Coming second, by Ben Jeapes

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I recently preached on Acts 11:19-30. A picture of Stonehenge made out of toilet rolls was highly relevant, as were Sam Gamgee, astronaut Michael Collins and Thunderbird 2.

Barnabas is sent to the budding church of Antioch to investigate reports that non-Jews are turning to Jesus. He recognises that God is at work and confirms that the non-Jewish believers are just as valid as the Jewish type. The church there thrives and a new word is needed to describe the believers. It’s “Christian”.

For that alone, Barnabas deserves his place in the history books. Even more significant is that he needs an assistant and so he sends for Saul.
Saul is cooling his heels in Tarsus, having had to leave Jerusalem because of threats on his life (setting the pattern for the rest of his ministry). The church in Jerusalem have grudgingly accepted (thanks to Barnabas) that their former persecutor is now on their side, but don’t seem in a hurry to use him.

So Barnabas gives him his first real job as a Christian, which becomes the foundation for a world-changing ministry.

You’re all clever so I’m sure you’re seeing the link. The talk was about the supporting roles; the people whose vital contribution is  overlooked or disregarded. Paul/Saul couldn’t have got where he did without Barnabas. Likewise Frodo with Sam, and Armstrong+Aldrin with Collins. Thunderbird 2 is big and slow but it’s useful - no rescue can commence until it gets there with that week’s star piece of equipment.*

Any character in a story must have had one or more people in their past who helped them get there. They may or may not be mentioned in the story and the readers may never know about them. But the readers should at least sense their invisible presence, and that means the author has to know about them. If you can’t immediately tell someone about the background of your character, why not?
Of course the Barnabas-equivalent might be in the story at the same time - a helpful colleague, a sympathetic superior, even just the stranger in the right place at the right time (but who needs a reason to be there; another challenge for the author).

Barnabas himself didn’t know that he was destined to go down as one of the greatest supporting roles in history, of course. He was just doing the job he was called to do, to the best of his ability and in accordance with his nature, which was clearly to see the best in everyone. I find that a pretty good attitude towards life, not least in my own writing. I’ve no idea what will come of it: I just try to do it well and leave the outcome to higher powers. Maybe I’ll go on to George R.R. Martin-like levels of bestsellerdom; maybe just one kid somewhere will one day read something of mine and be inspired. The latter will never reflect in my bank account but would be just as satisfying. (I think.)

If in doubt, be a Barnabas.

*(And Stonehenge? Supporting rolls …)

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 5 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer.


  1. Supporting rolls! Good one, Ben! Made me laugh out loud. Sue


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