Formations 04.22.2018: The Ultimate Teammate

Acts 13:1-3, 13-14, 44-52

Photo courtesy of Oakland Raiders

Football great David Humm recently passed away at the age of 65 from multiple sclerosis. His former college coach, John L. Smith of the University of Nebraska, remembers him as both a gentleman and the ultimate teammate. According to Smith, Humm “saw what the game was all about, and the game was all about being a good teammate.”

Humm served as Ken Stabler’s backup quarterback when the two played for the Oakland Raiders in the 1970s. Together, they won two Super Bowls. Although his contributions to the team didn’t always make the headlines, he was an integral part of the Raiders’ success. He learned the other teams’ offenses and used them in practice to get his own team ready.

Humm’s daughter Courtney remembers her father as a loyal person who was full of love. “He loved with all his heart, with every bit of him” she says, “he loved to lift people up.”

We tend to think of Paul as a great preacher and evangelist, but these verses from Acts show Barnabas engaged in the very same ministry. In a sense, Barnabas played the role of David Humm to Paul’s Ken Stabler. Both were called by the Holy Spirit and set aside by the church. They both taught and preached in the synagogue. They both faced the hardships that come from proclaiming an unpopular message, and they both experienced the joy of seeing new believers “overflowing with happiness” because of their work.

Barnabas was always at Paul’s side supporting him and backing him up. He may not have garnered the same fame as Paul, but that doesn’t seem to have mattered to him. He just loved to lift people up.

Jerry Knaak, “Raider Nation Mourns David Humm,” Raiders.com, 28 March 2018 <http://www.raiders.com/news/article-1/Raider-Nation-Mourns-David-Humm/8220f963-d743-458c-a69c-b0e333364cdd>.

Joe Schoenmann, “John L. Smith: David Humm a Testament to Teamwork,” KNPR.org, 6 April 2018 <https://knpr.org/knpr/2018-04/john-l-smith-david-humm-testament-teamwork>.

Discussion

• What qualities make for a good team player? What sacrifices are necessary?
• What characteristics make Barnabas a good team player?
• What are the benefits of doing ministry as part of a team?
• Barnabas enjoys “seniority” in the mission enterprise, and yet Paul quickly rises to prominence. “Barnabas and Saul” soon becomes “Paul and Barnabas.” How might Barnabas have felt about this?
• When have you seen a “senior” minister surpassed by a protégé? How can people guard against jealousy or hurt feelings in such situations?

Reference Shelf

Preaching

“Preach” translates a Greek word (kerysso) which described the actions of heralds. These were people employed by royal, civic, and religious authorities to make announcements, to call assemblies together, to publish rules and decrees through towns, to offer prayers at public assemblies, to deliver written or oral notices to other important persons, and to be announcers at games or religious festivals. Certain priests of the mystery religions and the Cynic philosopher-preachers also used “preach” to describe what they did. The Cynics provide an especially good parallel for the NT, because they saw themselves as God’s heralds, criticizing improper living and offering advice on how to attain the good life.

Richard B. Vinson, “Preaching,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 707.

Barnabas and Saul Commissioned

The scene begins in Antioch, the city to which Barnabas and Saul have just returned, having completed their mission of delivering famine relief to Jerusalem (12:25). The text introduces readers to various prophets and teachers. Acts understands prophets both as foretellers (cf. 11:27-28) and speakers of encouragement (15:32; cf. 1 Cor 14:3). When combined here with “teacher,” the prophetic role appears to be that of helping the larger community to discern the will of God.

Included among these prophets and teachers, in addition to Barnabas and Saul, are “Simeon who was called Niger [Simeon the Black One], Lucius of Cyrene, [and] Manaen” of the court of Herod the Tetrarch (v. 1). Commentators have speculated about the identity of these persons, equating, for example, Simeon with Simon of Cyrene or Lucius of Cyrene with Luke, the author of Luke–Acts. Ben Witherington speculates that Manaen was Luke’s special source for the goings on at the court of Herod Antipas. The list of the prophets and teachers displays the diversity of the Antiochene church, from African Gentiles to a member of the Jewish, Herodian royal court.

Luke is not clear in v. 2 whether the “they” who are worshiping denotes only those listed in v. 1 or the whole church. Accordingly, it is unclear who the “they” are of v. 3 who lay hands on Barnabas and Saul. Is the leadership of the Spirit offered to the whole church or the leadership group? Readers must decide and will likely decide based on their own views of church polity. The text is clear, however, that such leadership of the Spirit came in the context of worship and fasting. The fact that “they” are fasting may indicate a sense of expectation that God was to move in a decisive way.

Through the Spirit, likely speaking through one of the prophets, God moves, commanding the church or its leadership to “set apart…Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (v. 2). This “work” harks back to
Acts 9:15 where Jesus had said that Saul was to be his instrument to bring Jesus’ “name before Gentiles and…the people of Israel.” After continued fasting and prayer, “they” lay their hands on Barnabas and Saul. The laying on of hands may represent “a sign of transmitting power and authority” or “a commissioning service for the two missionaries.” While Johnson’s language may strike one as being more formal, even the language of “commissioning” implies some kind of “authorization.” The key issue is not so much what the text may or may not say about ecclesiastical authority, as the text’s recognition that the expansion of the gospel was not the work of individualistic mavericks, but the response of the church to the guidance of the Spirit. Authorization by the faith community does not magically transfer some mystical quality to the individuals. Rather, it offers testimony that the work they do is recognized as valid by a larger community, guarding against the danger of individuals being led by their own whims or idiosyncrasies.

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 208–209.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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