There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’). (Acts 4.36, cf. Acts 9.27)
Those who become monastics often choose or are given the name of a ‘saint’ as their ‘name in religion’. If it were me, I would choose Baranabas. Today, 11 June, is his feast day, believed to be the anniversary of his martyrdom at Salamis, Cyprus, c. CE 61. He is traditionally identified as the founder of the Cypriot church.
In a modest way, my Christian life and ministry up to now has emulated that of Barnabas. In future years, as I become older, some of this will remain, but some may change.
Barnabas’s story appears in the Acts of the Apostles, and in Paul’s letters. When Joseph sold land he owned and gave the money to the apostles in Jerusalem, they gave him a new name: Barnabas (Βαρναβᾶς). This name appears to be from the Aramaic בר נביא, bar naḇyā, meaning ‘the (son of the) prophet’. However, the Greek text of the Acts 4:36 explains the name as υἱός παρακλήσεως, meaning ‘son of consolation’ or ‘son of encouragement’ (cf. 1 Cor. 14:3).
My giving is not as sacrificial as that of Barnabas! But I have long tried to be an encourager of fellow church people and my local church. People don’t speak negatively to me, as I rarely pay attention. I keep myself from criticism and discouragement.
Barnabas was born a Levite, one of those set aside for service in God’s house. I love God’s house. Oddly, I have never worried about church services being long (or short!).
Barnabas believed in the power of the Gospel for change. He is an example of openness in his sponsorship of Paul, persuading the church in Jerusalem that Paul had been converted (Acts 9:26-27) and introducing Paul to the fellowship of believers. What a joy it is to help newcomers become welcome and connected!
Barnabas was a church builder; a team worker, and a collaborator in ministry. The growth of the church at Antioch led the church at Jerusalem to send Barnabas to Antioch to superintend. But Barnabas did not work alone; he was a team worker, searching out Paul to assist him. They worked together for a full year (Acts 11:25, 26). In church, I love teamwork and collaboration.
Barnabas was among the first to understand that the church’s mission is universal. He was a bridge between the Greek-speaking converts and the Hebrew-speaking Jews who were Jesus’ earliest followers – a worker in what today we call ‘cross-cultural ministry’, in evangelism and church building. The Council of Jerusalem accepted the view of Paul and Barnabas that Gentiles be allowed into the community without circumcision or adherence to Jewish dietary laws (Acts 15; Galatians 2). I have spent much of my Christian life working for and among Asian people, including with large groups of students and immigrants here in Australia and for two years in Malaysia, helping people of various cultures to be one in Christ.
Barnabas was a person of reconciliation; unlike Paul, he wanted to give John Mark a second chance. Again, this is my attitude; it’s an aspect of teaching and mentoring.
With time, Paul began to gain prominence over Barnabas; instead of “Barnabas and Saul” (11:30; 12:25; 13:2, 7) we begin to read in Acts of “Paul and Barnabas” (13:43, 46, 50; 14:20; 15:2, 22, 35). Barnabas is named an apostle in Acts 14:14. A number of times, I have seen people I have helped as new and young Christians grow into positions of leadership where I have been under their authority. I have found this not a humiliation but a joy.
Barnabas remains a ‘Son of Encouragement.’
Generous God,whose Son Jesus Christ has taught us that it is more blessed to give than to receive: help us by the example of your apostle Barnabas, a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, to be generous in our judgements and unselfish in our service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.