Barnabas The Encourager
By Grant Phillips
One of the greatest spiritual gifts in my opinion is that of the encourager. Pastors, Bible teachers and evangelists are more in the limelight, and for some reason Christians sometimes feel that if they are not a pastor, Bible teacher or evangelist, the best gifts are taken and there is nothing left for them.
Pastors, Bible teachers and evangelists do a great work if they are truly obedient to God’s will, following the Holy Spirit’s direction and giving the Lord Jesus the glory. There is no denying that, and I applaud those I have just described. However, I believe most of them would also agree that the encourager could very well be the greatest gift of all.
The gift of encourager receives little to no limelight, and is rarely made visible to the general public. They work in the background and are rarely known by name except for those they encourage.
There is one person however that is well known to us today as being an encourager. His name actually means, “Son of Encouragement.” (Acts 4:36) His name was Joseph, but he was known as Barnabas. He quickly became an early traveling companion of the apostle Paul.
Paul had a reputation of being a cold-blooded killer of Christians, so obviously it can be understood why so many of the early Christians did not initially believe that he had actually become one of them. However, Barnabas believed Paul, and wanted him at Antioch to be a witness for Jesus.
Barnabas was a good man, totally unselfish. He didn’t care about receiving any credit. He just wanted Christ to be preached and he knew Paul was the man to do it. So he went to Tarsus and brought Paul back to Antioch.
“Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.
The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.
He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:20-26)
It would have been easy for Barnabas to have forgotten all about Paul and just stayed in Antioch, but he wanted the people to hear about Jesus and how Paul came to be saved. The people needed to hear what Jesus instructed Paul to tell others. So Barnabas, instead of standing in the spotlight, steps back, and brings Paul back to Antioch, all the while, encouraging these new Christians.
If you read about these two in the book of Acts, you may notice that the Holy Spirit listed Barnabas first and Saul second up until Acts 13:42. Beginning with Acts 13:42 and thereafter, Saul is changed to Paul and listed first and Barnabas is listed second instead of first. Saul was Hebrew and meant ‘desired.’ Paul was Latin and meant ‘little or small.’ I don’t want to read something into this that isn’t there, but I personally believe that God is telling us something here.
Saul was brilliant and well on his way to the top as a Jewish leader, but God doesn’t need human greatness. It is useless and means nothing to Him. He wants someone who is willing to submit to Him. Saul the ‘desired’ became Paul the ‘undesired.’ I think Paul explains it best in the following verse.
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
Okay, so Paul stopped using the name Saul, but what about Barnabas? Why were their roles suddenly reversed at this time? Following is my opinion.
It was time for Barnabas to take the back seat and for God to show His mighty power through the greatest missionary who has ever lived. God used a willing Barnabas to bring Paul to the people so His message would be heard, and He used a now humble Paul to take His Gospel to the world, in particular the Gentiles.
Have you wondered if Barnabas ever got jealous of Paul? A lot of men (and women) would do just that. I’ve lived long enough to have seen it myself in the churches over the years. I don’t think there was ever the first hint of jealousy with Barnabas. When I read about these two, I see a man who is totally supportive of Paul and is more than willing to accept ‘second chair.’ That, my friends, is an encourager.
What about the incident with Mark, Barnabas’ cousin? You can read about it in Acts 15:36-41. When Barnabas left Paul and took Mark on a missionary journey, I believe he did so as an encourager to Mark. That was the nature God had given him. Mark was willing to change and Barnabas, being the encourager he was, took him under his wings and guided him along in his spiritual walk. Paul went one way with Silas and Barnabas went the other with Mark.
I have had encouragers in my life, and I honestly hope you have too. If you have, you probably remember who they are. I remember clearly those people in my life and they meant a lot to me at the time, and still hold a special place in my heart to this day.
Barnabas encouraged the people of Antioch. He was an encourager to the apostle Paul and also Mark, who wrote the second of what is called the Gospels. Actually, there is no doubt in my mind, that throughout his life he encouraged many along the way.
All of us can be an encourager, but granted, there are some with that special gift God has provided them. They are special people, I guess because they treat everyone else as ‘special.’ The encourager has a lot of patience and they have a lot of love to share. I think those two attributes strengthen their gift of being an encourager. What is the greatest gift? I think it is to be an encourager, because it is saturated in love, and what does our Lord (through the apostle Paul) say about love?
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:1, 13 emphasis mine)