The historical sections of the New Testament focus mostly on how people responded to the person and mission of Jesus Christ. It is not that we bind as law the examples of their obedient responses to the law of God. If we would do this, then it would be justification for us doing the same in reference to binding our own example of obedience on others. And if we did this, we would bring into bondage those who would admire our example. We would thus minimize obedience to the law of God. Those who followed our examples would be encouraged to ignore God’s law in order to keep our traditions, and thus, they would give up their own freedom in Christ (See Mk 7:1-9; Gl 5:1). It is the binding law of God that must be obeyed. The New Testament is filled with examples of how people obediently responded to the will of God.
In recording the obedient example of the early disciples, the Holy Spirit is trying to encourage and challenge us. We read the examples of the first century heroes of faith as illustrations, or challenges to better our own discipleship. When we see the effect that Jesus had on their lives, we are challenged to be transformed into a better living sacrifice that is offered to God. If the early disciples responded in such a marvelous manner to the resurrected Son of God, then we also can do the same.
What is very encouraging is the extent, or extremity, to which the early saints committed themselves to live a totally sacrificed life in daily worship of the One who released them from the burden of their sins. Barnabas was one of these disciples. A definitive statement of his character and “spiritual worship” was written of him by the Holy Spirit:
Then news of these things came to the ears of the church that was in Jerusalem. And they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Now when he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad. And he encouraged them all that with purpose of heart that they remain faithful to the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And many people were added to the Lord (At 11:22-24).
Every disciple of Divinity would desire that such be said of them in their ministry for the Lord. Before the announcement that Jesus was the Christ and Son of God on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30, and before he obeyed the gospel in response to this truth, Barnabas was an ordinary man just like the rest of us. His original name was Joseph, but he was later named “Barnabas” by the apostles (At 4:36). He was the cousin of John Mark (Cl 4:10). He was a Levite from Cyprus, and a former owner of land (See At 4:36,37).
It was not that Barnabas was a unique person. He simply responded uniquely to the person of Jesus in order to be a dedicated disciple. Because the Holy Spirit wanted all of us to recognize the totally committed response of Barnabas to the gospel, He recorded in Holy Scripture the example of his life. Since we have a New Testament record of Barnabas’ living sacrifice, the Holy Spirit is asking us to be encouraged by what we see in Barnabas.
A. Barnabas was an evangelistic disciple.
Barnabas “… having land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (At 4:37). The historical context of this contribution is what made Barnabas’ action of giving so thrilling in reference to world evangelism.
Jewish and proselyte visitors came from throughout the world to be at one or more of the annual Pentecost celebrations in Jerusalem (See At 2:5-12). They came with money and supplies for the fifty-day celebration. But when the visitors arrived on the A.D. 30 Pentecost, God had a surprise for them.
On the A.D. 30 Pentecost, there were about 3,000 people baptized in response to the announcement of the resurrection and reigning Jesus, whom the apostles declared to be the Messiah (Christ) and Son of God (At 2:29-38,41). At the following Pentecost a year later in A.D. 31, we would expect that the crowd was even greater, for Isaiah, 600 years before, had prophesied that the word of God would go from Jerusalem (Is 2:1-4). Once the word (gospel) was initially announced at the A.D. 30 Pentecost, it motivated the first respondents to broadcast the good news to synagogues throughout the Roman Empire. One can only imagine the multitude of people who went forth into all the known world with the news of the resurrected Jesus in their hearts. They went forth to announce to the world the good news that the apostles had declared in the streets of Jerusalem.
Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were the “Bibles” who declared the fulfillment of prophecy concerning the Messiah, as well as God’s instructions for those who were now His new creation in Christ (See Jn 14:26; 16:13). The apostles thus stayed in Jerusalem for as long as fifteen years in order to greet Jews who continued annually to come to the Pentecost feasts. It was a “lectureship” for the returning Jewish saints, but an opportunity to evangelistically reach out to those Jews, who for the first time, would encounter Jesus through the apostles’ teaching.
The need for support for these visitors who came from all parts of the world, became critical for the local disciples. The local disciples knew that the visitors needed to continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship” (At 2:42). Because everyone knew that the gospel must be preached to every creature of the world (Mk 16:15), the local Christians partnered financially with the visitors in order to keep the visitors at the apostles’ feet to be taught for as long as possible. When these disciples returned home throughout the world, they would preach Jesus in their synagogues and communities.
For this reason, the local Christians responded to the financial needs of the day. “Great grace was upon them all” (At 4:33). Therefore, there was no one “among them [the visitors], who lacked, for as many [local disciples] as were owners of land or houses sold them and brought the proceeds and the things that were sold” (At 4:34). And Barnabas was right in there among those who sold their possessions. “Barnabas … having land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (At 4:36,37). Barnabas, too, believed the prophecies and mandate of Jesus that the gospel must be preached to all the world.
Since Jesus’ prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem would in the near future take away all the possessions of the Judean Christians, and depopulate Judea of Jewish residents, the local disciples believed Jesus, and subsequently they disinvested in Palestine (See Mt 24). Barnabas as well, believed Jesus and sold out. He joined with the other disciples in putting his money into world evangelism.
This is just a small window into the heart of a true disciple of Divinity. In reference to finances, Barnabas had his priorities in order concerning what was most important in reference to preaching the gospel to the world. The following words of Jesus continued to ring in his ears: “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Mt 6:24). Barnabas chose to serve God. He knew that it was better to die poor, than to leave an inheritance that could be wasted away by heirs who loved wealth.
Barnabas was a disciple who understood the continued work of the One of whom he claimed to be a disciple. Throughout his life as a disciple, he not only gave to support the preaching of the gospel, but he also personally did the work by going with Paul on Paul’s first mission journey (At 13, 14). True disciples of Divinity both support missions, and sometimes, they are missionaries themselves. If they cannot go to other fields, they make sure that someone does (See Rm 10:14,15; 3 Jn 5-8).
B. Barnabas was an exhorting disciple.
Because Joseph was gifted with the personality and ability to encourage people, the apostles changed his name. They changed it to “Barnabas,” which name means “The Son of Encouragement” (At 4:36). This makes one think. If we were in contact with the apostles, and they really knew who we were, then what name would they give us? Would our new name be “The Son of Joy.” Or possibly, it might be “The Son of Optimism,” Or maybe it would be, “The Son of Despair,” or, “The Son of Discouragement,” or even, “The Son of Lazy.” If our name were changed by our friends, then what name would they give us?
Barnabas had the gift of encouraging others because he was an encouraging personality. The room became brighter when he entered. Because Barnabas had the spirit of encouragement, God could use him for unique ministries. For example, when the disciples in Judea heard that there were new disciples in Antioch, “they sent Barnabas off to Antioch” (At 11:22). And when Barnabas arrived, “he encouraged them all that with purpose of heart that they remain faithful to the Lord” (At 11:23).
When in a mission area where boldness was needed to preach the gospel to unbelievers, Barnabas was there. And when many believed what Barnabas and Paul taught, the two speakers “persuaded them to continue in the grace of God” (At 13:43). But when the opposition saw that the people were giving heed to what Barnabas and Paul were preaching, the two evangelists “grew bold” (At 13:46). On their return to cities to which they had first preached the gospel, Barnabas and Paul “taught many … confirming the souls of the disciples and exhorting them to continue in the faith” (At 14:21,22).
Barnabas was one who certainly implemented in his life the mandate of the Hebrew writer: “But exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hb 3:13). Barnabas was one with all those saints who were for “encouraging one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching” (Hb 10:25).
One of the tasks of a good evangelist is to encourage the disciples wherever they are encountered. When Paul and Silas left Philippi, “they encouraged” the brethren (At 16:40). Aquila and Priscilla encouraged Apollos to continue on in his personal mission to Corinth (At 18:27; see 1 Co 16:12). Even when Paul was in the midst of a storm at sea, he encouraged everyone who was on board the doomed vessel by revealing to them that they would all survive (At 27:33).
One of the signals of true discipleship is manifested in how we affect people in a positive manner. And there is no greater gift in human relationships than to be one who brings encouragement to the disheartened.
Christianity is about mutual encouragement. Paul wanted to visit the disciples in Rome, so that, he wrote, he might be “encouraged together” with them (Rm 1:12; compare Rm 15:4,5; Ph 2:1). As a Christian, Barnabas realized his responsibility to always encourage those in whose company he was at any particular time.
[Next lecture in series: April 26]