One of the most famous men in the Bible is Joseph. He was a Levite from Cyprus better known to all us as Barnabas. Barnabas is a very special person to study. He did not pen any words that we have. He didn’t write any psalms. But what he did helped to bring us most of the New Testament.
We first hear of Barnabas in Acts 4:36–37: “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.” (NIV) This one sentence tells us so much about Barnabas. We learn which tribe of Israel he belonged to. We learn what country he called home. But then we begin to learn the heart of the man.
Many of us have nicknames. They can be funny and cute. But most of them have a history behind them. There is a reason for the nickname. For Barnabas his nickname was a reflection of a gift he had and used to help others. The nickname was not created in jest. It was given in respect. This man had such a gift. Knowing how important this aspect of him is gives us insight on later events in Acts that involve Barnabas.
Here in these first verses we see where Barnabas sold a piece of land and gave the money to the ministry. He wasn’t forced into doing that. He did it willingly. Here Barnabas shows a giving heart. He is a man who sees a need and sees that it is met. His goal was to further the kingdom. His heart is set on that one goal. He is a follower of Christ.
When Saul, later known as the apostle Paul, was blinded on the road to Damascus and realized that he had actually been killing innocent people, it was Barnabas that brought him into the presence of the apostles. All the apostles and other believers were terrified of this man, Saul. He had the authority to hunt and have jailed and executed anyone who claimed to be a follower of Jesus. Surely they would be foolish to meet this man and walk right into his trap! But Barnabas saw beyond the reputation. Granted the reputation was true, it was not the heart of the man. Barnabas saw into Saul’s heart and saw the true change in it. Replacing the heart of hate and anger was a heart full of love and mercy. He saw the humility and the fact that the apostles just had to get to know this man. He became a peacemaker and brought Saul before the others and explained the situation. He explained how Saul had begun to preach almost immediately how Jesus was the true Messiah. This was a message quite different than he was preaching a few days before. The transformation was sincere. Barnabas bridged a gulf of skepticism and helped the spiritual growth of the man who would pen the majority of the New Testament.
Later we hear of Barnabas as a liaison with the town of Antioch. This was a town with very few Jews. Yet, they were hearing about Christ and were accepting Him as their Lord. This seemed almost impossible, but the church leaders were also aware that God does amazing things. Before deciding that it was all true or not, they sent Barnabas. This was the perfect choice. Barnabas was not a negative spirited man. He was a man who saw into the hearts and yearned to fan the flame that burned there. If it was true that there were believers in Antioch and they were non-Jew he would know their sincerity and he would know what to say to them. Upon arriving in Antioch, Barnabas could not do anything but rejoice in what he saw. They were really believers. God was working miracles. Barnabas stayed and encouraged these new believers who did not have anything more than the message of salvation. He gave them some advice and was present as even more new believers joined them. He witnessed it all and helped to mentor them in starting out and growing. His excitement just kept growing.
He didn’t wait too long before deciding that he had to go look for Saul. This new church would be the perfect place for this young intern to begin to cut his preaching and pastoring teeth. He brought Saul to Antioch where they stayed one year. They taught them the basics of the Scripture which was the Old Testament. They explained to them how Jesus fulfilled the promises and the law. They gave them more of the armor they would need to stand on their own and continue to grow and minister to new believers long after Barnabas and Saul were gone. Barnabas was once again the instrument in building bridges and giving others the confidence they needed to do their part in the work of the kingdom.
At the end of the year, God asked the church at Antioch to set aside Barnabas and Saul for a special mission. They were about to embark on the job that God had been preparing them during their entire lives. They were to become the first missionaries. What a team they made! Saul, now taking the Greek name Paul, had the oratory skills needed to reach the masses. He had the experience of the different nationalities and even had Roman citizenship which gained them access where others could not go. Barnabas was the one to bridge any gaps and to be an encourager to Paul when he got discouraged and to help the new believers stand strong in their faith. You couldn’t ask for a more powerful team! Church after church was started.
Upon returning to Antioch, some disagreements arose in the church. Some teachers had begun to say that if you did not convert to Judaism than you could not be considered part of the Christian movement. Acceptance of Judaism was a required part of Christianity. Paul and Barnabas began to disagree with them. This was such an important issue that needed to be dealt with immediately that the church did not waste time in seeking a resolution. Paul, Barnabas, and a few others were appointed to go to Jerusalem which was considered the “headquarters” of the church. Their presence and wisdom won out as well as their resume. The church recognized how these two had risked their lives on their first missionary journey to spread the word. They recognized their wisdom yet they recognized the issue at hand. A compromise was made that satisfied all parties and did not compromise the salvation message. Paul and Barnabas played a large part in keeping the young church united despite differences. An encourager can do so much with love behind them.
The second missionary journey was approaching and so did a disagreement between Barnabas and Paul. Remember that we are discussing the attribute of Barnabas as encourager. He sees the heart. He sees the potential. For this trip he wanted to take his cousin along who was showing signs of becoming a missionary and evangelist. He needed some guidance and training. Barnabas wanted to help him along. Paul’s thoughts were different. He remembered how young Mark was and how immature. He had left them once before and Paul did not have the time or the patience for that again. He needed maturity by his side. He did not want to have to hold another’s hands while he was holding the hands of new believers. The results were two sets of missionaries going out. Barnabas took Mark. Paul took Silas. The missionary field was doubled. Barnabas saw Mark’s potential. He would be a leader in the church in later years and would write the gospel of Mark. Barnabas’ encouragement helped to develop a strong and important early church leader. It also reconciled Mark to Paul in later years. He was able to bridge their differences and keep the church strong.
A Great Man
Barnabas is a man that many should look more closely at and see how they could emulate him in their lives. He was a man who sacrificed money and his life for the Kingdom. He was one to see beyond the “obvious” and look into the heart. He was one to champion the underdog. He was one to lift those up who were stumbling. He was the peacemaker to help keep the family strong. He was a true servant.