Paul’s conversion confused everyone. He’d been known as one who caused havoc among Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem yet, newly converted in Damascus he was baffling all by proving strenuously Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 9:22) Paul now faced the same opposition he himself had previously given. He was forced to escape by being hidden in a basket and lowered through an opening in the city wall.
He went to the obvious safe haven, Jerusalem itself, but the church there weren’t so sure! It must be a trick! Their suspicion was huge, except for one man: Barnabas. Barnabas was already known for believing in people. In the early days he’d sold a field to finance the church’s cause, and his name given by them actually means “Son of Encouragement”. (Acts 4)
Barnabas brought Paul to the apostles, and spoke for him. Describing Paul’s fearlessness and the risks he’d already run for Jesus, Barnabas built trust in the new convert and enabled him to find the sanctuary he needed.
What did Paul learn from Barnabas? Years later he wrote a short letter to Philemon. Tradition places this at the end of Paul’s letters because in our Bibles they are arranged in length order. However, the letter to Philemon was sent from prison, with Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In it he pleads the case of a young runaway slave he has led to Christ in the cells, Onesimus. “Formerly,” writes Paul, “he was useless to you… But perhaps the reason you were separated from him was to have him back, not as a slave, but as a brother.” Paul was always a powerful advocate for new Christians because he knew the importance of having someone to speak up for you. Who do you believe in? Who do you speak up for?
This article first appeared in Sunday Link, Redemptorist Publications