Barnabas: The Man Who Encouraged Others.


Lesson Focus: This lesson will help you learn how you can encourage other believers.

Be Generous: Acts 4:36-37.

[36]  Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus,  [37]  sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  [ESV]

An example of such giving is a Hellenistic Jewish believer named Joseph, also known as Barnabas to the apostles. A Hellenistic Jew was one who grew up in and was influenced by Greek culture. Barnabas’ Greek identity emerges from his roots in Cyprus. The Jews settled the island of Cyprus during the Ptolemaic period (after 330 BC) but were expelled in AD 117 after rebelling. Barnabas most likely was born there or his family came from there. His religious roots are indicated by the fact that he is a Levite, one of only three references to a Levite in the New Testament. Levites were often wealthy and very well educated, but not all were priests. Generally, Levites were not to own land. Exceptions, however, existed in the Old Testament, and life for Levites was different by the first century. Levites served in the temple, keeping watch over the gates, policing the area, instructing, and copying the Torah. Joseph is a very common name, which may explain why the apostles called him Barnabas. It is also not unusual for a person to bear two names. The meaning of Barnabas, "son of encouragement’, well summarizes the way Barnabas will function in this book, as he will embrace Paul’s conversion, minister with him, and be an evangelist. He is referred to twenty-three times in Acts. He will be well qualified for a mission to Gentiles, since he came from one of these Gentile areas. Part of the function of this unit is to introduce him to Luke’s audience. He surely is one of Luke’s heroes.

In sum, this unit testifies to the community’s mutual care and the concrete expression of its unity in the voluntary pooling of resources on behalf of the community. These resources are used for the care of those in need. This meeting of needs is a theme that will surface here and there in Acts. The unity of heart and soul in this community is transparent. Not only do its members declare the word of God powerfully; they also make sure that each one in the community has access to everyday needs. Community life means both mission and mutual care. These occur because people care about one another and the cause they share. They see their obligation to God, even their worship, to be reflected in respect for other believers, what 1 John 2 calls a love for the brethren. Unity does not come naturally because we often like to go our own way. But to those who share the goal of reflecting the unity and reconciliation that Jesus brings, there is a desire to be sure that His body, the church, reflects His goals through concrete means. But communities are often build on the leading example of an important individual. In our account, this is Barnabas. In Acts he cares for the poor, gives of his resources, welcomes Paul when others are skeptical, encourages him in ministering alongside him, leads a mission in a way that takes the initiative of engagement, and testifies about the work of God to those outside and within the community. He is what we call a rounded character in literary terms, as we see him in various situations, almost always in a positive light. It is no wonder this community did so well with the example of servant leadership Barnabas gave. Luke holds him up as a disciple whose example can be followed.

Take Risks by Reaching Out to Others: Acts 9:26-28.

[26]  And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.  [27]  But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.  [28]  So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.  [ESV]

In Jerusalem, Saul’s conversion meets with skepticism when he tries to join the disciples. It is not clear whether the report about Saul has not made it back to Jerusalem or whether once the report is received it is viewed with skepticism, especially if this Jerusalem visit is delayed by several years. At any rate, the Christians of Jerusalem are afraid of him when he first arrives. They remember what he did earlier. Barnabas speaks up for Saul before the apostles, explaining Saul’s vision and bold preaching for Jesus. The expression is took him and brought him to the apostles. The idea of taking him here has the force of taking him under his wing. The verb used for Saul’s preaching means to speak freely, openly, or fearlessly. It is one of two defenses Barnabas uses for Saul. Barnabas also explains how the Lord called Saul. Only someone of his stature and respect could bring the church to lay aside its fears. Barnabas will be a key companion of Saul later in Acts but will separate from him in 15:37-40 over John Mark. He is an example of someone who works for the church’s unity and reconciliation. 

Disciple Believers: Acts 11:19-26.

[19]  Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.  [20]  But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.  [21]  And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.  [22]  The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  [23]  When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,  [24]  for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.  [25]  So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,  [26]  and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.  [ESV]

[19-21]  Luke looks at the ministry of those scattered in Acts 8:1-4 as a result of persecution or tribulation. Some of the scattered believers go only to Jews while others minister also to Greeks. And the word has now spread beyond Samaria to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. These locales had important Jewish communities. Phoenicia was the Mediterranean seacoast area of Syria, with Tyre and Sidon as its main cities. It was one hundred miles long and normally fifteen miles wide. Cyprus, an island to the south of Asia Minor, was one hundred miles west of northwestern Syria. It was the original home of Barnabas and had a large Jewish colony. Antioch is the second key church that Luke discusses. Its ministry becomes a point of focus for Acts. Antioch is on the Orontes River and located in what is now southeastern Turkey. It was the third largest city in the Greco-Roman world, with as high as six hundred thousand inhabitants of which perhaps twenty-five thousand were Jews. Antioch reflected a marriage of oriental and Hellenistic life with Greeks, Syrians, Phoenicians, Jews, Arabs, Persians, Egyptians, and Indians making up the population. The church with its practice and doctrine represented a distinctly countercultural way of life. It was a city full of religious activity and presence, where Judaism functioned as an exception in clinging to the one true God. In this context, the church in Antioch emerged and reached out into the larger world with its own mission. This is a mission independent of Jerusalem and shows the vibrancy of the church in Antioch. The mission meets with success because the hand of the Lord was with them. God’s hand refers to His power. Note the flow of action. Enablement comes from God. Significant numbers respond. The Hellenists turn and believe. Luke uses this as proof that the Gentiles have been called to share in the grace of Christ along with the Jews since it is a result of the work of God. This verse warns us that whatever work and effort ministers of God put forth, it will be useless and ineffectual unless God is at work in their ministry. Accordingly let us not attempt anything, confident in our own abilities and diligence, but rather let us always recognize our dependence upon the work of God in and through our efforts.

[22-24]  When the church in Jerusalem hears about the growth in Antioch, it sends Barnabas to investigate. Barnabas observes the grace of God and rejoices. He encourages the community to be steadfast in purpose of heart and remain in the Lord. This expression has two important parts. In the first part, steadfastness is the main idea, as the term refers to having a purpose or resolve about something. The second part is the idea of remaining or abiding in the Lord, a call to remain true or faithful to the Lord. Barnabas is commended as a messenger who is a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. No one else is called good in Acts. Barnabas gave his goods to help the Jerusalem church in Acts 4:36-37 and supported Saul in 9:27. Now he encourages the new saints in Antioch. The church needs people like him, since they often can do delicate jobs of mending and reconciliation. Luke’s descriptions of Barnabas support the portrait of him as a person of maturity, promoting maturity in others and unity in the Church. In the meantime, the church is growing, as a sizeable crowd (great many people) is added to the Lord, making the development of disciples a major concern.

[25-26]  Barnabas’ next action was to go to Tarsus to look for Saul, for Tarsus was Saul’s home town to which the Jerusalem believers had sent him, when his life was threatened [9:28-30]. That was seven or eight years previously. What he had been doing meanwhile we do not know, although in his letter to the Galatians he seems to indicate that he was preaching in Syria and Cilicia. We cannot help admiring Barnabas’ humility in wanting to share the ministry with Saul, and his sense of strategy also. He must have known of Saul’s calling to be the apostle to the Gentiles [9:15,27], and it may well have been the Gentile conversions in Antioch which made him think of Saul. Barnabas brought Saul to Antioch and then for a whole year they met with the church, most of whose members were young and uninstructed believers, and they taught great numbers of people. They must have taught about Christ, making sure that the converts knew both the facts and the significance of His life, death, resurrection, exaltation, Spirit-gift, present reign and future coming.

Help People Learn About Christ: Acts 13:14-15,42-43.

[14]  but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.  [15]  After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it." [42]  As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath.  [43]  And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. [ESV]

[13-15]  In Perga, Barnabas and Paul suffered a setback. John Mark left them to return to Jerusalem. Luke announces the fact in a matter-of-fact manner and appears to apportion no blame. But it becomes clear in 15:38 that he sees Mark as having deserted them. Later, however, Mark recovered and again became helpful to Paul in his ministry [see 2 Tim. 4:11]. Barnabas and Paul moved on to Antioch in Pisidia which was the governing and military center of the southern half of Galatia. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue. The synagogue service will have begun with a recitation of the Shema and some prayers, continued with two lessons, one from the Pentateuch and the other from the prophets, followed by an expository sermon, and concluded with a blessing. Luke now provides his first full summary of one of Paul’s sermons. Although some Gentile God-fearers are present, it is essentially an address to a Jewish audience. Luke will later give two samples of Paul’s sermons to Gentiles, that is, to the pagans of Lystra and the philosophers of Athens. But now the whole atmosphere is Jewish. The day is the Sabbath, the venue is the synagogue, the lessons are from the Law and the Prophets, the listeners are men of Israel, and the theme is how God has brought to Israel Jesus as Savior, as He promised. Luke is evidently anxious to demonstrate that Paul’s message to the Jews was substantially the same as Peter’s; that Paul did not turn to the Gentiles until after he had offered the gospel to the Jews and been rebuffed; and that, far from being an innovator, Paul was declaring only what God had promised in Scripture and had now fulfilled in Jesus.

[42-43]  The people are urging Paul and Barnabas to come back and preach more about this on the next Sabbath. Some, then, are interested in hearing more about Jesus. Many in the crowd are uncommitted at this point, but the next verse indicates that many others respond. These include both Jews and devout converts or those outside Judaism who now worship at the synagogue. There is a slight difference between this second group and the "God-fearers" mentioned in 13:16 and 26. God-fearers worship Israel’s God but do not become circumcised, receive baptism, or offer a sacrifice, whereas proselytes take the final step. These non-Jews have embraced the God of Israel. Now they are responding to the message of God’s grace. Paul urges them to remain faithful in that grace.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Describe the cultural background and main character traits of Barnabas. Note in our lesson, the various ways God used both Barnabas’ background and character to minister to His church.

2.         What key role did Barnabas play in the life and ministry of Paul? What does it tell us about Barnabas that he went and got Paul to help with the ministry at Antioch?

3.         The church desperately needs people like Barnabas. People, who in their humility and love for God, are willing to encourage and promote the work of others for the greater benefit of God’s church. How can you be a "Barnabas" in your church? Our pastors, church leaders, teachers, etc., need people who will encourage and support them in their ministries like Barnabas did with Paul.  


Acts, Darrell Bock, Baker.

The Message of Acts, John Stott, Intervarsity.

Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts