Son of Encouragement
His name was Joseph. He was a Jew of the tribe of Levi and hailed from the island of Cyprus, located in the Mediterranean Sea some two hundred and fifty miles northwest of Jerusalem. We are first introduced to this man in Acts 4. At this point in the early history of the Church, love and unity were held in high regard and demonstrated in the actions of the followers of the Way. “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35, ESV). There was clearly a spirit of love and support among these early Christians, and Luke wanted his readers to see this truth.
While little is known of Joseph’s early life, Luke gave us a picture of the heart of this man when he wrote, “Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36-37). There it is. Barnabas. Son of encouragement. It is not difficult to see the appropriateness of this nickname from the apostles. At the very outset, Joseph (Barnabas), is set alongside a couple who certainly had selfish, self-centered attitudes and motives – Ananias and Sapphira. With a very different attitude and motive, Barnabas sold a field that he owned and brought the money to the apostles, laying it at their feet. This act was one that originated from a humble, selfless spirit, one that understood the meaning of counting others more significant that himself and looking to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4). In the midst of this loving, sharing, unified culture, Joseph stood out. We might assume, based on the record of Luke concerning the early Church, that it was filled with people who were encouragers, people who were loving and were loved. And it certainly was! But there was something extra-special about Joseph – something that led the apostles to give him this special designation, Barnabas, son of encouragement.
Barnabas is mentioned some thirty-three times in Scripture. Twenty-eight of those are found in Acts. Luke recorded much of the experiences of Barnabas as he traveled as a missionary proclaiming the good news of Jesus. But there are a couple events that stand out as further evidence of Barnabas’s incredibly encouraging spirit. Following the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, many of the believers were afraid and reluctant to accept Saul as a true disciple. However, it was Barnabas who welcomed this former persecutor and insolent opponent. “And when he [Saul] had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:26-27). This must have been such an encouragement to Saul.
Another event recorded by Luke dealt with the moments leading up to the Second Missionary Journey. When Barnabas and Saul/Paul were sent on the First Missionary Journey, Barnabas’s cousin, John Mark (Colossians 4:10), traveled with them. However, John Mark left them at Pamphylia, returning to Jerusalem. This apparently caused some disappointment and frustration for Paul, such that when they were preparing to embark on their second journey, Paul was adamant that John Mark should not go with them. It was Barnabas that wanted John Mark to join them again. Luke recorded the disagreement that occurred. “Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed” (Acts 15:37-40a). John Mark must have been encouraged by the support of Barnabas. In a similar way, Barnabas stood up for John Mark the way he did for Saul/Paul.
Someone said it well, “One of the highest of human duties is the duty of encouragement. It is easy to laugh at men’s ideals; it is easy to pour cold water on their enthusiasm; it is easy to discourage others. The world is full of discouragers. We have a Christian duty to encourage one another. Many a time a word of praise or thanks or appreciation or cheer has kept a man on his feet. Blessed is the man who speaks such a word.” Barnabas teaches us a valuable lesson, one that we would all do well to heed. We ought to have an attitude and spirit that resembles that of Joseph – Barnabas, son of encouragement.