acts 11:24

Evening sky in Vermont.

Thursday, 10 November 2022

For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Acts 11:24

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

The previous verses referred to Barnabas’ travels to go as far as Antioch and build up those who had made a commitment to Jesus. It noted that he encouraged them all “that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.” Now, it continues with, “For he was a good man.”

The word used to describe him is agathos. It signifies a general goodness in something or someone, such as in a good tree, a good gift, or a good person. It is that which is intrinsically good. In Matthew 19:17, Jesus used this word to argue against it in comparison to God –

“Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

Jesus said this in response to a question regarding eternal life. If someone merits eternal life, then he must be intrinsically good in comparison to the standard which grants eternal life. In other places, such as in Luke 23:50, the same word is used concerning a person to indicate a goodness in him that is in accord with a particular standard. Hence, it is no contradiction to say that there is “none good” in comparison to meriting eternal life while saying there is a person who is good and righteous because he acts in some particular manner.

In the case of Barnabas, he is noted as a good man “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” He is an encourager, a good thing. He is filled with the Holy Spirit, a good thing. He is filled with faith, a good thing.  Having been saved by Jesus, he is also deemed as good in comparison to the standard of eternal life. This is not because he has merited it, but because Christ has merited it for him. The standard of eternal life, Christ, is imputed to him.

The reason for this high compliment, something not especially common in Acts, is probably to show that the argument between Barnabas and Paul that will be recorded in Acts 15 is not because of a flaw in Barnabas’ character, but it was simply a negative part of human interaction that is unavoidable at times.

In compiling the book of Acts, Luke is writing out a history of what has already taken place. Hence, his note concerning Barnabas now was certainly written even after the events of Acts 15 occurred. He is being careful to ensure that the character of Barnabas is fully established as that of a good man even before he introduces the negative events that have already happened between him and Paul. This is especially needed because Paul is the main focus of the narrative after that.

Establishing Barnabas’ character in a good light early on is important because of this. As a final note of the success of the ongoing ministry, it next says, “And a great many people were added to the Lord.”

The words are in the singular – “And a large multitude was added to the Lord.” This would be in addition to those mentioned in verse 11:21, which said, “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” With those who traveled spreading the good news, and with Barnabas following up and encouraging those who were saved, the numbers continued to increase so that there was a sizeable multitude who had come to know about God’s salvation in Jesus Christ.

Life application: It is common for people to piously repeat Jesus’ words concerning being “good” from Matthew 19:17 and deny that what has been said about someone being a “good person” is true. But as noted above, goodness is a comparative thing. Therefore, the question should be, “What is the word ‘good’ being used for?”

If it is to compare a person to God, then the obvious answer is, “There is none who is good.” Paul says in Romans 3:12 –

“They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”

What is the context of Paul’s words? He is making a comparison to God, such as in Romans 3:5, where he says, “But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say?” All have sinned, so in comparison to God, we are not “good.” But more, Paul is citing the Psalms which say –

“The fool has said in his heart,
There is no God.’
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good.” Psalm 14:1

David was writing about the atheist (the fool has said… there is no God). Paul cites this verse, along with other verses, to make a point about the law versus grace (as in Romans 3:19, 20). Further, the word Paul uses in Romans 3:12, chréstotés [good], is completely different than that found in Acts when describing Stephen. It gives the sense of “meeting real needs in God’s way.”

Unfortunately, Calvinists take Paul’s continued words of Romans 3 and apply them across the board to all people in all situations and come to the illogical conclusion that man does not have free will to choose Christ, something completely contradictory to what the Bible says elsewhere.

What is good? It is a comparative word that needs to be taken in its proper context. Be sure to think about what is being conveyed when someone speaks about goodness. If someone is being likened to God or absolute moral perfection, then be sure to correct their thinking. However, if they are making a point about someone being good in relation to a certain task, a set standard of measure, or something similar, then the words are wholly acceptable and shouldn’t be dismissed based on a verse that has been taken out of its intended context.

Glorious Heavenly Father, thank You for the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. Without that, we could never come into Your presence. But because He has accomplished all things according to Your standard, we can come before You. In Christ, our righteousness is from You, and from You alone. Thank You, O God, for Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.