Paul and Barnabas encouraged God’s people by reminding them: “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Barnabas did not encourage people by affirming them in what they wanted to do and be. Nor did he encourage people by telling them what they wanted to hear. He encouraged them in the truths of the Word of God. True encouragement comes from God and His truth. True encouragement directs us to find hope and comfort in the Gospel.
Acts 11:24 says this of Barnabas: he was “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” God describes Barnabas as a man who lived by the strength and grace of the Holy Spirit. God describes Barnabas a man who believed His Word, a man whose live greatly encouraged others. Anyone that God publicly assesses this way is someone that we want to emulate!
Most of what we know about Barnabas we find in the book of Acts. Barnabas (real name Joseph) was a Levite whose family had relocated to Cyprus sometime during Israel’s turbulent history (Acts 4:36). He also had family in Jerusalem that was fairly well-connected: Mary, John Mark’s mother, and maybe others. He himself was a well-off landowner, with land in Cyprus and/or Jerusalem. Apparently, he was in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, and he stayed there after receiving Christ.
A Son of Encouragement
We see in Acts how powerfully God used this man. His life and ministry is summed up for us in the name that he was given by the apostles: “Barnabas.” This name means “son of encouragement.” The dominating characteristic of his life was that he encouraged others to know and faithfully follow Christ.
When we read about Barnabas in Scripture, we learn from his example how we too can be used of God to encourage others for Christ. We, like Barnabas, can and should have a ministry of encouragement. The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to be “encouraging one another, and all the more as we see the Day drawing near” (10:25).
How did Barnabas’s life encourage others so profoundly? How did his life exemplify being an encourager to the church?
Barnabas was an example of consecration/dedication.
He sold his land (Acts 4:32-37).
After Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was working mightily. Many new believers were selling their assets and using the money to meet urgent needs. Not only did Barnabas gave a large offering to God to help, but he also apparently sold his land and gave all the proceeds to the apostles. He gave away his financial security. This act of whole-hearted faith and generosity born out of love for Christ encouraged others to be willing to give and sacrifice for the work of the Lord as well. This was the first major way that Barnabas’ example encouraged others. Everything Barnabas had was God’s.
He gave up his rights to better serve Christ (1 Cor 9).
Barnabas was the apostle Paul’s co-laborer to the Gentiles. He agreed with Paul to choose tentmaking instead of receiving regular financial support. He and Paul did this so that those they preached Christ to would not be confused about their motives. This decision meant that Paul and Barnabas would have to expend lots of time and energy on supplying needs and face financial difficulties that they could have otherwise avoided.
He and Paul chose not to marry as they pursued an itinerant and dangerous ministry. They laid aside their rights to lifestyle choices, choosing instead to live in ways that maximized their usefulness to Christ.
Barnabas willingly sacrificed for others and the ministry of the Gospel. He made sacrifices that had long-term effects on his life. Barnabas lived out consecration.
I have known missionaries who gave up lucrative jobs in the USA to serve Christ full-time in cross-cultural ministry. I recently met a young single woman who took a teaching job in one of the most dangerous American inner-city ghettos to be a light for Jesus there. Testimonies like these spur others to consider what they should do for Christ.
Barnabas was an example of faith and trust in others.
He believed in Saul/Paul (Acts 9:26-31).
Everyone was afraid of the ruthless Saul who had hurt so many Christians, especially in Jerusalem. Now this same man returned to Jerusalem preaching Christ and wanting to fellowship with the believers! No one wanted to believe that Saul was real.
Barnabas heard Sauls’ testimony, observed his life, and believed in him, even when no one else would. He was willing to take that risk. Using his own influence, he brought Saul to the other apostles and urged them to accept him—which they did. Barnabas’s faith and courage was a huge encouragement to Saul first, then to all of the church of Christ as they then witnessed God’s saving grace upon Saul’s life (I will refer to Saul only as Paul).
He believed in the Gentile believers (Acts 11:22-23).