God blesses a church where His grace, not legalism, permeates the body.
Not only I, but also many commentators, sense that there was a note of concern behind the Jerusalem church’s sending Barnabas to Antioch. Word had gotten back to Jerusalem, “Have you heard what’s going on in Antioch?” “No, what?” “A bunch of laymen are sharing Christ with the pagans, and they’re all meeting together, Jews and Gentiles, as one church!” Alarms went off! Red lights started flashing! It was one thing when the God-fearing Gentile, Cornelius, had become a Christian through the preaching of the leading apostle, Peter. That stretched the limit. But when raw pagans from a notoriously immoral place like Antioch started coming into the church through the witness of a bunch of laymen, it was time for the mother church to check things out! So they sent Barnabas. Some of the circumcision crowd might have said, “Make sure that Barnabas gets that Antioch situation under control!”
Note what Barnabas saw and how he responded: He saw the grace of God and he rejoiced (11:23). If the apostles had sent a legalistic member of the circumcision party, he might have seen something else and had a very different response. He would have seen Jews and Gentiles eating together (Gal. 2:12), not keeping the ceremonial laws. Instead of rejoicing, he would have been horrified.
But Barnabas was a man who lived by God’s grace, and so he saw the grace of God and rejoiced. No doubt he also saw a lot of imperfection in these new converts. New believers do not drop all of their pagan baggage the day they get saved. A church made up of people from such different backgrounds as those in Antioch was bound to have some irritations and conflicts. But rather than focusing on the imperfections and problems, Barnabas focused on God’s grace in saving these people. Instead of slapping a bunch of Jewish rules on them, he rejoiced at what God was doing, and then began to encourage them to remain true to the Lord.