Barnabas is one of the unsung heroes of the New Testament. Peter and Paul often seem to grab the limelight, and the Book of Acts is built around the amazing breakthrough of the gospel that was accomplished through them. Yet Barnabas appears at a number of critical points, usually to oil the wheels and enable the church to move forward and flourish even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
In Acts 4:32-37 he makes his first appearance. We find out that his name means “Son of Encouragement”. His first recorded action is to show enormous generosity through selling some property and presenting the money to the apostles. He had tasted Christ’s generosity and love through the cross and as a consequence he was moved to show warm-hearted and practical love to others. What an encouragement it would have been to have Barnabas within the fellowship!
We also see in both Acts 9:27 and 15:36ff how it was great to have Barnabas as a friend. In one case he stood up for Paul when he was on his own in Jerusalem and facing potential rejection by the church in Jerusalem, who were suspicious as to the genuiness of his conversion. In the other case he stood up for Mark who was facing rejection at the hands of Paul for his apparent failure on the first missionary journey. In both cases Barnabas came alongside the underdog and provided support and encouragement which made all the difference to both individuals in the long run. What an encouragement it would have been to have Barnabas at your side!
Finally we see Barnabas playing a pivotal role in the church in Antioch in Acts 11:19-26. The church had been established with a large number of Gentiles turning to Christ. A young sapling could easily be buffeted by the storms of false teaching or immoral behaviour. So, Barnabas was sent to stabilise, strengthen and encourage so that the new plant could flourish and continue to grow. Barnabas achieved this, under God, through his own teaching ministry as well as through enlisting the assistance of Paul. Yet it would appear that it was also his godly character which provided the encouragement needed for them to thrive. Indeed the description of Barnabas as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (11:24) seems to be a deliberate echo of the description of the Lord Jesus Christ in Acts 10:38. What an encouragement it would have been to have Barnabas both pointing to Christ and modelling Christ to you day by day to help you grow!
The word “encouragement” can be translated “comfort”. Job’s “comforters” did nothing of the sort – instead they brought the chill wind of legalism and condemnation. In contrast Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement was filled with the Spirit of Encouragement (see John 14:16) in order to bring the warmth of encouragement to individuals and fellowships. What an encouragement it would be for us to have many more who fulfil that Barnabas role across our congregations in order to develop and strengthen the Lord’s work, to His praise and glory!