The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” The world might view being a servant as a burden, but for us who have experienced God’s grace, being a servant of Christ is a joy and privilege. The greatest longing in our heart is to please and be faithful to the Lord (2 Cor 5:9).
But in order to be faithful, what is required of us? Paul and Barnabas were the first missionaries sent out from the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). Their first missionary journey is recorded in Acts 14 and provides for us an excellent case study on qualities of faithful servants. If we desire to be found faithful, then the qualities that these two men exhibit must also be characteristic of our lives. Paul told us clearly to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Cor 11:1). We would do well to emulate the seven qualities that these two men illustrate for us.
First, the two men were bold in preaching the Gospel in the midst of looming persecution. When Paul and Barnabas entered Iconium and began preaching the Gospel, they were met with opposition, but this did not deter them, rather they spoke “boldly for the Lord” (v. 3, 7, 1 Thess 2:2). There is a great temptation for us all to cower and to shrink back when the world comes against us and the Gospel we speak. We must remind ourselves that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7). It is inevitable that the world is going to hate us and the Gospel we preach (Jn 15:18-21), but if we are to be found faithful we must have a boldness to be light in the darkness.
Second, Paul and Barnabas were humble servants. The second city the men went to was Lystra. After Paul had healed a lame man, the entire city began worshiping them as though they were Zeus and Hermes who had once again returned to their city, as the Roman poet Ovid had written about years earlier (Acts 14:8-18). Pride certainly could have arisen in their hearts not only due to their ability to heal, but now this undue worship that was attributed to them. But rightly, the two men were not willing to take the glory, but rather pointed the entire city to the living God and not to themselves (Acts 14:15). Humility is required of every servant in this life. All along the way, people will attempt to praise us. We will be faithful if we will deflect that praise and point them to the Living God who alone is worthy of praise.
Third, they were persistent, living their lives with an eternal perspective making the most of their time. In a crazy turn of events, a group of Jews who opposed the Gospel of Jesus found Paul and stoned him leaving him for dead (Acts 14:19). You would have thought that the two missionaries would have taken a break, but instead they journeyed to Derbe the very next day in order to continue their mission! We must live our lives in this manner. Instead of wallowing in our misery, we must trust the Lord and keep on living with purpose. As long as the Lord gives us breath, we must persist.
Fourth, they had a caring heart toward the spiritual well-being of others. As their missionary journey was coming to an end, Paul and Barnabas risked their lives going back to the cities of Lystra and Iconium for the purpose of “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts14:22). The missionaries had a genuine love in their hearts for the spiritual welfare of these new disciples, teaching them how they must persevere through the tribulations that the Lord would sovereignly allow them to go through. To be found faithful, we must care about the spiritual well-being of others. We cannot live a secluded life, but must be willing to pour ourselves into the lives of others!
Fifth, they were committed to the Word of God (Acts 14:24-25). On their way back home to Antioch, the two missionaries could have rested, but they were committed to leave nothing undone. Because they had not preached initially in the city of Perga (13:14), they “spoke the word in Perga” (Acts 14:25). A mark of faithfulness is commitment to God’s calling in our lives. We must never stop until the work is done.
Sixth, the missionaries gave credit to God alone for what He had done through them. As Paul and Barnabas made it back to their sending church in Antioch, it is certain that there was a great reunion. Stories were told and no doubt there was much rejoicing. But in the midst of all of this, the missionaries “declared all that God had done with them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (v. 27). To say it clearly, they did not take the credit! They recognized that the work they completed was by the grace of God. There is a great temptation to take credit for our accomplishments. But the faithful servant understands that it is actually God who works through us and God who opens doors for us. When we have the opportunity, we always give credit back to Him in praise.
Seventh, they had a deep love for fellowshipping with other Christians. As the missionaries returned, it says that they “remained no little time with the disciples” (v. 28). They knew they needed to be recharged spiritually and they found their greatest joy with like hearted fellow believers. While the world may come against us, the Lord has provided the Church to be a place where believers can find strength and joy with the fellowship of the Saints.
Every true believer should desire to be a faithful servant to the Lord Jesus. It is certain that Paul and Barnabas indeed were faithful servants. If we imitate the example of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, we will also be faithful servants to the Lord. We should strive to be bold, humble, persistent, caring, committed, giving credit to the Lord, and loving one another. If these characteristics describe us, then we can be certain that the Lord will be pleased with us and one day we will hear “well done, faithful servant” (Matt 25:23).