At the beginning of the life of the early church we read of one man who stands out because of his generosity towards the poor. This was a man from Cyprus, a Levite, called Joseph. He was recognized by the Apostles as a man with the gift of encouragement. But who is Barnabas in the Bible, wasn’t he the man who was known as an encourager?
Who is Barnabas?
In Acts chapter four, we read that in the early church no one was in need. There was such unity among the believers that they were willing to share all that they had. Those who owned land or property sold their possessions to provide for the poor. They would bring the money they gained to the Apostles to be distributed to those in need.
“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
Barnabas Means Son of Encouragement
Joseph of Cyprus was a Levite who had converted to be a follower of Jesus and was a member of the early church in Jerusalem. He sold a field that he owned and gave the money to help feed the poor. 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.
This is our first encounter with Barnabas the encourager. But to really understand who is Barnabas in the Bible we need to read on through the book of Acts. He appears in the narrative four to five times, always in a supporting role working to encourage others.
Through Barnabas’ story, we can see the bigger picture of God at work weaving His plan together. The significance of the things we are asked to do now might not always be obvious. 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 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 that he sold 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. Barnabas was willing to give what he had to bring consolation, help and comfort, to others.
This first account of Barnabas is a testimony about the gift of giving generously. The person 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, that always has a cost.Tweet
Barnabas – A Friend to Saul
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 on the road to Damascus.
The believers in Jerusalem did not seem to be aware of his 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 Saul came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles….
“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.”Acts 9:27
Barnabas acted as an intermediary, he did not have to, he chose to. He brought Saul to the Apostles and acted as his spokesman 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.
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.
Barnabas – An Emissary
Four to five years later due to the persecution of the church the gospel had started to spread out from Jerusalem. (Acts 11:19-30).
Some men 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 in 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, and mostly on foot. Walking about 20 miles a day it would take 15 days to get to Antioch. This was no small task!
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 the Gospel Teacher
Barnabas realized that there was a need for teaching in this new church and he remembered Saul. Saul had left Jerusalem about five years earlier, for his own safety, and gone back to his hometown of Tarsus. But 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 – Trusted Envoy
During Barnabas and Saul’s time in Antioch God spoke a prophetic word to the church. A severe famine was coming which would spread throughout the Roman world. The new Christians in Antioch decided to provide help for those living in Judea with a generous gift. They sent the gift to the elders of the church in Jerusalem with Barnabas and Saul.
Once their mission to deliver the gift to Jerusalem was completed Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch. This time they brought John Mark with them.
Barnabas The Missionary
After over a year in Antioch, Barnabas and Saul were appointed by the Lord to work as itinerant evangelists. (Acts 13). They became 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, went to 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.
It was the conversion of the Roman Proconsul in Paphos that brought a turning point for Saul. From here on he spoke with a new authority – his ministry to the Gentiles had finally began.
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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. They travelled for another two years until finally they returned to Antioch to report to the church the work that God had done. The door of faith was opening 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.
Barnabas did what he had always done – he encouraged someone else. He chose to take John Mark and gave him another opportunity. The result of the disagreement was two missionary trips!
The Gift of Encouragement
Barnabas was a man with the gift of encouragement. He reveals to us that true encouragement is more than just kind words. The spiritual gift of encouragement is when our actions, and words, draw others closer to the Lord. Barnabas demonstrated this throughout his life by giving generously of his finances, time, friendship, and service to the Lord. He inspires us to be an encourager and willing to serve the Lord wholeheartedly with whatever task is laid before us!
“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 2:16-172 Thessalonians 2:16-17
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