Barnabas: Ongoing Encouragement


Week of November 5, 2017

The Point:  Christ-centered living chooses encouragement, not criticism.

Barnabas.  “The name Barnabas means ‘son of encouragement’. He was one of the first members of the Jerusalem church formed after the Day of Pentecost. He set an example of selfless generosity in keeping with his name [Acts 4:36]. Barnabas’s life was soon interwoven with that of the apostle Paul. He was the first person in the Jerusalem church to risk contact with Paul after his miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus [Acts 9:27]. Later, the Jerusalem elders entrusted Barnabas with a mission to Antioch to check out a Gentile church that had formed there [Acts 11:22]. Barnabas teamed with Paul on the first missionary journey reported in Acts. [Acts 13], and after he and Paul separated, Barnabas led his own missionary team [Acts 15:39]. Whenever we see Barnabas portrayed in Scripture, he is seen in relationship with others. Barnabas was not a loner but found his fulfillment in ministering to others.

Barnabas’s relationship with the first church [Acts 4:36]. Luke reports that the first Christians in Jerusalem were bound together in such love that they not only met and prayed together, but also sacrificed to meet each other’s needs. Our first introduction to Barnabas is as one of those who having land, sold it, and brought the money to the apostles to be used to care for the destitute. This was necessary because, while Jewish widows and orphans were cared for by a fund established at the temple, those who became Christians were quickly cut off from this major source of support.

Barnabas’s relationship with the apostle Paul. Barnabas was intimately linked with Paul in the Book of Acts, and he played a significant role in the apostle’s acceptance in Jerusalem and in Paul’s calling to ministry. Barnabas reached out to Paul [Acts 9:27]. Paul had been actively persecuting Christians when he was converted. When Paul returned to Jerusalem from Damascus, the Christians were unwilling to contact him, afraid that his conversion was a trick to infiltrate their movement and betray its leaders. Barnabas was the one who first reached out to Paul and, convinced that Paul’s conversion was real, brought him into the fellowship of the church. Barnabas found Paul and invited him to minister [Acts 11:22]. When Barnabas was sent to Antioch to check out reports of a predominantly Gentile church there, he discovered a vital work of God. Barnabas stayed and became one of the leadership team of prophets and elders who guided the Antioch church. After a time, Barnabas realized that Paul’s gifts could be used in this situation, and Barnabas went to Tarsus to find him. Barnabas brought Paul with him to Antioch, and Paul became a member of the church’s leadership team. Galatians 2:1-13 tells something of the situation at Antioch and mentions Barnabas. Only there can the slightest criticism of Barnabas be found. Paul noted that even Barnabas temporarily withdrew from table fellowship with Gentile churches under the critical eye of Christian Pharisees visiting from Jerusalem.

Barnabas was with Paul on the first missionary journey [Acts 13-14]. Luke went into considerable detail about the adventures Barnabas and Paul shared on this mission trip. While initially Barnabas was the team’s leader, Paul’s gifts soon made it clear that he was to lead. Barnabas displayed no hint of any jealousy at this turn of events, and it is characteristic in these chapters for Luke to link Paul and Barnabas.

Barnabas and Paul argued for grace at the Jerusalem council [Acts 15]. When converted Pharisees argued that Gentile Christians must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses to be saved, Barnabas joined Paul at the Jerusalem council of the church in arguing for a salvation by grace totally apart from works.

Barnabas and Paul split up [Acts 15:35-39]. When the two planned a return visit to the churches they had founded, Barnabas wanted to take his cousin [Col. 4:10] John Mark along. Because Mark had abandoned the missionary team earlier, Paul refused to consider it. The disagreement was so sharp that, despite their years of friendship and shared ministry, the two separated and each set out with his own missionary team. Characteristically, Barnabas would risk Paul’s friendship on behalf of a young man who needed to be salvaged. John Mark was salvaged, and Paul was reconciled to him and, we assume, to Barnabas as well [see 2 Tim. 4:11].

Barnabas: an example for today. Barnabas is one of the most admirable men mentioned in the New Testament. He truly merited his name, Comforter or Encourager. His truly selfless commitment to ministry was an inspiration in his day and in ours. (1) Barnabas inspired us to give priority to people, not possessions. Barnabas quickly responded when Christian widows and orphans were refused food by temple authorities, and he sold his own land to meet the emergency need. (2) Barnabas inspires us to reach out to others who claim Christ even when we are unsure of their sincerity. Only Barnabas in the church at Jerusalem was willing to reach out to Saul after his conversion. The others may have been afraid that Saul was faking and would turn them over to the Jewish authorities. (3) Barnabas inspires us to draw promising young people into ministry. When Barnabas became a leader in the church at Antioch, he left to find Saul of Tarsus, and bring him to Antioch, where Paul’s gifts and talents were honed for greater future ministry. (4) Barnabas inspires us to take delight when our disciples surpass us. When Barnabas and Saul started on their first missionary journey, Barnabas was team leader. On the trip, it quickly became apparent that God had given Paul greater gifts, and the leadership passed to him. The two continued to serve together in complete harmony. (5) Barnabas inspires us to make a commitment to those whose flaws or past failures have led others to write them off. Barnabas’s investment in John Mark salvaged a young man who became a second-generation leader in the church whom God used to write the second gospel. It cost Barnabas significantly to break with his companion Paul over John Mark.”  [Richards, pp. 204-206].

The Example of Barnabas:  Acts 4:32-37.

[32] Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. [33] And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. [34] There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold [35] and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. [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]

“The believers enjoy a common life [4:32-37].  Luke has just recorded that, in answer to their prayers, the believers were freshly filled with the Holy Spirit [31]. The immediate result was that they continued to speak the word of God with boldness. With this we should perhaps link verses 33: with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, which was one of their primary apostolic responsibilities. Thus they ignored the Sanhedrin’s ban, and their witness was characterized by both boldness and power. Indeed, great grace was upon them all [33], an expression which may describe their wonderful spirit of generosity, or refer to the fact that they were held in high esteem, or be a more general statement that God’s grace was sustaining them. Luke does not leave it there, however. He is concerned to show that the fullness of the Spirit is manifest in deed as well as word, service as well as witness, love for the family as well as testimony to the world. So, just as after the first coming of the Spirit he describes the characteristics of the Spirit-filled community [2:42-47], so after they are again filled with the Spirit he provides a second description [4:32-37]. Moreover in both cases his emphasis is the same. All who believed, he begins, in 4:32 as in 2:44, formed a closely knit group. They were together [2:44], as they devoted themselves to the fellowship [2:42], and they were of one heart and soul [4:32]. This was fundamental solidarity of love which the believers enjoyed, and their economic sharing was but one expression of the union of their hearts and minds. Having portrayed the solidarity of love enjoyed by the Jerusalem church, Luke supplies his readers with two contrasting examples: Barnabas whose generosity and openness fulfilled the ideal [4:36-37] and Ananias and Sapphira whose greed and hypocrisy contradicted it [5:1-11]. Barnabas was actually the nickname which the apostles gave, on account of his helpfulness, to Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus [36]. He sold a field he owned, presumably in Cyprus, and laid the money at the apostles’ feet [37]. It was an act of liberality fully in keeping with his character as it later emerges in the Acts narrative. Luke deliberately introduces him here.”  [Stott, pp. 105-108].

Barnabas, the Encourager:  Acts 9:26-30.

[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. [29] And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. [30] And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. [ESV]

“[26-30]  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. 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’. Who and how many apostles are present is not stated, Galatians 1:18-19 mentions Paul seeing only Peter (and James), but this might mean in an extended private conversation. Another, more likely, option is that Peter represents all the apostles in this discussion, and thus to see him is to see the group. Galatians 1:18 puts this visit at fifteen days in duration. Barnabas uses two defenses for Saul before the apostles. First, Barnabas explains how the Lord called Saul on the road to Damascus. Second, Barnabas describes how Saul preached boldly in the name of the Lord. Only someone of Barnabas’s stature and respect could bring the church to lay aside its fears. Barnabas will be a key companion of Saul later in Acts [11:25-30; 12:25; chapters 13-14] 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. Saul is ministering in Jerusalem, again boldly contending for the gospel, taking on the Hellenistic Jews who executed Stephen and now seek to kill him. Saul addresses people in the name of the Lord. Saul and the Jerusalem church, including the apostles, are working together. The picture is of an ongoing campaign of bold evangelism. Saul apparently ministers only in the city, as Galatians 1:22 says. He is not known personally by the church of Judea, which may well mean the church of the larger region.”  [Bock, pp. 368-371].

The Church in Antioch:  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]

“Luke has written in 8:1 that, as a result of the persecution which broke out after Stephen’s martyrdom, they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles [8:1]. Now Luke resumes his narrative in 11:19. In both cases Luke represents this fanning out of believers as a Christian dispersion. In both cases the result was the same, namely that those who were scattered went about preaching the word [8:4], speaking the word [11:19]. And in both cases he leaves the evangelists unnamed, except for stating that they were not apostles [8:1] and mentioning Philip [8:5ff.]. Luke now shows how the outward movement of the gospel expanded in two ways, geographical and cultural. Geographically, the mission spread north beyond Judea and Samaria [8:1] as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch [11:19]. Culturally, the mission spread beyond Jews to Gentiles: 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 [11:20], that is, not now as the Christ, but as the Lord. Moreover their bold innovation was richly blessed by God, and the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord [11:21], in that combination of repentance and faith which is commonly called conversion. This new outreach took place in Antioch. News of this fresh development reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, much as they had previously heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God [8:14] and that the Gentiles also had received the word of God [11:1]. Luke seems to be hinting that they felt the need to assure themselves that all was well, in addition to helping nurture this young, multi-cultural church. This time they did not send an apostle, however. Instead they sent Barnabas to Antioch [11:22], who was known to be true to his name son of encouragement [4:36]. When he arrived in Antioch, he immediately saw for himself the evidence of the grace of God in the converts’ changed lives and new international community, and in consequence he both was glad, presumably expressing his joy in praise, and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose [11:23]. It was an exhortation both to perseverance and to whole-heartedness. Luke was obviously impressed with Barnabas’ Christian character, and attributed his ministry to it: for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith [11:24]. It is no wonder that a great number of people were brought to the Lord [11:24]. The verb for added in verse 24 has become for Luke an almost technical word for church growth. He used it twice in relation to the Day of Pentecost, first of the three thousand who were added that day [2:41] and then of the daily additions which followed [2:47]. Later he wrote of more and more men and women believing in the Lord and being added to the church [5:14], while in Syrian Antioch a great number of people were added [11:24]. It is important to note here that the additions are not just to the church but to the Lord. The divine passive of were added is used here with the sense that ‘the Lord added the people to the Lord’. When we see ‘the Lord adding to the Lord’, so that He is both subject and object, source and goal, of evangelism, we have to repent of all self-centered, self-confident concepts of the Christian mission. Barnabas’ next action was to go to Tarsus to look for Saul [11:25], 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. Some commentators have suggested that it was during this period that he suffered some of the physical persecutions to which he later referred [2 Cor. 11:23ff.], and was disinherited by his family. 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. At all events, when Barnabas found Saul, he brought him to Antioch, and then for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church, most of whose members were young and uninstructed believers, and 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. Is it because the word Christ was constantly on their lips that the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch [26]? Luke has so far referred to them as disciples [6:1], saints [9:13], brethren [1:16; 9:30], believers [10:45], those being saved [2:47] and the people of the Way [9:2]. Now it seems to have been the unbelieving public of Antioch, famed for their wit and nicknaming skill, who, supposing that Christ was a proper name rather than a title (the Christ of Messiah), coined the epithet Christian. It was probably more familiar and jocular than derisory. Although it does not seem to have caught on initially, since elsewhere it appears only twice in the New Testament [Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16], it at least emphasized the Christ-centered nature of discipleship.”  [Stott, pp. 201-205].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Imagine that you were a member of the Jerusalem church. You hear news of Saul’s conversion and that he is returning to Jerusalem. How would you react to this news? Would you welcome Saul, the former prosecutor of believers, into your church? Would you have had the courage of Barnabas? Are there people in your church today who need a friend like Barnabas?
  2. Why did the apostles send Barnabas to the church in Antioch? What did Barnabas see and do in Antioch? Why did he go and bring Paul to Antioch? What did Paul and Barnabas do to strengthen the church in Antioch? What can we learn from the church in Antioch that can be applied to our church today?
  3. What do we learn about Barnabas from these passages? What type of person was he? Why did the church leaders in Jerusalem trust him enough to send him to Antioch? What does his actions in Antioch reveal about his faith and character? What five things about Barnabas does Richards say we can seek to apply to our lives?


Acts, Darrell Bock, BENT, Baker.

The Message of Acts, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

Acts, Derek Thomas REC, P&R Publishing.

Every Man in the Bible, Larry Richards, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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