“Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’) sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” – Acts 4:36-37
Barnabas is so well known by his nickname that many believers wouldn’t be able to tell you his real name off the top of their heads. This Joseph was so encouraging that the apostles decided to call him “Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’)”. A characteristic usually needs to stand out quite a bit before it gives cause for a nickname. Considering that this nickname was given by the apostles, it seems to carry even more weight. Barnabas must have been truly encouraging in an authentic and consistent way.
When Saul–later Paul–was forced to flee Damascus, he tried to join the disciples in Jerusalem.
“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.” – Acts 9:26-28
Whether Barnabas had heard of Saul’s conversion and all that he had done in Damascus or been there himself, either way the result was the same. Barnabas believed that Saul had truly converted and trusted him enough to bring him to the apostles. Because Barnabas and his character was known to the apostles, he was able to vouch for Saul and bring him into the community of believers in Jerusalem.
We should seek to do the same for new believers or believers that are new to our area. We ought to go out of our way to bring them in among their spiritual family and integrate them into the community. Paul faced many difficulties in his life, most of which were brought on because of persecution for his faith. Fellow believers and the communities of the churches were a great source of comfort and encouragement to him throughout his journeys and trials. Walking through this life is difficult and we are meant to do so with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. We must do a better job of drawing the body of Christ closer together so that we can be that body more effectively. At times, we will be Saul and need someone to bring us in, other times we will be in the position of Barnabas and be able to help others find a place.
“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 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. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord, He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. – Acts 15:36-41
There are a few things to draw out of this particular story. Both were commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord and went on missionary journeys. Their disagreement and split did not cause either of them to leave the ministry and interestingly enough may have led to the gospel being spread more rather than less.
From letters, it can be inferred that they resolved their issues. Colossians 4:10 and 1 Corinthians 9:6 show Paul painting Barnabas in a positive light and as a fellow minister of the gospel. 2 Timothy 4:11 further illustrates Paul’s reconciliation with Mark.
Just as Barnabas once played the role of advocate for Paul when he first came to Jerusalem as a new believer, here Barnabas plays the role of advocating for giving Mark what amounts to a second chance. Paul did not want to take the risk of Mark dropping out again, but Barnabas thought it was worth it. Seeing that Paul later asks to have Mark brought to him is eye-opening.
“Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” – 2 Timothy 4:11
It would seem that Barnabas was right about giving Mark a second chance and Paul was humble enough to admit as much.
I believe that there are a few key lessons we can learn from this for our own lives in the community of Christ.
- Even among faithful believers there will be disagreements at times. When both people are walking faithfully with the Lord and trying to please Him they may still disagree, but that should not lead to a permanent end in the relationship or holding a grudge, nor should it cause a reduction in the ministry.
- God can work even in disagreements for His greater purpose and plan. Instead of just one missionary team going out, two went out. God’s plan was not thwarted by their difference of opinion.
- We have all been given a second chance by Christ, really much more than a second chance when we think about how often we fail and God accepts us back and washes us in His forgiveness. We must do the same for others. Barnabas opened himself up to the risk of being left alone in the his work when he took Mark, but he considered that it was worth the risk, that Mark was worth the risk. We need to be guided in the Holy Spirit when we make decisions, but let us be informed by these examples as well. People are worth the risk.
Who is a Barnabas that encourages us? Who can we encourage? Who brought us into the family of faith and welcomed us and helped us feel at home? Who can we do that for? Who has given us a second chance? Who should we give a second chance to?
I recognize that not everyone has had a Barnabas in their lives. Some may have had one for a season and some may feel that they never have. Part of the reason for writing this devotion is to appreciate those who might have filled those roles for us and encourage us to fill those roles for others. Even if we may not have someone we can put our finger on that played any of these roles for us, through the grace of God we can still play those roles for others.