Everyone needs encouragement! Some people people are better at giving it than others! Needless to say that it is not my strongest gift, but hey its good to have areas for growth! One person who was particularly good at it was Joseph in the Bible. The first couple of mentions of him in the New Testament tell us lots about him:
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.
He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faithActs 4:36-37, 11:24a
The apostles called Joseph Barnabas which meant son of encouragement. This is a strong indication of what he was like. Why give him such a name unless it really summed him up? He is also described as a Jew from Cyprus and a Levite who served in the temple. In Acts 4 we read that he sold his field and brought the proceeds to the Apostles for distribution to those in need. This was a great example of how “All the believers were one in heart and mind” (4:32). Then in chapter 11:24 we hear more of his character and he is described as a good man who was full of both faith and the Holy Spirit.
1. Seeing Potential (Acts 9:26-31)
The first thing I want us to see about Barnabas is how he helped Saul (who was later known as Paul). After his miraculous conversion on the Damascus Road and his transformation from chief persecutor, he is soon out preaching that Jesus was the Son of God (9:20). We are told that he grew more powerful in Damascus and a conspiracy forced him to escape by night through a basket lowered through the wall. You may remember from my blog on Ananias, that early on the disciples were pretty sceptical about this man who formerly had been zealously persecuting and even killing the Christians. When he came to Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples but they were afraid of him. That presented an opportunity for the son of encouragement himself to mediate on Saul’s behalf and help the disciples to see that the Lord’s hand was in this
27 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. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.Acts 9:27-28
We all need this kind of person in our lives, people who will see our potential even when others are sceptical. In many areas of life, opportunities often arise because of an encouraging person speaking on our behalf. In those early days Saul certainly needed a Barnabas and it led to much growth. Despite further opposition (which in time caused Saul to flee to Tarsus), we actually read that:
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.Acts 9:31
What would it take for you to see the potential in others? What would it look like for you to intentionally speak encouragingly of them? How in faith can we ask God to provide opportunities on the back of such encouraging words?
2. Seeing the Grace of God at work (Acts 11:19-30)
The next major reference to Barnabas comes in Acts 11 where we read about how the gospel had reached the city of Antioch. Persecution had scatted the Christians after the death of Stephen and some were spreading the gospel amongst the Jews in Antioch. However men from Cyprus & Cyrene had also begun speaking to Greeks there about the gospel and a great number of people believed in Jesus there. When news reached Jerusalem the church commission Barnabas to go and check it out:
23 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. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.Acts 11:23-24
I love the turn of phrase speaking of what the Grace of God had done. Sometimes when we see God doing something new the temptation for some is to be sceptical while others may try and claim credit. Barnabas does neither – he takes what God was doing at face value and he makes it clear that the glory was due to God. What was Barnabas’ response to what God was doing? He was glad and encouraged them to stay strong in Christ. He saw evidence of the grace of God at work and was thankful.
Having seen all this Barnabas was not content to leave it there but went and found Saul to come and help him in Antioch. For a whole year they taught great numbers of people in the thriving church at Antioch. It is so interesting once again how Barnabas sees an opportunity and looks for others to help. In the case of Saul, this was another massive step in his own development working alongside Barnabas. Interestingly we read that “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (v26).
The chapter concludes with visitors from Jerusalem who predicted a severe famine across the Roman world. The church in Antioch chose to take up a collection to help their Christian brothers & sisters in Judea and they sent it with Barnabas & Saul (Acts 11:27-30). Now we see the churches following Barnabas’ example and looking for ways to encourage others. This trip to Jerusalem is also mentioned in Galatians 2:1-10. It says that they went up in response to a revelation, but it also speaks of a meeting with the church leaders in Jerusalem about the nature of the gospel and circumcision. We looked at this passage a little in the life of Titus. Galatians 2:11-20 speaks of Peter’s visit to Antioch which prompted Saul to challenge him directly because he was seperating himself from the Gentiles. In v13 we read that “The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray”. I like the fact that though Barnabas was held in such high esteem, even he made mistakes too!
3. Working through disagreement (Acts 15:36-41)
Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch with John Mark who was Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10). Back in Antioch the Holy Spirit said “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (13:2). The church fasted, prayed, commission them and sent them off to Cyprus on the first of Paul’s missionary journeys. John Mark was still with them (13:5) but in Pamphylia we read that he left them in order to return to Jerusalem (13:13). On the face of it this detail doesn’t seem particularly significant and yet in Acts 15:36-41 it becomes a point of disagreement between Paul & Barnabas:
36 Some time 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.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 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. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.Acts 15:36-41
It is possible that the events recorded in Galatians 2 (where Paul says that even Barnabas was led astray) had weakened Paul’s regard for Barnabas and potentially even changed the power dynamics with their team. Maybe that is why John Mark had left them in 13:13. Here in Acts 15:36 it certainly seems to be Paul taking the lead as they moved on. The text itself says that Paul thought it unwise to take John Mark because he had deserted them in Pamphylia – strong words indeed. This caused what is described as a sharp disagreement between them. Barnabas was not however inclined to leave his cousin and so he and Paul parted ways: Paul & Silas went to Syria and Cilicia while Barnabas & John Mark headed back to Cyprus. He was ever the encourager and stuck by his cousin come what may. Encouragingly this incident does not however appear to have been the end of the good relationship between these three men. Paul instructs Timothy to “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). There is also a positive reference to Barnabas in 1 Corinthians 9:6. Our enemy always wants to divide us. However despite having their differences, it does seem like they were able to work through them. This brings glory to God and is always such a testimony to the power of the gospel.
All in all Barnabas is true to his name and is a fantastic example of the power of encouragement. I commend him to you as a huge challenge to be people who encourage others. What next steps might God be asking us to encourage others in a way that is rooted in faith and focused on pointing our hearts to Jesus. We all need encouragement but what we see in Barnabas is an encouragement that grows, strengthens and deepens our faith, hope and love in Jesus. It is an encouragement that sees the best in people and looks for ways to bring them into God is doing. It is an encouragement that sees through differences and disagreements to help others to continue making their contribution and bringing glory to Jesus.
See other posts in this series