BE A BARNABAS
Today we are going to look at the life and ministry of a man whose name is Barnabas. Barnabas is usually seen as a helper to the Apostle Paul, assisting him in ministry. But, Barnabas was truly more than a helper, or an assistant to Paul. Barnabas was a man who followed the example of Jesus Christ in all of his ways. So, we will see this morning how Barnabas made a difference in the lives of those he ministered to. To be like Barnabas is a worthy goal of all of us.
Text: Acts 11:19-30
As we look at the life and work of Barnabas, we will see a very effective Christian who helped spread the Gospel by being a powerful Encourager.
The first place that Barnabas is mentioned is in Acts 4:36-37. What we learn about Barnabas here is that his real name is Joseph. The name Barnabas was kind of what we know today as a nickname. Why was he given that nickname? Luke tells us that the name, Barnabas means, according to verse 36, "Son of Encouragement." (Remember that name – there will be a quiz in a short time) As we will see by his work, this nickname was a very fitting description of Joseph the Levite.
Something else significant that we learn about his background is that he was a Levite who had become a Christian. Remember the Levites were the priestly tribe of Israel. In other words, he had been part of the Jewish religious system. To break away from that was a huge step and quite probably a dangerous one for Barnabas! He was originally from the island of Cyprus. In one of his missionary journeys with Paul he actually ends up going back to his homeland. We also notice in verse 37 that Barnabas was also a very generous man. He gave freely to the Church.
Let’s go to Acts chapter 9 to see Barnabas in action. Remember now... what does the name Barnabas mean?? Well, you’re about to see why that nickname was so fitting for him. The first half of this chapter tells the amazing story of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Keep in mind that Paul was an enemy of the Christian Church. He was doing everything in his power to totally destroy it and those who worshipped and served Jesus Christ. But then, he met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, and that changed everything. Suddenly he went from trying to destroy anyone who followed Christ to boldly preaching that Jesus was the Savior, the Son of God.
That did not set well with the Jews. Paul became a traitor in their eyes, and they plotted to kill him. The Christians helped him escape safely from Damascus. He ended up going to Jerusalem where many of the leaders of the Christian Church were located. Paul tried to meet with them, but that didn’t go well either. Look at verse 26. "They were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple." How would we react in a situation like that? Paul was well known for rounding up Christians and putting them to death. They didn’t trust that he was really now a follower of Christ. I think most of us would be a bit leery of that person as well.
Nobody would listen to Paul or have anything to do with him….. except one man.... Barnabas. Look at verse 27.
Okay – I promised you a QUIZ – now is the time. What does the name Barnabas mean? This "Son of Encouragement" was willing to trust Paul. This "Son of Encouragement" was willing to risk his own safety and reach out to someone who had absolutely no friends in the Christian Church. Of course, Paul had done plenty of evil acts to earn that bad reputation. But Barnabas was willing to look beyond it and believe in him... and befriend him.
Are you and I like Barnabas?? There are people all around us who need someone to believe in them, to encourage them. Sure, they may have made some pretty bad mistakes. Who among us hasn’t? They may have a bad reputation and for good reason. The question is: Are we willing to be an Encourager to them? Or will we refuse to believe that could change, or that they have changed?? Will we allow ourselves to trust them and offer them our hand of friendship and fellowship?
There are many people out in our communities, wherever we live, who are fearful to come and worship with us. Believing whatever they have done cannot be forgiven or forgotten, they may have a fear of being rejected. They need a friend like Barnabas who is willing to reach out to them and introduce them to the rest of the Believers. It was risky for Barnabas to do it, and it may be risky for us too. And yet, let’s look at the reason Barnabas was willing to do it. It was simply because that’s what Jesus had done for him.
And let’s go a step further. Remember how Jesus was treated when He dared to associate with prostitutes and tax collectors? They were considered to be the scum of the earth, and yet Jesus went to them and encouraged them with the Good News. Barnabas was simply following his Savior’s example. This is an example for us today to follow as well.
Do you know what the driving force behind Barnabas’ work was? As you might guess – it’s in the Word. Look at Acts chapter 11. The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, had now been introduced in a town called Antioch. A Christian Church had started there. They needed someone to teach them. In verse 22 we find that it was Barnabas whom they sent. And according to verse 23, what did this "Son of Encouragement" do?? Well... he "encouraged" their faith in Jesus. As we go further, we are told about the heart of Barnabas. It says "He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith." It was the power of the Holy Spirit that made this "Son of Encouragement" do what he did. By faith, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, he was willing and able to be an Encourager to others. The amazing results of his encouragement are seen in verse 24: "A great number of people were brought to the Lord." Imagine how much the Church of Jesus Christ would grow today if we would be Barnabas in our relationships with others, especially those who have not experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the new life they could have in Him. Encourage the faith of others the way Barnabas did!!
What was Barnabas’ next step? Did he sit back and brag about how great and successful his work had been? No. As an encourager, he most likely didn’t even consider it His. It was the power of the Holy Spirit working through him that had caused this to happen. He didn’t have time to sit back satisfied with those who heard and responded to the message Christ. Instead, Barnabas knew there were many more people to reach. He could have gone out on his own but, instead, as we see in verse 25, he went to Tarsus to find Paul.
He and Paul became missionary companions. He saw, In Paul, a great crusader for Christ so he searched him out and inviting Paul to go with him – again we see Barnabas being that Encourager.
Barnabas and Paul became a very effective missionary team. In chapter 12, they went out together. And in chapter 13 they were still at it. As you read through these accounts, you may notice that the team is always listed as Barnabas and Paul. That is.... until chapter 13 verse 42. Beginning there the team becomes known as Paul and Barnabas. Probably because Paul was beginning to show how powerfully he could preach the Gospel guided by the Holy Spirit. But this tells us something very important about Barnabas too. He was never seeking popularity or fame (not that Paul did either. He never complained about playing second fiddle to Paul... even though he was the one who had Encouraged Paul in the first place. He had befriended Paul when no one else would. All of Barnabas’ preaching was always about making sure that the Gospel was being shared with as many people as possible. And that, my friends, is true Christian humility.
There is another occasion where Barnabas shows how he continued to be a wonderful "Son of Encouragement." Please look at Acts 15:36. Paul and Barnabas had been very active as a missionary team and they were getting ready to go out again. Look at verses 37-40. Barnabas wanted to take along a young helper name John Mark. But Paul refused, possibly because John Mark had been a disappointment to Paul on a previous journey. We are not told why. But Paul was fixed on the load of work they had to do and wanted someone along who could be depended upon.
And here comes Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement. He wanted to give John Mark another chance. Once again, we see Barnabas being willing to reach out to someone who needed a friend. He was willing to believe that John Mark had changed. Barnabas was so passionate about this that it caused a major rift between Paul and him. They were so deeply divided over this issue that they decided to split up and go their separate ways. Paul took a man named Silas with him to Syria. And Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus again.
John Mark did not disappoint this time. The Encouragement that Barnabas gave to that young man paid off. John Mark evidently proved that he was a reliable helper while on his missionary journeys with Barnabas. Why would we think that? Well, like every questions he have – the Bible tells us so. Years later John Mark became one of Paul’s closest helpers and friends. In Colossians 4:10, Paul says that Mark was helping him while he was in prison. And listen to what Paul writes about Mark in 2 Timothy 4:11, "Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry."
Without the encouragement from Barnabas, that change in Paul’s affection toward John Mark would never have taken place. But even more important than all that is the knowledge that there is something else that this young man, Mark, went on to do. This John Mark is also the man who wrote the Gospel of Mark. It is truly amazing what kind of fruit genuine Christian encouragement can produce.
We sure could use a whole lot of Encouragers like Barnabas in our churches. Just imagine what we could accomplish for the Lord by simply believing in people and bolstering their courage through our encouraging words.
Okay, here is another QUIZ ---- Do you remember what we said Barnabas ’real name was? Joseph. It is interesting to know what that name – Joseph – means. It means "Exalted One." That may have been an appropriate description of Barnabas before the Holy Spirit got ahold of him. But once he learned what Jesus had done for him, he humbled himself before the Lord. And because of that, he became the wonderful Encourager named Barnabas. By the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, we too can become bold and brave Encouragers like Barnabas. And, we will do it for God’s glory and for the eternal good of others.