One of the most memorable quotes I remember from Dr. David Puckett at Southern Seminary is this: “We are like dwarves sitting upon the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.” This quote from John of Salisbury, a 12th-century theologian, has stuck with me because it reminds me of the mass of people I’m indebted to in every aspect of life—some living, some recently dead, and others long dead. Indeed, I am who I am because people by God’s grace have directly and indirectly invested into my life.
We see this truth illustrated well in the lives of Barnabas & Saul in Acts 9:26-27, When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.
Here we see Barnabas reaching out to the newly converted Saul. Knowing Saul’s recent ambitions to stamp out the upstart Christian faith, it’s understandable that the early Christians in Jerusalem didn’t cozy up to him. They thought he was trying to trick them so he could arrest them, but Barnabas took a risk. He advocated for Saul before the apostles and helped Saul into the fellowship there. In fact, Acts 9:28 tells us that after Barnabas came alongside Saul, Saul was with the apostles, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. Isn’t that amazing? The very man that sparked intense Christian persecution in Jerusalem, causing many to flee to other cities, is now back in Jerusalem proclaiming the very thing he had persecuted others for. Amazing!
One of the crucial aspects of this passage is that Saul was trying to get into the church, but the church wouldn’t let him in until Barnabas came alongside him. Are there some people who are trying to join in to your fellowship but are being kept at a distance? Perhaps they’re coming out of a very sinful lifestyle and are not yet as holy as others in the church. Perhaps they’re a bit different from the majority of the church. Perhaps your fellowship has become so comfortable and inward-focused with the group you already have that you’re really not looking to bring others in.
We constantly holler about wanting people to come to church, but what I’m afraid we often mean is that we want to people to come to church who are just like us. We want them to think like us, live like us, and have the same level of sanctification as we have. However, we forget that we were once rank sinners on the outside looking in, but someone graciously took us under their wing and brought us into the fold. They challenged us, rebuked us, taught us, were an example to us, and loved us, and for that reason, we are who we are today.
You are not a giant. You’re a dwarf standing by the grace of God on the shoulders of giants. And this question remains: Who are you going take a risk on and put on your shoulders? Who on the outskirts of the church needs you to advocate for them to give them standing in the fellowship? Imagine with me for just a moment if Barnabas hadn’t put Saul on his shoulders. Eventually Saul might’ve said, “Forget this whole thing. It’s not worth the trouble.” How great a loss to the church that would have been! May we not make that mistake.
-This article first appeared in the May 25 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the official newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, as a commentary on the May 29, 2011 LifeWay Sunday School curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and can be accessed through the B&R website at http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=3851. The article has been slightly edited here for westmainbaptist.com.