There are many Josephs in the Bible, but one earns a stand-out nickname. In Acts 4:36 Luke introduces us to “Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement).” Such a one is worth our study.
He provided for others (Acts 4:37).
In the Jerusalem church, “there was not a needy person among them,” for the members sold their property and possessions to support one another. Barnabas “owned a tract of land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (4:37).
A Christian who supports his brethren is a boon to a church family. He doesn’t do it to get noticed, but people can’t help but notice and be encouraged, whether they receive his help, or simply witness him help others.
These encouraging acts can be costly, such as giving away a used car, or housing and feeding a displaced family. Or, they can cost nothing. A Son of Encouragement can be the first to show up at worship and last to leave. He or she can volunteer for workdays and teaching, can prepare food for the bereaved, can drive to the store, can take a turn watching at a bedside. “Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14).
He supported the discouraged (Acts 9:27).
When Luke first introduces us to Saul, he is a persecutor, a violent and man scouring the territory of Israel for Christians to imprison. On the road to Damascus, Jesus bodily appeared to Saul. Three days later, Saul learned the gospel from Ananias, and became a Christian.
He proclaimed Christ in Damascus, but death threats forced him to flee. When he returned to Jerusalem, “he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple” (9:26). Their reluctance is understandable; the last time they saw Saul, he was presiding over the execution of their Christian brother Stephen! So they refused to grant him fellowship.
But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus (9:27).
Only Barnabas was willing to give Paul a chance. And he did so at great risk and effort. None of this suggests that Barnabas was ignoring people’s sins, receiving everyone into fellowship despite their false religion or bad behavior. He was not Son of Naivete, or Son of Spinelessness. But he was willing to believe that Jesus changes hearts. He was willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, to forgive freely and fully, to see the best in them as Christ sees (cf. Acts 15:35-41).
He evangelized the lost (Acts 11:19-26).
It should be no surprise, then, to see Barnabas broadening the circle beyond the church, to reach out to lost. The best encouragement we can provide is news of salvation. Barnabas was one of the first to proclaim the good news to Gentiles.
He worked for God’s glory (Acts 13:1-52).
In a sense, the first missionary journey was more Barnabas’s than Paul’s. It was Barnabas who went and found Paul and brought him to Antioch (11:25). It was Barnabas’ name mentioned first by the Holy Spirit, who said, “set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (13:2). It was Barnabas’ home turf of Cyprus they went to first. Only at 13:42 does Paul’s name come first. Had Paul’s role as an Apostle suddenly become clear through the miracles in Cyprus? Was his speaking more powerful and convincing?
I have no idea. But I do know that Barnabas never showed a moment of jealousy or bitterness, made no effort to seize the spotlight. Barnabas wasn’t in it for his own glory, but for God’s glory. A Son of Encouragement is thrilled to be eclipsed, for the kingdom experiences growth!
It is said that one day a reporter approached Leonard Bernstein, the composer and conductor of the New York Philharmonic, and asked “what is the hardest instrument in the orchestra to play?” Bernstein replied, “second fiddle.” First violin gets all the attention and all the lofty solos, while second and third violins provide harmony. Still, their parts are exceedingly important. It’s a challenge to come to every practice and put in just as much emotion and effort into their parts as the first violins do.
For every Peter, there is an Andrew (John 1:41); for every Timothy, there is a Lois and Eunice (2 Tim. 1:5). Let us play our parts in the kingdom with gusto, and be excited when our efforts make it possible for others to shine the light of the gospel more brightly than we do. –John Guzzetta