whom Luke records as being both full of the Spirit and full of faith, and that man is Stephen. Acts 6:5 states that he was full of the Spirit and of faith. We may wonder what this means exactly? At the very least, people like Stephen and Barnabas believed in God, as evidenced by their lives. We can certainly say that they believed in the gospel and had faith in the salvation brought by Jesus, being born again through that faith.
But what did their faith look like in action? Stephen provides an excellent example, as does Barnabas. In Stephen’s case, he faced death itself. He fearlessly preached the gospel, which enraged the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. They dragged him out of the city, picked up stones, and stoned him to death. Stephen became the first martyr of the Church. In the midst of such horror, Stephen’s response was remarkable. As he was being stoned, Acts 7:59 records that he called on God, saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” In his dying moments, his faith in God’s promise was so strong that he believed Jesus would receive him into everlasting glory.
Though the Bible does not specify how Barnabas died, some accounts from church history describe it. Barnabas was born in Cyprus, and according to Acts 15, he returned there, accompanied by John Mark. According to some historical sources, while disputing with Jews in the synagogue of his hometown, they became so angry that they dragged him outside, beat him, and stoned him to death. Whether this account is accurate or not, it aligns with Barnabas’ character. His faith in God and the Lord Jesus compelled him to stand alongside Paul and face grave dangers repeatedly.
For men like Stephen and Barnabas, faith was not an abstract concept. It was tangible and real. It meant that in moments of great crisis, they cried out with the most basic gospel plea: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
It is unlikely that you or I will face such severe challenges, although in this wicked age, it is possible. However, my brother, you will encounter difficulties and trials as a faithful soldier for Jesus Christ. You will face opposition from people in your church or community who reject the full truth of Jesus and the message you proclaim. There will be those who despise your message in your community. You will face personal trials and hardships within your family. You will experience losses for the sake of Jesus. It is during those times that your faith in God must shine brightly. Your hope and faith must be firmly rooted in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ so that you can confidently proclaim, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
When we examine these three qualities of Barnabas in Acts 11:24, we witness their amazing outcome. It is one of the most beautiful statements that can be made about the ministry of a pastor, preacher, or any Christian, for that matter. Let us take note together: “And a great many people were added to the Lord.”
When the qualities of a good man, a Spirit-filled man, and a man of faith are all found in the same man, the result of his ministry is that people are drawn to Jesus. And my brother, this should be the hope, aim, and goal of your ministry.
If it is true that Barnabas was martyred, I believe he received a magnificent entrance into glory. Even the angels themselves would marvel at how this man gave his life for the glory of Jesus. And Jesus did indeed receive his spirit. I am confident that Jesus has said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Following in Barnabas’ footsteps, countless souls entered through the gates of glory, their lives impacted by this faithful minister. This was true in Antioch and everywhere he went.
This is your opportunity and your aim. Be a good man. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. Be full of faith. Throughout your life, you will lead many men, women, boys, girls, the poor, the rich, the old, and the young to the Lord. Your heavenly rewards will be great, and the glory of God will be evident in your life both now and forever.