This article was written by my daughter, Allison Hunter-Frederick, and originally appeared in Pauline Studies at Suite101.com.
“Think about the people who really matter in your life. Odds are that many of them are encouragers…. Among the first Christians, a man named Joseph was such an encourager that other believers nicknamed him ‘Son of Encouragement’ or Barnabas….” This is how the description of Barnabas begins in The Life Application Bible for Students and is what attracted me to his story. I reasoned that everyone can use encouragement and so surely this was a way in which I could minister for God! Hence, when thinking about what topic to write about for Pauline Studies, a study of Barnabas immediately came to mind.
The first mention of him in scripture is by Luke in Acts 4:36: “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.” From this verse alone, we learn several things about Barnabas. First, we learn he is a Levite, meaning he is from a priestly family. Second, he is from Cyprus. Third, Barnabas is his nickname, was given to him by the apostles, and means “Son of Encouragement”. Last, we learn that he sold a piece of land of his and gave the proceeds to the church.
From my research into Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias, I also learned other details about Barnabas. For example, he belonged to the first company of converts in Jerusalem who were won by the apostolic preaching if not by Jesus himself. He had also earned the confidence of the apostles, one reason being that he didn’t flee Jerusalem as many converts did after the stoning of Stephen. No doubt there were other reasons, such as his helping many people, encouraging believers in their faith, and bringing others into the faith! In Acts 11:24, Luke wrote of him: “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” Oh, one other detail I should mention is that he was a close friend of Paul–which is how he is relevant to the topic of Pauline Studies!
Indeed, did you know that Barnabas became Paul’s first advocate among the church leaders in Jerusalem? Paul had returned to Jerusalem after his conversion, shared his story with the apostles, and been met with skepticism by all but Barnabas. Sometime after Barnabas had convinced the apostles of the integrity of Paul’s conversion, the apostles sent Barnabas to pastor in Antioch. Under his guidance, the church expanded and soon needed more workers. Barnabas sought out Paul, who was an ideal candidate due to his knowing the regions of Syria and Cilicia. The two of them co-pastored the church in Antioch for an entire year. Hey, who knows? If not for Barnabas, Paul might never have been accepted into the church and its ministry—-and there might have never been any Pauline letters!
After the leadership in Antioch grew, Barnabas and Paul were commissioned to travel west. Their journey ideally began in Barnabas’ homeland of Cyprus. John Mark, a cousin of Barnabas, accompanied them as their assistant. (This journey is known as Paul’s First Missionary Journey and is described in greater detail in these four articles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4.) Having evangelized part of Cyprus, the three sailed onward to the south coast of Asia Minor. There, Mark decided to return to Jerusalem. Barnabas and Paul continued on, journeying through a chain of predominantly Gentile churches deep into Asia Minor.
Two years later (on Paul’s Second Missionary Journey), Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance to accompany them. Paul didn’t. Barnabas and Paul argued over the decision, with the result that the two went on different missionary journeys. Despite the split, the friendship between Barnabas and Paul remained intact. Moreover, Barnabas’ encouragement of Mark was later confirmed, for Mark went on to have an effective ministry and even eventually worked with Paul.
Obviously, Barnabas’ actions as an encourager were crucial to the early church! Indeed, some commentators think that 2 Corinthians 8:18-19 (“And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.”) refers to Barnabas. Of course, not all of us can reach people through missionary or pastoral work. Still, who among us can’t offer trust to someone like Paul or give a second chance to someone like Mark? Surely, we’ve met individuals who are searching for answers, going through a rough time in their lives, or for some reason or another could use encouragement. Let’s follow the example of Barnabas and encourage those around us!