Bible Study

Barnabas – Is Encouragement More Than Kind Words?

If we are honest, we all like receiving kind words. Sometimes that is enough – a little encouragement can lift us up and improve our day. But there are also times when words alone are not enough to encourage or make a difference, and practical help is needed. In the early church, there was one man, Barnabas, who became known as an encourager. Was that because of his kind words or something more?

Who is Barnabas in the Bible?

At the beginning of the life of the early church, Barnabas is recognized by the Apostles as a man with the gift of encouragement. He is probably best remembered for his generous gift to help support those who were poor within the fellowship of believers. But there is more about Barnabas in the Bible, he appears four to five times in the book of Acts. He is often not the main character but appears in a supporting role.

Through Barnabas’ story, we can see God at work weaving His plan together. We might not always see the significance of the things we are asked to do now. But when we serve the Lord faithfully, to do what is in front of us, and then the next thing, nothing is ever wasted.

Barnabas Means Son of Encouragement

In Acts chapter 4 we read that the apostles recognized the gift of encouragement in Joseph of Cyprus. He was a Levite who had converted to be a follower of Jesus and was a member of the early church in Jerusalem. This man was such an example of someone with the gift of encouragement that the apostles changed his name to Barnabas. They gave him a ‘nickname’, one that they felt described him perfectly because the name Barnabas means son of encouragement.

Early Church Giving

At this time in the early church, we are told that no one was in need as ‘the believers shared all that they had.’ There was such unity among them that those who had land or property sold what they had and brought the money to the apostles to be shared with those in need. Barnabas sold a field that he owned and gave the money to help the poor.

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.

Acts 4:32 NIV

This unity within the early church was the power of the Holy Spirit at work. Following the death of Jesus, these new believers were living through dramatic times. The new life that they were experiencing was the evidence that Jesus’ death was not the end but a new beginning!

Why did the early church lay gifts at the apostle’s feet?

The early church had a common cause, they were one in heart and mind, sharing the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. But this unity was not just an intellectual agreement on theology – although wouldn’t that be good? It was practical action to love and care for each other. This was not just out of their surplus, but actively looking at how to release funds to provide for those in need. The early church believers then brought their financial gifts and laid them at the apostle’s feet. This was a symbolic act of reverence, showing respect for the apostles authority and trust in their leadership, to act fairly, and to care for those in need.

Son of Consolation

Barnabas’ gift was a declaration of faith and trust in God to provide for all his needs in the future. The field may well have been his financial security, set aside to provide for him in his old age. He showed his full commitment to God by what he did. His love for his fellow believers and trust in God was greater than his love of money and possessions. He was willing to give what he had to bring consolation, help and comfort, to others.

The account of Barnabas’ generosity in Acts 4, is a testimony about the gift of giving generously. It is also our introduction to the character of Barnabas. I don’t think it is coincidental that the one who is held up as an example of being a great encourager, by his actions, teaches us about giving!

  True encouragement is a practical action, which always has a cost.

Barnabas the Encourager

One definition of encouraging, by the Cambridge English dictionary, is ‘to make someone more likely to do something, and to make something more likely to happen.’ This is encouragement in action.

In Acts chapter nine, we read the account of Saul returning to Jerusalem sometime after his dramatic conversion. He had to flee from Damascus due to his public preaching of the gospel – his life was now under threat from the Jews. The believers in Jerusalem did not seem to be aware of his dramatic turnaround from being a persecutor of Christians to a follower of Jesus. They were wary and suspicious of him, understandably so! This was the same Saul who had tried to destroy the church, who had arrested Christians, forcibly dragged them from their homes, and put them in prison.

When he (Saul) 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….”

Acts 9:26-27

Why was Barnabas important to Paul?

Barnabas acted as an intermediary, he did not have to, he chose to. He brought Saul to the Apostles and acted as a spokesman, he told Saul’s story so that he was accepted. Barnabas was generous this time in forgiveness and, more than that, in friendship. He was willing to take a risk and reach out to Saul.

He believed in Saul’s story when everyone else was still afraid of him.

Barnabas gave freely of his time and risked his own reputation to champion Saul, a man who was disliked and feared. He made the introduction, and a former enemy became accepted as a friend. Saul was unable to stay in Jerusalem, and for his own safety the Apostles sent him back to his hometown of Tarsus.

Paul and Barnabas

Four to five years later the gospel had started to spread out from Jerusalem. Due to the persecution of the church many believers left the city (Acts 11). Some men from Cyprus and Cyrene had gone to Antioch, a Greek city. They shared their faith with the locals there who were Gentiles. Several people believed the gospel – and God blessed them. The numbers of this new fellowship began to grow.

The news travelled back to the church in Jerusalem – and the leaders wanted to know more. Barnabas had a good reputation among the church in Jerusalem and so the leaders turned to him to go and investigate what was happening in Antioch.

Antioch was approximately 300 miles north of Jerusalem – traveling was a whole different undertaking in the first century. The average walking rate is 20 miles a day – so Barnabas could get to Antioch in about 15 days. This was no small task!

Text 'Barnabas - Is Encouragement More Than Kind Words? and 10 Characteristics of Barnabas, A picture of an open hand with the words 'give back' in bold with other words about generous giving in the background.
Barnabas – Is Encouragement More Than Kind Words?

Paul and Barnabas In Antioch

When Barnabas arrived in Antioch and saw what God was doing, he was glad for the people there. He encouraged them in the faith “to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts”.  This is the only time in Scripture that we have a quote of Barnabas speaking ‘encouraging words.’ The words that he shared, were true encouragement, as they pointed the people to the Lord.

Barnabas realized that there was a need for teaching in this new church and he remembered Saul who loved to preach the gospel. Saul had left Jerusalem about five years earlier, for his own safety, and gone back to his hometown of Tarsus. Barnabas was willing to travel again and he went back on the road to Tarsus to find Saul. He brought him to Antioch so that the needs of the fellowship of believers could be met.

It was here in Antioch that Barnabas and Saul co-worked together for over a year. They experienced a time of peace, blessing, stability, and friendship. The new church was hospitable towards them both and they taught a substantial crowd.

Barnabas, possibly, had taken a risk five years previously to reach out to Saul and offer him friendship. At that time, he had no idea of the significance. When he set off for Antioch, to report on what was happening there, he had no idea of where it would lead. Barnabas willingly invested in the lives of others and at the same time, God was investing His plans and purposes in him. As he served God faithfully in what was before him, God broadened his service, new opportunities came his way, and his ministry grew.

Barnabas’ Missionary Journey

After over a year in Antioch, Barnabas and Saul are appointed by the Lord to work as itinerant evangelists. (Acts 13) They become missionaries, sent out by the Antioch church to travel and spread the good news about Jesus. With the blessing of the church Saul and Barnabas, with John Mark, set out for Cyprus.

This was Barnabas’ home island, and they started by teaching among the Jewish people in the synagogues. The group travelled slowly across the island until they reached Paphos, the headquarters for the Roman rule of the province. The proconsul Sergius Paulus sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But one of his attendants, known as Elymas, opposed Barnabas and Saul’s message to keep the proconsul from the faith.

Saul speaks God’s judgement on Elymas that he would be blinded for a time, and immediately he lost his vision. Darkness came over Elymas and he had to be led away – spiritually blind, he was now physically blind. The proconsul who saw what had happened turned to the Lord, convinced by the miracle.

This incident was a turning point for Saul, he was speaking with a new authority. Saul remembered God’s mercy to him, he had been an ‘Elymas’ until he received his sight! From now on he is referred to as Paul signifying the beginning of his ministry to the Gentiles. Nearly ten years after his conversion, it is God’s timing for Paul’s ministry to begin.

The time in Cyprus had come to an end and the group left the island. They crossed over to the mainland where John Mark decided to leave them and return to Jerusalem. But Paul and Barnabas continued their missionary journey, travelling throughout that region for another two years. They finally returned to Antioch and reported on the work that God had done, through them, to open a door of faith to the Gentiles.

Sometime later Paul and Barnabas part company, initially, with a disagreement as to who would travel with them on their next trip. Paul did not want to take John Mark, who had left them last time, he chose Silas to travel with him. And Barnabas did what he had always done – he encouraged someone else, and chose to take John Mark, giving him another opportunity. The result of the disagreement was two missionary trips!

10 Characteristics of Barnabas

  • Compassionate

Compassion is our response of concern for others. When we are willing to participate or share in someone else’s suffering. It is compassion that brings the motivation to try and help alleviate someone else’s ordeal. The bonds of fellowship in the new believers were a powerful witness of God’s grace at work. Acts 4:33-34

  • Generous

The believers in the early church voluntarily sold their possessions to provide for those who were in need of the essentials for daily living. God loves a cheerful giver and Barnabas son of encouragement did just that. He gave generously of his wealth to reach out and bless those who were in need. Acts 4:36-37

  • Kind

Barnabas showed kindness to the believers in the early church in Jerusalem. He was also kind and encouraging to the new believers in Antioch. He showed kindness to Saul when everyone else was afraid of him. Barnabas was particularly kind to his cousin John Mark. He choose to believe in him, encouraged him to join a missionary trip, and gave him a second chance.

  • Loving

Barnabas son of encouragement  lived up to his nickname, demonstrating love through his kindness and compassion.

  • Friendly

Barnabas proved himself to be a true friend to Paul. He was the one who welcomed Saul and introduced him to the Apostles in Jerusalem. Acts 9:27

  • Respected

Barnabas son of encouragement, became a respected figure in the life of the early church. Acts 11:24

  • Trustworthy

Barnabas and Saul were trusted to carry a gift from the church in Antioch to the elders of the church in Jerusalem. Acts 11:29-30

  • Servant heart

When the leaders of the church in Jerusalem needed someone to travel to Antioch to see what was happening there, they sent Barnabas. He was willing to serve, where and when he was required. Acts 11:22

  • Investing in Others

Barnabas recognized the need for teaching in the new Antioch church. He remembered Saul and sought him out. Barnabas put himself out to travel to Tarsus and bring Saul to Antioch, which was the beginning of Saul’s ministry to the Gentiles. Acts 11:25-26

When Barnabas’ partnership with Paul comes to an end, he begins again with John Mark. Acts 15:39

Related Post:  10 Bible Verses About Investing in Others

  • Gift of Encouragement

Barnabas son of encouragement, reveals true encouragement with far more than just kind words. The spiritual gift of encouragement is when what we do and say draws others closer to the Lord. Barnabas demonstrated this through his actions in giving his finances, time, friendship, and service to the Lord.

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word,” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

33 thoughts on “Barnabas – Is Encouragement More Than Kind Words?”

  1. You’re right that encouragement isn’t just about words. It often includes a more tangible act as well. Thanks for reminding me of this today. It’s been such a crazy year that my ways to encourage others seem limited, but there are always multiple ways when God is involved!

  2. I agree–kind words are wonderful, but sometimes God wants us to take another step. I was just reading an article about how easy it is to promote we “love the world” or mankind in a big way–but then we neglect those ways right in front of us.

  3. Thank you for describing how encouragement can be more than kind words. I love the verse from Acts: “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.” What a statement about how we should live our lives today – for each other.

  4. This is such a good post. Barnabas >>> “He started with a servant heart, willing to respond to the immediate need before him, and he went on from strength to strength.” Praying I can do the same right where I am.

  5. This is something that has been on my heart and I’ve really had a focus on recently…
    A recent example is when a friend (with 7 kids: 3 biological, 3 adopted at different times from foster care, 1 foster care baby) came down with COVID. I sprang to action to 1) round up as many prayer warriors as I could and 2) to prepare a bunch of food for the family. I didn’t really have the time for all the extra cooking and delivering the boxes out to their new home 20’ish minutes away (one direction) and our grocery budget did in no way allow for this – but my husband and I gave it to God knowing that this was HIS will for stretching my time and blowing our grocery budget. We have to believe that He is faithful to provide all our needs and will ensure that giving beyond what our worldly view might deem reasonable will not drag us under but rather we will be rewarded greatly for being obedient.
    Thank you for this beautiful post – we need our social media feeds flooded with encouragement and calls to action just like this!

  6. They say that “talk is cheap.” It is great to speak words that build others up with encouragement, but if you want to really see someone’s priorities, just take a peak into their checkbook or bank statement. We need to make an impact with our time, talent, and treasure. Great reminder!
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

  7. We had an I tersti g discussion in Biblr study about the difference between encouragement and flattery! And how to be encouraging while also discerning and truthful when we must shed light on a difficult situation. A good word here! Blessings!

    1. That is such a good point, flattery does not build up our faith and sometimes the truly encouraging words may not always be easy to here….Thank you for responding 🙂

  8. There is a word in Hebrew…chesed. It is loving kindness and it can be seen quite often in reference to the Lord’s love for us. But one of the things that characterizes chesed is showing loving kindness when there is no expectation of anything in return. One of the greatest acts of chesed in Judaism is caring for a corpse upon death because a corpse can do nothing in return. Many times we offer encouragement or give to people because it makes US feel good. I hope we can all develop the trait of chesed and give because He commands us to care for others, not because we feel we have to or expect accolades or recognition. Great post!! Thank you for sharing it!

    1. That was so interesting, I had read of the Hebrew word ‘chesed’ as sometimes it is translated mercy and sometimes loving-kindness – but I had not realised that depth of meaning of ‘action with no expectation of return’, which adds another dimension! Thank you for responding, appreciated.

  9. This was such a wonderful post. Thank you for this insightful look at Barnabas and how he was an encourager. Love the questions you posed to us too!

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