Barnabas, Man of Encouragement

{alt}

  • a devout and humble servant
  • a fellow minister with Paul
  • a man of encouraging words

KEY VERSES

Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing. —1 Thessalonians 5:11

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. —Hebrews 10:24-25

PROLOGUE

It was late spring in Jerusalem. Just a few months earlier, angry mobs and a mockery of justice had condemned Jesus Christ to die the most uncivilized death known in the Roman Empire.

The apostles were waiting in Jerusalem, as instructed, to receive the promise of the Holy Spirit. Several disciples waited with them, and all had the same focus and faith in preparation for what was to come.

On the Day of Pentecost, they gathered together in a house to celebrate the holy day. Then something astonishing happened! The sound of a powerful, rushing wind filled the entire house, and an almost-deafening noise roared in their ears.

They could each understand what the others were saying, as clearly as if they’d grown up in the same household.

With surprise, the church members noticed what appeared to be flames of fire dancing and hovering over each of their heads, yet the flames did not give off heat or cause any burns.

A multitude of devout Jews from several regions began to congregate, and though they spoke different languages, they could each understand what the others were saying, as clearly as if they’d grown up in the same household.

Crowds were beginning to gather to witness these astounding events. Inspired by the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Peter spoke boldly to those gathered. He urged the crowd to have faith and then gave evidence that the man named Jesus who had been crucified was in fact the Son of God. When the crowds understood this, they were heartbroken and asked, “What should we do?”

Get baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins can be forgiven, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Peter answered, “Change who you used to be now that you know the truth. Get baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins can be forgiven, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

From that day forward, the early Church grew.

STORY AND STUDY

(This story is based on several events from Acts 1-15.)

All things in common

Barnabas was a learned man, a Jew of the tribe of Levi and therefore well-educated in the Holy Scriptures.

What had been happening in Jerusalem lately was deeply inspiring! Events prophesied by the prophets had been coming true: it was obvious that the man named Jesus, from Nazareth, was Messiah. And now “the Comforter” that He had previously spoken about had arrived in the form of a Holy Spirit of power.

Barnabas was sincere and generous and shared all of his profits, knowing his contribution would be distributed to anyone in need.

Barnabas was filled with faith. Though he had roots in Cyprus (an island located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea), he knew that Jerusalem was where he needed to be. His future lay with this small but growing group of converts who followed the instructions of Jesus the Christ.

Barnabas surveyed his land, sold it, and brought the proceeds to the apostles. He was sincere and generous and shared all of his profits, knowing his contribution would be distributed to anyone in need.

When the early Church began to form in Jerusalem, Barnabas was there.

A way with words

This was a time of dramatic and exciting growth in the early Church. Awe-inspiring and faith-affirming events were happening regularly!

People were healed of physical impairments they’d had since birth. Apostles, wrongly accused, were released miraculously from prison. Many additional signs and wonders were being reported, and God continued to bless the early Church with dynamic growth, faith, and power.

This man of uplifting words was nicknamed Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement.”

We can surmise that Barnabas was likely among the disciples in Jerusalem during this time, no doubt encouraging the apostles and brethren with words of wisdom and faith and serving as needed.

This man of uplifting words, faith and generosity was originally named Joseph, but the apostles gave him the nickname Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement.” He seems to have been gifted with knowing what to say and when to say it.

Pause for thought: Do you know someone who seems to know exactly what to say or do to make you feel better? Maybe it’s one of your parents or a really good friend. We can each try to be better encouragers by speaking more uplifting words and complaining less.

Barnabas was a “people person” and diligently served the early church members with no selfish motives. It must have brought him great joy to serve and encourage others! This appears to have been part of his personality and his consistent pattern of behavior.

Saul’s conversion

During this time of growth in the Church, there was also persecution. One particular individual avidly persecuted the church members by stirring up riots, bursting into homes of believers, and carrying off both men and women to prison. This man’s name was Saul, and though he was a devout Jew, he was not yet a believer of what had come to be known as “the Way.”

Barnabas had quietly been studying Saul and determining his motives.

But God chose to do something extraordinary with Saul. While Saul was on a journey, Jesus Christ confronted him and performed a miracle in which Saul was struck temporarily blind. That got his attention! From then on, a radical transformation began to occur in Saul’s heart. He regretted his previous actions of persecution, he was baptized, and he began learning from the disciples in Damascus.

The disciples in Jerusalem, however, were wary of Saul’s so-called conversion. Was he being genuine, or was this just another trick to send more of them to prison? They were afraid of him, and many wrongfully thought he should suffer for his earlier crimes.

Pause for thought: Would you have trusted Saul?

But Barnabas had quietly been studying Saul and determining his motives, collecting information and discerning his actions. Barnabas believed Saul had experienced a genuine change of heart and could be trusted. Because of his level of education and his many useful skills, Saul could be of value in furthering the efforts of the Church in preaching the gospel. After all, Saul had been preaching valiantly in Damascus, defending the new faith and the ministry of Jesus Christ.

When Saul desperately needed encouragement and a friend, Barnabas was there. It was Barnabas who first recognized that God had chosen Saul for a purpose. Barnabas brought Saul safely to the apostles in Jerusalem and declared his support for the man who had previously been an enemy. Clearly the apostles had great trust and confidence in Barnabas to accept his testimony. It is likely that a strong friendship built on mutual trust and unity of purpose began to develop between Saul and Barnabas from then on.

A group of believers began to form in Antioch, and Barnabas was sent there from Jerusalem to help.

The Christians in Antioch

Soon God began to call non-Jews into the Church. A group of believers began to form in Antioch (in Syria), and Barnabas was sent there from Jerusalem to help develop the growing group. Persecution against the Church was still happening, and these members needed encouragement. When the brethren of Antioch needed faith-building reassurance, Barnabas was there. He praised their efforts and urged them to continue in their devotion to the faith.

Discerning what God was doing, Barnabas saw a need that could best be filled by a man with Saul’s strengths and abilities. He traveled to Tarsus, where Saul had been serving since his introduction to the apostles in Jerusalem, and brought Saul back to Antioch to assist in teaching and serving the brethren there. They remained there for an entire year. It was while they were there in Antioch that members of the Church were first referred to as “Christians” (Acts 11:26).

During this time, when news of a need of the Judean brethren was brought to their attention, church members in Antioch organized a relief mission, and Barnabas and Saul delivered the goods and materials.

When the Judean brethren were in need, Barnabas was there.

A series of journeys

After they returned from their relief trip to Judea, Barnabas and Saul—now called “Paul”—were chosen by God for a special series of journeys to encourage the early Church.

Factoid: Examples of name changes are recorded among servants of God throughout the Bible. Saul’s name change to “Paul” served to reinforce his Roman citizenship and signify his conversion: in effect, he was a completely different person.

They set out and traveled to Barnabas’s homeland of Cyprus and took his cousin John Mark with them.

After spending time teaching on the island, they traveled north, back to the mainland. Unfortunately, John Mark left the group of travelers and returned to Jerusalem, which would later lead to a sharp disagreement between Barnabas and Paul.

The remaining group continued in their travels to Antioch in Pisidia. When they were asked to speak there on the Sabbath day, it was Paul who took the lead and delivered an encouraging message. We’re not told in Scripture why Barnabas stepped aside in deference to Paul, but this pattern continued in later cities and Barnabas appears to have humbly and graciously accepted his new role.

The gentiles among the group fellowshipping at the synagogue on the Sabbath day were overjoyed to hear Paul’s message of forgiveness of sins. But some of the Jews were envious that this message was being preached to gentiles. They persecuted the two ministers and forced them to leave the region.

Factoid: A gentile in this context means a non-Jew.

Barnabas appears to have humbly and graciously accepted his new role in deference to Paul.

Trouble in Lystra

Paul and Barnabas continued on to cities in Asia Minor where they preached boldly. God rewarded their steadfastness and zeal by allowing them to perform many miracles.

When people in the pantheon-worshipping city of Lystra observed one of these miracles, they excitedly assumed the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes had taken human form and were walking among them.

With great humility, the two apostles urged the people to recognize them as mere men and give the glory and honor to the one true God, the Supreme Creator of all life and matter. Sadly, the people didn’t listen and tried to offer sacrifices to the men. Paul and Barnabas were deeply distressed by their behavior.

Then things got worse. The unbelieving Jews who had previously persecuted the two apostles earlier in their travels had followed them to Lystra. And they weren’t going to be content until they attempted murder. They stoned Paul, then dragged him outside the city and left him to die.

Outside the city, the disciples gathered around his apparently lifeless body. Perhaps they believed him to be dead. Perhaps he was in fact dead and God chose to resurrect him like He had resurrected Lazarus. The Bible simply reports that “he rose up,” and the next day he and Barnabas continued their journey southeast to the city of Derbe (Acts 14:20).

When Paul was stoned by jealous multitudes and left for dead, Barnabas was right there to help him continue on.

​Factoid: By this point in Scripture, Barnabas is referred to as an apostle. A disciple is “one who learns from or adheres to the teachings of Jesus Christ,” while an apostle is a disciple called to a higher office of responsibility and authority. So, all apostles are disciples, but not all disciples are apostles.

Round trip

After establishing and strengthening new church members in Derbe, Paul and Barnabas desired to encourage the members back in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (in Pisidia)—the very places they had been persecuted by unbelievers and, in Paul’s case, stoned.

Paul and Barnabas were eager to encourage the brethren in each city to remain faithful and committed to their mission of seeking the Kingdom of God.

Just imagine what those church members must have felt when they saw their steadfast ministers traveling boldly into town! Paul and Barnabas were eager to encourage the brethren in each city to remain faithful and committed to their mission of seeking the Kingdom of God, even if persecution should occur. Perhaps Paul even showed them some of his bruises and wounds as he taught.

They then traveled back to Antioch, their home in Syria.

The council at Jerusalem

The matter of gentiles becoming converted to the new faith caused great joy for some brethren and great concern for others. Some ardently believed that to become members of the new Church the gentile converts needed to be circumcised according to the Jewish tradition originally given to Abraham. This matter was being discussed in Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabas were chosen to travel there and find resolution on the matter with the other apostles and elders.

The leaders in Jerusalem greeted Barnabas and Paul with great joy! Here was their beloved “Son of Encouragement” and the former persecutor of the Church, Paul, whose conversion was often given as evidence to glorify God (Galatians 1:24).

Barnabas and Paul gave an account of their journeys, describing how God had enabled them to work miracles and many wonders in the company of the gentiles, and that many of them had converted to the new faith. The apostles Peter and James also gave moving testimony in support of the gentiles.

After much—and sometimes heated—discussion, the matter was decided and circumcision of the new converts was deemed unnecessary. Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch to the church members there with a letter from the council containing the encouraging news.

The disagreement about John Mark

Sadly, the friendship between Barnabas and Paul in time became strained. Paul had decided to return to the cities he and Barnabas had previously visited, and he asked Barnabas to once again join him.

Barnabas was adamant they take his cousin John Mark with them. Paul disagreed. The two apostles were unable to resolve their quarrel, and they chose to part ways. Clearly the two had strong differing opinions about John Mark. Barnabas must have felt strongly that his cousin deserved another opportunity, but Paul wasn’t eager to take him since he hadn’t completed the first journey with them. Paul left for his journey with Silas instead, and Barnabas traveled with John Mark back to Cyprus.

Sometimes people disagree—perhaps even over seemingly trivial matters—but even in this account of division, there is encouragement to glean. Paul later wrote about John Mark that “he is useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). And Paul and Barnabas did travel together again on a journey to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1). It is encouraging, therefore, to find that Paul eventually saw the potential in John Mark that Barnabas had seen all along, and it is equally encouraging that Barnabas chose to once again travel with Paul, despite the previous dispute.

Barnabas was a man full of the power of the Holy Spirit, full of faith, and full of encouragement and generosity for others.

Conclusion

Barnabas served the early Church effectively during a time of great change and need. After the book of Acts, there is little recorded of him in Scripture.

What we do know about him speaks volumes. When the early Church began to form in Jerusalem, Barnabas was there. When the apostles needed comfort during trials, Barnabas was there. When Saul desperately needed encouragement and a friend, Barnabas was there. When the brethren of Antioch needed faith-building reassurance, Barnabas was there. When the Judean brethren were in need, Barnabas was there. When Paul was stoned by jealous multitudes and left for dead, Barnabas was right there to help him continue on. When the matter of the gentile converts was discussed, Barnabas was there. And when the time was right and Paul once again requested his friend to travel with him, Barnabas was there.

Barnabas was a man full of the power of the Holy Spirit, full of faith, and full of encouragement and generosity for others. He is an inspiring individual to study during a fascinating time in early Church history.

QUESTIONS

1. Knowledge

What does the nickname Barnabas mean?

What holy day was the early Church celebrating in Jerusalem when the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out?

Who was the apostle that Barnabas traveled with?

2. Comprehension

What kinds of things might Barnabas have done to earn him his nickname? Would he have done these things just once or often?

Why did members of the early Church fear Saul?

3. Connections

How do you feel when you’re discouraged? How do you feel when you’re encouraged? What kinds of things can we do or say that would encourage others?

DISCUSSIONS

1. Imagine being in Jerusalem observing the holy day when the house you’re meeting in begins to rumble and you hear the sound of the “rushing mighty wind” (Acts 2:2). What would it have felt like to be there? Can you describe what you might have experienced and seen?

2. The book of Acts often refers to the early New Testament church members as followers of “the Way,” a term used to refer to this early form of Christianity. How does this “Way” differ from most forms of Christianity that exist today?

ACTIVITIES

1. A Person of Encouraging Words

What are some kind things that have been said to you that have provided you with encouragement when you most needed it? Record these uplifting words and add other words and phrases that are positive, motivating, and encouraging. Have these words ready to use when a friend or family member needs the encouragement, and be a person of encouraging words, just like Barnabas. You could even compile words and phrases into a small booklet and give it to someone as a very special gift.

2. Travel Blog of an Apostle

Follow in the footsteps of Barnabas and Paul and create a travel log of their journeys referenced in this study. Write it in the style of a modern travel blog, or get creative and vlog it! Create your own passport (be sure to include a fun photo!) and add stamps or stickers as you “travel” to the different regions.

Record unique events that occurred at each location. Include details of the region like how long it would have taken to get from one city to another, what traveling on the Mediterranean Sea would have felt like, what archaeological sites you would have seen, animals you would have encountered, what you would have bought at a bazaar, and so on.

Most Bibles include historical maps. Use a map of Paul’s first journey (sometimes called a “missionary journey”) as a reference guide. Details of the apostles’ journey can be found in Acts 13-15.

Further Your Study

Lessons We Learn From Their Lives

Lessons We Learn From Their Lives

The examples of individuals recorded in the pages of the Bible can teach us valuable lessons about life. God often worked with ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. Learn how our biographical studies are organized and get tips on how Read More >

Feast of Pentecost

Feast of Pentecost

What symbolism do firstfruits of a harvest have in God’s plan of salvation? Teach your children about the founding of the Church of God and the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit. Several pages of discussion points are Read More >