When you hear the name Barnabas what comes to mind? If you are like most people, nothing. You probably don’t even recognize the name. However, Barnabas has something to teach us. Barnabas wasn’t “in it” for the fame. Barnabas was content to live his life on the sidelines as long as he was serving God and bringing others to faith.
Most of the time, Barnabas was an overlooked believer. He helped paved the way for the early church. The church, as we know it today, may not exist in quite the same way if Barnabas had not been such a fervent missionary. You see, it was Barnabas who made space for Paul’s ministry. God used Barnabas to open doors for Paul.
For this blog series, we are referencing Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe’s book Life Sentences often. Life Sentences: Discover the Key Themes of 63 Bible Characters highlights a key sentence and sums up the life of 63 Bible characters, including Barnabas. We highly encourage you to pick up a copy of this book for your own reading. It works well for devotional reading or Bible study.
The key sentence Wiersbe chose for Barnabas comes from Acts 11:24.
“He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.”
A Man Filled with the Spirit and Faith
The most important thing about Barnabas is how he was identified in the Book of Acts as a man full of the Holy Spirit and faith. Barnabas loved the Lord, and it showed in the way he served God and helped others. As Wiersbe describes, “Wherever you find a good man or woman filled with the Spirit and with faith, you will see the Lord work in remarkable ways.”
“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
We see in these verses how Barnabas’ name was actually Joseph. However, as Wiersbe explains, “He was so effective in the ministry of helping others that he was given the nickname Barnabas.” His encouraging nature is recorded several times in Acts. He regularly encouraged others to keep their faith especially during tough times.
A Generous Disciple
Barnabas is also known for his generosity. Barnabas sold land he owned and gave the money to the apostles to continue the spread of the Gospel.
In addition to giving generously, Barnabas was also trusted to handle money. As Wiersbe points out, “The believers soon learned that Barnabas was a good man to send their relief offerings to the poor in response to God’s command.” People knew Barnabas would give to the poor and needy.
A Welcomer to All
Many people do not know that Saul (who later became known as Paul) was not immediately welcomed with opened arms by the apostles. And who could blame them? Saul was going around murdering Christians! However, Barnabas was perhaps the only one willing to welcome him. He took Saul to the apostles and told them what God had done in Saul’s life. Because Barnabas was seen as such a good man and had such a solid reputation, they listened.
An Obedient Servant
Similarly, Barnabas’s encouraging nature and heart made him the perfect missionary to the Gentiles. When “the Lord called them to leave Antioch and take the gospel to other nations,” Barnabas and Saul listened and obeyed. As Wiersbe describes, “The first missionary journey was a great success, and at the church in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas gave a report that glorified the Lord who had ‘opened the door of faith to the Gentiles’ (Acts 14:27).” God used both men to bring many Gentiles to faith in Christ.
A Forgiving Second Chance Giver
Unfortunately, one of the most memorable parts of Barnabas’ life story is his falling out with Paul. The two men formed a deep friendship while ministering together. However, they ended up parting ways over their missionary team. Earlier in their ministry, Barnabas’ cousin, John Mark, was with them. He did not stay for the entire journey. While the men agreed on doctrinal issues, they could not see eye to eye regarding John Mark returning to their team.
Ultimately, Barnabas and Paul went their separate ways. Barnabas was willing to give his cousin a second chance. Barnabas chose to invest in John Mark and mentor him. Later, evidence suggests Paul did reconcile with the men and John Mark was once again helpful to his ministry (2 Tim. 4:11). Just as Barnabas was willing to take a chance on Saul before the other apostles, he was willing to take a risk on his cousin.
A Man Who Put Others First
Barnabas was never the center of attention. He was never in the limelight. His story is told in tandem with Paul’s, and he was someone whose name could easily be skipped. As we’ve discussed, Barnabas was a good man – a man with contagious faith we should strive to model. Barnabas lived out his faith by putting others first and encouraging people. As Wiersbe explains, “Anybody can tear things down, but it takes faith and patience to build things up.”