Barnabas was not his original name. As we see in Acts, his given name was Joseph,
...a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”)…, (Acts 4:36)
And in Acts 11:24 he is described as, “… a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith…|” He was an encourager, and that’s the quality I want to focus on.
Saul, who would become known as the apostle Paul, was one of the most enthusiastic persecutors of early Christians. He sat looking on approvingly as Steven was stoned to death. But then he had his conversion experience, meeting the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. But the trouble was that none of the early church leaders trusted him, and who could blame them. But Barnabas must have seen something in Saul, and stood up for him.
When he (Saul) came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews,but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. (Acts 9:26-30)(Tarsus was Saul’s home town, so in effect, he just went home.)
Some time later, we read in ‘Acts chapter 11,
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. (Acts 11: 19-26)We don’t know how long Saul had remained at his home town of Tarsus, but think of this; without Barnabas, would Saul just have remained at home there? We don’t know, but it was Barnabas who took it upon himself to go and get him.
And we see that Barnabas must have been a faithful friend, sticking with Paul through tough times and difficulties, not only on their missionary journey, but in later ministry as well. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says,
Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas (Peter)? Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living? (1 Cor 9: 4-6)It almost seems like only Barnabas is sharing Paul’s hardship in some areas.
We see another example of Barnabas’ faithfulness and encouragement in his relationship with his cousin Mark, also called John Mark. John Mark accompanied Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey, (Acts 13), but we see that Mark left them part way through (13:13) We don’t know why Mark left. Maybe he was young and homesick. Maybe he had, “frosh flu”, first time away from home, etc. But Paul was quite angered by this, because when it came time for he and Barnabas to embark on a second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take Mark, but Paul was adamant that they do not.
Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company., (Acts 15: 37-39a)
But Barnabas must have seen something in John Mark, just as he had seen something in Paul himself. Barnabas stood by Mark and took him with him on their own trip to Cyprus. And we can see that at some point Paul must have had a change of heart, because we see in a number of his letters that they were eventually reconciled and he speaks rather highly of young Mark. In his last letter, his second letter to Timothy, he says,
Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. (2 Tim 4:11)
In his letter to the Colossians, he asks that church to welcome him, and in the book of Philemon, he calls Mark a fellow worker.
And we look back and see how important Mark became in the early church. Peter, in 1 Peter, calls him his, “son.” Mark, of course, was a follower of Peter, and it’s quite likely that he set down the story of Jesus as he learned it from Peter in the Gospel that bears his name – the Gospel of Mark.
But it was Barnabas who stuck up for him, and if not for his encouragement, what might have become of him? Would we have his gospel today? And if Barnabas had not stood up for Paul against the other disciples, or had not taken it upon himself to go to Tarsus to bring him back to ministry in Antioch because he saw something in him, would we now have Paul’s letters? Obviously, God ordained that what happened would happen, but I think he used Barnabas and his gift of encouragement in a powerful way to bring it about. Not only was Barnabas an encourager, he was bold enough to stand up for what he knew was right, and defend those in whom he saw good, even against severe opposition.
Those of you familiar with the Alpha Course might remember this story from Nicky Gumbel.
Albert McMakin was a 24 year old who had recently come to faith in Christ. He was so full of enthusiasm that he filled a truck with people and took them to a tent meeting to hear a travelling evangelist telling about Jesus. There was one 16-year-oldteenager whom he was especially keen to get to a meeting, but this young man was hard to persuade He was just not interested. Eventually Albert managed to persuade him to come by asking him to drive the truck. When they arrived, Albert’s guest eventually decided to go in. He went back again night after night until one night he went forward and gave his life to Jesus Christ. The year was 1934 and the young16 year old was Billy Graham.
Everyone knows Billy Graham but how many remember Albert McMakin. Yet without McMakin we may never have seen Graham.
Encourage someone today. You never know what the eventual result might be.