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Don't We All Need Encouragement Now and Then!


Nice to meet you Joseph aka Barnabas

One person in the bible whom many regard as the archetypal ‘encourager’ is Barnabas. What can we learn about the art of encouragement from this faithful disciple of Christ?

Barnabas is mentioned 23 times in Acts – scattered all over the book – and five times in the Pauline Epistles. The first mention of Barnabas is in Acts 4. The church was growing and expanding. Luke provides a mini summary of these exciting times. Acts 4:32-36

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

From this passage, we learn that Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus. Of note is that Barnabas wasn’t his birth name – it was Joseph. Barnabas was a ’nickname’, which meant ‘son of encouragement’. In those times, nicknames were commonly given to describe personal attributes, and were usually complimentary and extolling, rather than derogatory and unflattering, as tends to be the case in present times.

What an example and legacy to leave behind, that a certain attribute is so recognisable in a person that it becomes their 'name'? Have we wondered, what might people choose as a nickname for us? Something we would be proud of, or something not too flattering?

Barnabas sold a field he owned and laid the proceeds from the sale at the apostles’ feet, for them to use. There was no appeal for donations, unlike when Paul made an appeal to help the Jerusalem church. Barnabas simply looked at the situation and made his decision. He displayed his generosity and correct priorities when it came to wealth, possessions, and the kingdom of God.

Risking his reputation

We next read about Barnabas in Acts 9: 26-30

Paul had just been through his ‘Damascus Road’ experience and had started preaching in the local synagogues. Some Jews plotted to kill Paul, but he managed to escape and make his way to Jerusalem.

When he (Paul) came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

Unsurprisingly, the disciples in Jerusalem were very suspicious of Paul. Here was the one who only recently had been murdering Christians, and now had suddenly turned over a new leaf, and was preaching in the name of the Lord.

What does Barnabas do? He courageously vouches for the integrity of this persecutor turned Christian. It was not an easy thing to do. In all likelihood, no one else gave Paul the benefit of the doubt. Barnabas was risking his own reputation. What if his call was wrong, what if Paul was just putting on a show? Would we be willing to risk our reputation to help and defend somebody controversial?

More than that, Because Barnabas was highly respected by the Christians in Jerusalem, they accepted what he had to say about Paul. As a result, this once violent opponent of the church was able to associate freely with Jesus’ disciples and proclaim the gospel to the unsaved.

A trusted and reliable disciple

We next read about Barnabas in Acts 11, in the context of the church in Antioch.

Acts 11:19-24

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Antioch was the capital of the Roman province of Syria, and the 3rd largest city of the empire. It had a mixed population Of Jews and Gentiles. It was a place of some significance.

Barnabas is described as a good man, full of the Spirit and faith. Would that be how somebody describes us? Barnabas was a trusted and reliable servant of the church – that’s why he was selected by the leaders in Jerusalem to have a look the work that was going on in Antioch. His task was to see if the work was according to the true teaching of the disciples, to encourage the new believers, and help with the work – teaching, preaching, ministering. As a result, a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

What did Barnabas do next?

Letting others have the spotlight

Seeing the great spiritual awakening taking place at Antioch, Barnabas went to look for his old friend Paul, and brought him to Antioch to help with the work.

Acts 11:25-26

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So, for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Seeing the great spiritual awakening taking place at Antioch, Barnabas went to look for his old friend Paul, and brought him to Antioch to help with the work.

Barnabas was not seeking for personal fame and glory. He could have easily let it go to his head that he was specially sent by Jerusalem and used that authority to throw his weight around. No, he humbly recognised the need for help in the work, and was not too proud to seek help from Paul. Together they strived and bore much fruit at Antioch.

In fact, this proved to be the beginning of a partnership that spread the gospel to the predominantly gentile churches in Asia Minor – the first missionary journey. As we read Acts from this point onwards, we note a gradual shift in prominence from Barnabas to Paul. That was not an issue at all to Barnabas – he gladly stepped aside to make way. His focus was on the work, not personal glory. A mark of a true disciple.

A believer in second chances

The next significant mention of Barnabas is in Acts 15.

Acts 15:36-41

Sometime later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

It’s interesting that Luke chose to describe this incident in some detail. Maybe he wanted to point out that even faithful men of God can disagree and disagree strongly. Note that this dispute between Paul and Barnabas was not over a doctrinal issue. The conflict involved a personal dispute based upon a judgment call. To their credit, neither Paul nor Barnabas let the tension distract them from their respective efforts in spreading the gospel. As a result, perhaps even more work was accomplished for the Lord because of the manner in which their disagreement was handled.

Paul had his reasons for wanting to ditch John Mark. Barnabas – true to his nature – believed in giving Mark a second chance. Mark was Barnabas cousin (Col 4:10), and people suggest that is the reason Barnabas stood up for Mark. However, we know enough about Barnabas to believe he would have done the same with anyone. He believed in giving people a second chance. We read in the epistles later that Barnabas was vindicated in his stand, and that Mark was able to overcome whatever issues he had and become a valuable partner in Paul’s work.

2 Tim 4:11

Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry

Imagine if Barnabas hadn’t stood by Mark.

We need more people of this nature. Maybe we are often too quick to write off someone, especially if they have repeatedly let us down. Barnabas chose to see the good, the positive, the potential in a person. He did it with Paul and Mark. How many times have we been given another chance by God?

Lessons from the life of Barnabas, the 'son of encouragement'

In terms of character, in contrast to Paul, who was more forthright to the point of being blunt sometimes, Barnabas was more tactful, more encouraging, more warm-hearted.

  • He backed up Paul when others were suspicious of his true intentions.
  • He brought Paul along to Antioch to help him with the work, giving Paul the chance to serve together with him, and grab the limelight.
  • He didn’t give up on Mark but gave him a second chance.

If we were to look around, we are rarely in a situation where there isn’t someone we can encourage. There is always somebody somewhere who needs ‘buoying up’. May the example of Barnabas motivate us to an ‘encourager’.

© 2022 Ferdinand-J-K