Barnabas: The Giver Who Encouraged Others

5 min

After the glorious days of Pentecost and the growth of the early Church, the Lord raised up a man who became a generous giver, a great encourager, and a loyal friend to the saints. His given name was Joses, but he was soon called Barnabas, a name which means, very fittingly, “the son of consolation or encouragement.”

Barnabas never wrote a book, although some scholars suggest that he may have been the writer of the Book of Hebrews. No record exists of Barnabas ever preaching a sermon. Nor, as far as the record goes, did Barnabas ever pastor a church or have a solo ministry of any kind. Rather, he is always linked with others and found humbly in the background.

However, Barnabas is important not for what he did but rather for those whom he influenced. There are times when influence is stronger than power or position. In fact, in a very real way, influence is power, and Barnabas had the power of encouragement, the power of example, and the ability to give gifts to the Church—gifts that would keep on giving.

Barnabas is first mentioned in Acts Chapter 4. The Church was young. This was a time when there were no seminaries, no church buildings, no mission boards, no programs, and no church funds in a bank. The Church was composed of men, women, boys, and girls who had repented of their sins, trusted in the Lord Jesus, and been baptized as followers of Christ. These believers were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they were ready to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.

From Cyprus, a bold Levite stepped forward to aid the Church by giving a gift that would enable believers to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission. “And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36–37). Barnabas’s generous gift was an early example of the charitable giving that continues today, still continuing after twenty centuries of advancing the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.

Barnabas had no assurance that his money would not be wasted. While it may have seemed that the infant church would be snuffed out by her powerful enemies, Barnabas still gave willingly and wholeheartedly. He asked for no purse strings. He did not ask for a spot on the church board. He “laid it at the apostles’ feet.”

Interesting to note is that Barnabas was a Levite. As a Levite, he was from the same tribe as Moses and Aaron. He would have had regular duties in the Temple in Jerusalem. Why had Barnabas left Cyprus and come to Jerusalem? When had this particular Temple worker come to know and trust in Jesus, the great High Priest? The duties of the Levites included preparing the lambs for sacrifice, lighting the menorah, baking the shewbread, and doing the menial tasks of carrying wood, animal carcasses, and ashes. Had Barnabas been there the night when, in the Temple courtyard, Jesus had said, “I am the light of the world”? Had Barnabas been present in the Temple when Jesus purged the courtyards of those that bought and sold? Had he witnessed the trial of Jesus? We do not know. One thing we do know, however: Barnabas was a wholehearted follower of Jesus.

Barnabas was the first to welcome Saul of Tarsus, the newly converted persecutor of the believers. According to Acts 9:26–27, “And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.”

When the church in Jerusalem selected a man to go to Antioch and determine whether or not the new Gentile converts were genuine or fake, they sent Barnabas. “Who, when he [Barnabas] came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord” (Acts 11:23–24). These simple words of praise recorded in Scripture are remarkable for their directness. Barnabas was “a good man,” and he was “full of the Holy Ghost.”

When Barnabas desired a helper in Antioch, he chose Saul of Tarsus, even journeying all the way to Saul’s native town on the southern coast of Asia Minor to find and encourage him to come to Antioch. This journey to seek out Saul revealed that Barnabas was a true giver—willing to give not only his money, but also his time to encourage others.

It is one thing to give money, time, and possessions to the cause of the Gospel. It is quite another to give of yourself. But that is exactly what Barnabas did. When the Holy Spirit called out two of the Christians at Antioch for the purpose of going on the first missionary journey, Barnabas and Saul were the ones selected. “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2).

Although we usually associate Saul, now known as the Apostle Paul, as the peerless leader of all the missionary journeys of the Book of Acts, Barnabas initially may actually have been the leader. The Gospel writer Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gave Barnabas’s name first when the pair were first mentioned. The two men began their journey by going to the island of Cyprus, Barnabas’s homeland. A few souls were saved there, including the Roman procurator, Sergius Paulus. Barnabas and Paul were accompanied at first by Barnabas’s nephew, a young man named John Mark.

As that particular journey progressed, Barnabas quietly receded into the background and Paul came to the forefront. When they reached Perga, on the southern coast of Turkey, the record was then given as “Paul and Barnabas.” At this point too, John Mark turned back and went home.

After the journey’s end, John Mark’s departure became a point of contention between Paul and Barnabas (see Acts 15:35–39). Good and faithful servants of God can sometimes disagree. Paul distrusted John Mark because of his desertion. Barnabas wanted to give the young man a second chance. Who was right? Well, perhaps both men were right. God richly blessed the labors of Paul and his new co-laborer, Silas.

God also blessed the efforts of Barnabas to encourage and strengthen John Mark, although the ministry of Barnabas faded quietly into the background. It is abundantly clear that Paul and Barnabas later reconciled. Paul spoke warmly of Barnabas in his letters to the Corinthian church. But perhaps the greatest credit that Paul ever bestowed upon his old friend, Barnabas, were these words from Paul’s last epistle to Timothy, “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (II Timothy 4:11). All who have ever read the Gospel of Mark have Barnabas to thank for encouraging a young man to follow Christ and try again.

Barnabas was a true giver who invested in the lives of others by his prayers, gifts, encouragement, and personal example. More men like him are needed today—men who are “full of the Holy Ghost and of faith.”

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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