The apostle Paul so eclipsed his Christian contemporaries that Barnabas is little more than a name to most of us. The first thing the Bible tells us about him is that he was a Levite from Cyprus who sold a field he owned and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Not only was he a generous man but we read that he was a thoroughly good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.
When Barnabas placed his faith in Christ, Saul was still breathing out threats and slaughter against all disciples of Christ. Then word sifted back to Jerusalem that this Christian-killer now claimed to have become a convert himself! With the blood of so many martyrs still on his hands, it is no wonder that disciples in Jerusalem were terrified of Saul.
Barnabas alone of all the disciples and apostles opened his door to Saul. Just as Saul’s name was now changed to Paul, Barnabas also believed his very character had been transformed by Christ. He stood up for Paul when others ostracized him and cast his past life in his face. Barnabas staked his reputation in Jerusalem and all his influence with the apostles on the belief that Paul’s conversion was not a clever ruse to infiltrate and destroy the Christian community.
Barnabas stood by Paul until he had so turned the tide in Paul’s favor that Peter actually took Paul to lodge with him in his own house. With Paul staying fifteen days under Peter’s roof and with James treating him with cautious confidence, Barnabas’ battle on his behalf was won. He whose name means “son of encouragement” had encouraged Paul with loyalty that is difficult to equal.
The scene now shifts from Jerusalem to Antioch, which was soon to eclipse Jerusalem as the true mother church of Christendom. The apostles’ preaching had an instantaneous and immense success at Antioch, but there also arose many doctrinal and disciplinary disputes, which were to be expected in the fledgling church. The heads of the church at Jerusalem chose Barnabas to go down, examine and, hopefully, settle the controversies in Antioch.
Reckoning that Antioch was very soon to hold the key to the spread of Christianity, Barnabas knew the vital importance of his mission. In all his knowledge of men, he knew of only one man who could handle the emergency at Antioch, and that man was Paul himself. There was immense risk in sending for Paul and bringing him to Antioch, but Barnabas was willing to take the risk and shoulder the responsibility of possible catastrophe if Paul were to fail or create a devastating uproar in the city.
Beginning in Antioch, Paul’s reputation began to supercede that of Barnabas, but humble conduct like that of Barnabas is always its own best reward. Well-placed loyalty yields greater loyalty in return, and it was the humble kindness and fearless loyalty of Barnabas that draws us to him and makes us also wish to be affirmers of others.
And finally it may have been Barnabas’ remarkable patience with others that created a temporary rift between himself and Paul. We will learn next of a young man who had failed in ministry. Paul hesitated to give him another chance, but Barnabas stuck by him, knowing how much he needed to be nurtured. Well done, great son of encouragement!
What can we learn from Barnabas?
Some are known as great preachers or theologians. Like Barnabas, others are a bit less conspicuous, quietly offering loyal encouragement and humble service. Barnabas will always stand as one example of those greatly beloved saints who are willing to go out on a limb for those who need support and friendship.
Bible Verses about Barnabas
Acts 4:36, 9:27, 11:22, 25, 30, 12:25, 13:1, 50, 14:12, 15:36, 39, 1 Corinthians 9:6, Gal. 2:1, 13, Colossians 4:10
What questions does this help to answer?
- Who was Barnabas in the Bible?
- Why is Barnabas known as the encourager?
- How can we be an encouragement to others?
Steve Fortosis served for six years as youth minister in several parishes. Meanwhile he was also working toward his masters, then his doctorate in religious education. Through the years he has enjoyed teaching on the college and seminary levels and writing professionally. He has published a number of books including story and prayer compilations, missionary biography, Biblical character biography, devotional lit, children’s lit, and even stories of Bible translation. Presently he resides in Florida with his wife, Debra, where he teaches part-time and writes on a free-lance basis.Steve Fortosis