Son of Encouragement

Joseph of Cyprus, better known as Barnabas, is first introduced in the Book of Acts selling some land he owned and laying it at the apostle’s feet to share with all of the other believers (Acts 4: 36-37). Luke translates Barnabas to mean “son of encouragement”. And as we see through the other 20+ references to Barnabas in the NT, he certainly lives up to that name, and in doing so, becomes a role model for us today.

It was Barnabas who brokered the first meeting between the apostles and Paul (Acts 9: 27-28). Barnabas put his own reputation on the line to be a champion for Paul when he needed it the most. Remember, the disciples only knew him as Saul at that point—the great persecutor of The Way, so they were naturally afraid of him and weary of his conversion. It was Barnabas who paved the way for Paul’s acceptance as an apostle.

When Barnabas went to Antioch (Acts 11:22-24), he saw a large group of new believers and through his encouragement and teaching, added even more converts to the young church. Rather than basking in his own success, he sends for Paul so they can both share in the teaching and development of the Antioch church. This is an example of selfless humility in recognizing other’s needs before your own: Barnabas knew of the zeal of Paul and how he could be used to strengthen the believers there. Barnabas provided the initial impetus for the mission work of Paul (Acts 11:25-26).

It was Barnabas who saw something special in John Mark—even at the expense of keeping the peace between him and Paul. Mark had shown signs of immaturity in the first missionary journey of Barnabas and Paul, and ended up leaving them at Pamphylia (Acts 15:36-41). When Paul decided to revisit churches the team had planted on their first travels, Barnabas desired to give Mark another chance. However, Paul refused, believing it would be unwise to take Mark with them, and thus they split: Barnabas and Mark towards Cyprus, and Paul taking Silas through Syria and Cilicia.

The faith of Barnabas in John Mark had a very dramatic effect on church history. By keeping Mark active in ministry and encouraging him, Barnabas helped mature the young disciple and gave him a second chance to shine in the work of the Lord. Paul would later even acknowledge Mark’s usefulness (Philemon 1:24; 2 Timothy 4:11).

There is no solid proof that Barnabas directly penned any of the New Testament. But the men he nurtured wrote a third of it: Paul is credited by many scholars as having written 13 of the epistles of the New Testament and John Mark wrote one of our four gospels, a gospel likely influenced by the apostle Peter.

So what can we learn from Barnabas?

Barnabas, along with Paul, set the standard for selflessness for the cause of encouragement. Their story in Acts 14:21-25 signifies that even in the face of returning to where they faced many threats and attacks, the encouragement of others was their only priority. No matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable the task may seem, we must always support new believers who need our help and encouragement.

We must choose our words wisely. The Bible states many times about how words can be either edifying or destructive (c.f. Proverbs 15:4; 18:21; Romans 14:19; Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 4:6; James 3:6; 9-10; 1 Peter 3:10).

Can you be a Barnabas? If you are a child of God, you have the same resources that Barnabas had. Barnabas learned to treat others the way God treated him. He knew the Source of encouragement, and he became a wonderful imitator of his Lord.

Let us all strive to be such as this.