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Fellow-labourers Of The Apostle Paul (I)

In considering the life and work of the apostle of the Gentiles we are apt to lose sight of the men who companied or laboured with him. We hope in this and succeeding articles to examine what is said about them in the Acts of the Apostles and in the letters of the New Testament. It is of particular interest to note from what a wide field they came, how varied their background and the part they played in the work of the Lord.


In the first mention of this remarkable man we learn of his generosity and deep interest in the progress of the work of the Lord. Barnabas, "having a field, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet" (Acts 4.37). His action was in keeping with his name, Joseph (increaser). He was of the priestly family, a Levite, a native of Cyprus. There was another delightful aspect to his character. He was a man who encouraged others by words of exhortation or consolation, and as a result of this the apostles surnamed him Barnabas, and it is by that name we know him best.

The first contact between this man of Cyprus and the man of Tarsus took place in Jerusalem. Saul returned to Jerusalem from Damascus a very different man from the one who had set out breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord. It is no surprise that the disciples were afraid of him and doubted if he was a disciple. It was at this juncture that Barnabas befriended Saul, and brought him to the apostles and related to them the remarkable change which had taken place. Thus began an association which took them into strange places where they shared many hardships in reaching out to the Gentiles with the gospel.

As the work of the Lord spread to Antioch in Syria and Greeks responded to the message, the church in Jerusalem sent forth Barnabas to Antioch. This son of exhortation was well fitted to encourage the disciples for "he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord" (Acts 11.24). Barnabas decided that the man to help in the work was Saul, so he journeyed to Tarsus and sought out Saul and brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they wrought together with the church. When the disciples in Antioch determined to send relief to the famine-stricken brethren in Judea they sent it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

The church in Antioch was blessed with prophets and teachers, and the names of five outstanding men are listed in Acts 13.1 Barnabas is mentioned first. It was then that the Holy Spirit said, "Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them" (Acts 13.2). It was natural that in setting out on this journey Barnabas should persuade Saul to visit his native Cyprus first. From thence they journeyed to Perga, Antioch in Pisidia, to Iconium and Lystra. We have passed over the defection of John Mark at Perga but will refer to this later. The incident had sad repercussions, but at the time it must have disturbed Barnabas a great deal.

At Lystra, Barnabas and Paul experienced the acclamation of the people, and scarce restrained them from doing sacrifice unto them in the Temple of Jupiter. It is interesting to note that they called Barnabas, Jupiter (Zeus, the king of the gods), and Paul, Mercury (Hermes, the god of eloquence). The appearance and bearing of Barnabas must have marked him out in some way. It was at Lystra at a later time that the multitude stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. However, Paul made a truly miraculous recovery, and the following day Barnabas and he journeyed to Derbe. From thence they retraced their steps over much the same ground, and returned to Antioch in Syria from whence they had been committed to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled. The journey they had completed covered approximately 1,260 miles.

When dissension arose at Antioch regarding circumcision, Paul and Barnabas were appointed with others to travel to Jerusalem and consult with the apostles and elders about this question (Acts 15.2). There followed the remarkable conference at which there was much questioning. Barnabas and Paul rehearsed what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. The outcome was a clear decision regarding the position of the Gentiles who turned to God. The esteem in which Barnabas and Paul were held is borne out in the words, "Our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 15.25,26).

We now consider one of the saddest incidents - the parting asunder of these two mighty men of God. Paul was desirous of setting out with Barnabas to visit the brethren in every city wherein they proclaimed the word of the Lord. Barnabas was minded t6 take John Mark with them, but Paul thought not good to take him who went not with them to the work. The pungent words are recorded, "And there arose a sharp contention, so that they parted asunder one from the other, and Barnabas took Mark with him, and sailed away unto Cyprus" (Acts 15.39). These are the last recorded words concerning Barnabas in his work of spreading the message of the gospel.

Silas (or Silvanus)

The name Silas is used throughout the Acts of the Apostles, but the more formal name Silvanus is found in the introduction of the two letters to the Thessalonians and once in 2 Corinthians 1.19. Apparently, like Paul, he was a Jew of good standing, and what was important, he was a Roman citizen. He was therefore commendable to Jews and at the same time could readily win the confidence of Gentiles. He also enjoyed the privileges and immunities of Roman citizenship.

Silas was present at the conference at Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15, and heard from Barnabas and Paul of their work amongst the Gentiles. He was in agreement with the decision arrived at by the apostles and elders regarding any burdens which might be laid on Gentiles who responded to the call of God in the gospel. Indeed, Silas was chosen with Judas called Barsabbas to accompany Barnabas and Paul back to Antioch of Syria, where the difficulty arose. These brethren are marked out as "chief men among the brethren", and the purpose of their mission was to reinforce by word of mouth decisions contained in the letter from the apostles and elders. The presence of Judas and Silas must have been a great comfort to the disciples at Antioch, and they "being themselves also prophets, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them" (Acts 15.32).

There is some doubt whether both Judas and Silas returned to Jerusalem or if Silas remained at Antioch. He was, however, present at the sad contention between Barnabas and Paul regarding John Mark. When they parted asunder, and Barnabas took Mark and sailed unto Cyprus, Paul was faced with the problem of choosing a fellow-worker. The church in Antioch was blessed with able and outstanding brethren, but none was better equipped than Silas for Paul to take with him. So we read, "But Paul chose Silas, and went forth, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord" (Acts 15A0). Thus commenced an association in the work of the Lord by these two men during which they shared in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from their countrymen in perils from the Gentiles, and in other hazards. Their journey took them through Syria, Cilicia, and on to Troas and from thence to Macedonia and Achaia.

The persecution at Philippi reveals the sterling qualities of both Paul and Silas. The charge against them when they were brought before the magistrates was, "These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, and set forth customs which it is not lawful for us to receive, or to observe, being Romans" (Acts 16.20,21). How shamefully Paul and Silas were treated, stripped of their garments, beaten with rods, many stripes being laid upon them! They were then cast into the inner prison with their feet fast in the stocks. About midnight the rest of the prisoners listened to the most amazing sounds coming from the inner prison, "Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns unto God" (Acts 16 25) The sequel was a great earthquake, the opening of the prison doors and the unloosing of everyman's bands. The jailer later washed the stripes of Paul and Barnabas, and he set a table before them and rejoiced greatly, with all his house, having believed in God.

Paul and Silas, being Roman citizens, were exempt from scourging and imprisonment without trial, and the magistrates, on hearing that they were Romans, feared, and brought them out of prison, and asked them to go away from the city.

Silas shared with Paul in the work at Thessalonica, and witnessed a ready response when they preached Jesus as the Christ. We are told, "And some of them were persuaded, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few" (Acts 17.4). Persecution then arose, and Paul and Silas left Thessalonica by night, and travelled to Beroea. The Jews of Beroea are described as "more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so" (Acts 17.11). Many Jews and some Greeks believed. Paul left for Athens while Silas and Timothy remained at Beroea to continue the work there. An urgent message from Paul to Silas and Timothy that they should come to him with all speed led to their departure from Beroea, and they rejoined Paul at Corinth. This is the last mention of Silas in the Acts. That he had an active part in the proclamation of the message in Corinth is borne out by the word in 2 Corinthians 1.19, "For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timothy, was not yea and nay, but in Him is yea".

Silas made a valuable contribution to the progress of the work of the Lord in those early days, and he has an honoured place in the record of that work.