“Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are ye?” These were the words of an evil spirit to some would-be exorcists in Acts 19. But in a different context, they can also apply to the thousands of names that even devout Bible students might not recognize without a little refresher course. These people didn’t have the starring roles or impressive reputations. They were the support teams, backup squads, and faithful helpers that allowed those big names to do the big things they did. Barnabas was one of those faithful nobodies. There is a lot we can learn from him since most of us are nobodies too.
“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
The Name Barnabas
Barnabas is mentioned some 33 times in the New Testament starting in Acts 4:36. His given name was “Joses.” But the Apostles renamed him Barnabas, which the King James Bible version interprets as the “son of consolation.”
In the Strong’s Concordance, the name Barnabas is G921. The prefix “bar” means “son of,” and the root “nabas” means “prophecy.” When we look at the description of the gift of prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14:3, we can see how these go together. “But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.”
In fact, the word consolation has an English definition of “one who provides comfort.” In Greek, it is “paraklēsis,” Strong’s Concordance number G3874. It means comfort, consolation, exhortation, and entreaty. The word sounds a lot like “Paraclete.” That’s the English translation for “paraklétos,” the word for the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, Advocate, Helper. The Apostles no doubt recognized the gifts that the Holy Spirit had given him to minister to the saints.
Barnabas’ Missionary Career
“For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith…”Acts 11:24a
Barnabas began his life as a Levite living in Cyprus. We know that he was cousin to John Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark. Tradition also has it that he was one of the seventy disciples Jesus sent out in Luke 10:1. Like Paul, He was a Jew who was born and trained in a pagan country which helped him in his missions to the Gentiles. In fact, that may have been a big part of the reason that the Apostles sent him to the city of Antioch (“Syrian Antioch”), the place believers were first called “Christians.”
It was located about 300 miles north of Jerusalem and had just been radically evangelized by some Jews from his home country of Cypress. In a sense, he was sent to see if the Gentile converts were “the real deal.” Acts 11:23 says that Barnabas saw the grace of God and, true to his name, exhorted and encouraged them to continue in the faith.
Things went well in Antioch for Barnabas. In fact, so well that he reached out to Paul to help him (Acts 11:25). Some scholars believe the two men first met when they were both being taught by Gamaliel. They even theorize that Barnabas had actually tried to convert Paul (then Saul) at that time. When he saw that Paul had come to know Christ and was preaching the Gospel, Barnabas was the one who vouched for him to the Apostles in Acts 9:27.
Barnabas and Saul
At Barnabas’ request, Paul came to Antioch and worked with the church there for about a year before their first official mission as a team.
- Carried a money bag to Jerusalem when famine was prophesied and a collection was taken up at the church of Antioch (Acts 11:30).
- Brought John Mark back from Jerusalem with them to Antioch as an assistant (Acts 12:25).
- Were called by the Holy Spirit and commissioned by the church at Antioch as the first known “missionaries” in Church history (Acts 13:2).
- Visited many cities, evangelizing both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 13:4 – Acts 14:21a). Note: In Acts 13:13, the Bible mentions that John Mark left the party and returned to Jerusalem.
- Revisited those same cities on their way back to Syrian Antioch where they took a long rest (Acts 14:21b – 14:28).
- Were called to the Council of Jerusalem to testify about their work converting Gentiles. (There was a great question whether Gentiles could be converted to Christ without first becoming Jews through circumcision and following the Law of Moses. James, the half-brother of Jesus, oversaw the council and ruled in Acts 15:19 that Gentiles need not convert.) (Acts 15:2).
- Returned to Syrian Antioch to report their findings and brought with them church leaders Barsabas and Silas who were sent with them to verify the council’s findings (Acts 15:22).
- Went their separate ways in a contention over whether John Mark should travel with them back to the churches that they had planted before (Acts 15:39-40).
Map is from Free Bible Images.
Be Like Barnabas
1. Pass Your Tests. Give Your All.
When we first meet Barnabas in Acts 4:36-37, it’s in the context of his great gift to the Apostles for the work of the Church. As a Levite, he was not allotted land in Israel. He could, however, own land as a private individual in other areas. His generous gift of the entire sale price of the property is in stark contrast to Ananias and Sapphira. They kept back a portion of the proceeds of theirs in Acts 5. And unlike the rich young ruler (from Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18), Barnabas sold what he had and followed Christ with his life.
Many times, the Lord will put choices in our paths. Will we choose to do things our way or His way? Will we sacrifice what we can’t keep on earth to gain the things that will never be taken away in glory? Barnabas forsook the things of this world to be used of the Lord. This was a gesture that the Apostles would not forget. They later chose him for service and sent him as their representative to Antioch.
2. Be Loyal. Advocate for Others.
The very next verse where we see Barnabas mentioned is in Acts 9:27. Saul, who had been persecuting the church, had been converted to Christ. He sought to join with the Apostles, but they were afraid of him. But, Barnabas spoke up for Saul. He took him before the Apostles and testified to his great boldness for the cause of Christ. Because of Barnabas’ standing in the congregation, the Apostles believed him and accepted Saul.
Later, in Acts 15:37, Barnabas again stood up for a fellow believer. This time it was for his cousin, John Mark. When Paul refused to take John Mark on the next missionary journey to check on the churches they had planted, Barnabas didn’t back down. The Bible doesn’t tell us details of the dispute except to say that it involved John Mark’s early departure on their first journey. But we can clearly see Barnabas’ loyalty and his refusal to give up on his cousin. Barnabas and John Mark went to Cypress, and Paul took Silas to check on the churches. Notably, at the end of his life in 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul requested that Timothy take John Mark with him and said that he was “profitable to me for the ministry.”
Stand Up for Others
In both cases, Barnabas was a loyal friend. He stood up for others in situations that might have gone very differently if he had not. How long might it have taken for Paul to earn the Apostles’ trust without Barnabas’ intervention? What if Barnabas had also “given up” on John Mark instead of continuing to mentor him? Would he have been restored to Paul’s ministry for use in the Kingdom? Would he have been too discouraged to write the Gospel of Mark?
Now think about our own lives. Even among the most devout Christians, problems and misunderstandings can occur. None of us has arrived at perfection yet. We make mistakes, are chastened of the Lord, and strive for the mastery the next time. But in the meantime, hurts can happen. Do we give people the benefit of the doubt, or are we quick to judge and accuse? Do we edify and encourage or gossip? What a difference we could make if we would be loyal advocates for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
3. Go Where You’re Sent.
Barnabas went where he was sent. He was sent to:
- Antioch to check on Gentile converts in Acts 11:22.
- Jerusalem to bring the offering for famine relief in Acts 11:30.
- Various cities on a mission trip with Paul in Acts 13:2.
- The Council of Jerusalem to testify about Gentile conversions in Acts 15:2.
In Isaiah 6:8 it says, “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then said I, ‘Here am I; send me.’ Both Isaiah and Barnabas were willing to go where the Lord would send them.
When was the last time you prayed for God to send you? Most people are not called to be missionaries to other countries, but the Lord can send us to the grocery store on a “mission” for Him. He can arrange “divine appointments” in our everyday lives so that we, too, can be a blessing to others and do exploits for the Lord.
4. Encourage and Exhort Others.
When Barnabas arrived in Antioch for the first time and found the new Gentile converts, he took the time to encourage them. Acts 11:23 says, “Who, when he 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.” Imagine being one of the first Gentile converts to follow the Jewish Messiah. It was such a radical idea at the time. What a joy it must have been for them when Barnabas, a Jew sent from the Apostles, showed up to verify God’s grace and inspire them to continue in it.
Also, when Barnabas and Paul were expelled from the city of Antioch in Pisidia, they encouraged themselves in the Lord. Acts 13:51-52 says, “But they shook off the dust of their feet against them and came unto Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.”
Even after they were kicked out of Iconium and Lystra, they still didn’t quit. They then went to Derbe. Acts 14:21-22 says, “And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
Be An Encouragement
Whether their brothers and sisters were doing well (Acts 11:23), horribly persecuted (Acts 13:51-52), or just trying to keep on keeping on (Acts 14:21-22), Barnabas and Paul took time to encourage the brethren.
Recently, my pastor mentioned that in his over 40 years of ministry, he had never in his life seen so many Christians who needed encouragement. Do you know someone who is doing well and seeing great victory in his/her ministry or walk? Do you know someone who has faced defeat or difficulty? How about people who are just trying to live the Christian walk faithfully? There are so many opportunities to encourage fellow believers if we will just take the time to do it. Pray and ask the Lord today to lay someone on your heart who might need it.
5. Be Your Best Barnabas.
When you start to study it, it’s amazing how many times the Bible gives Barnabas top billing at first when mentioning the duo. Until about Acts 13:13, the Bible says, “Barnabas and Saul/Paul.” After that, except for a couple of verses, the pair is referred to as “Paul and Barnabas” or even “Paul and company.” Even though Barnabas was the one who vouched for Paul to the Apostles and recruited him into the church at Antioch, at some point, Paul’s leadership must have become evident. Still, in all the accounts of the time the pair spent together, there is no record of jealousy or leadership disputes.
We must remember that we can’t all be Paul. He was mentioned 239 times in the Bible and wrote some 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament. But without Barnabas, he would have had a much different journey.So, when you see others getting more attention, more authority, or even more missions for God, remember that every person is important in the job he/she is called to do for the Lord. If we pray fervently and stay in our lanes, God… Click To Tweet
Barnabas was one of those faithful nobodies in the Bible. An early apostle for Christ, according to Acts 14:14, he made a big difference in the life of Paul and won and encouraged many converts to Christianity. He gave his all, was a loyal advocate for others, went where he was sent, encouraged others, and never begrudged the success of his fellow laborers. He was a great example for us to follow today.
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