If you did a word association with Barnabas, my guess is that sooner rather than later we’d come up with the word encouragement. We’d be on solid ground for that’s the way he’s introduced to us in Acts 4:36-37. There we’re told of a Cyprian Levite named Joseph given the name Barnabas which means son of encouragement. It’s not clear whether he’s given the name at this time and in response to his act of selling some land and turning the proceeds over to the apostles or whether he was already known by this name when he did it. The NIV’s treatment seems to favor that he was already known as Barnabas. Either way, the big truth that jumps off the page is that Joseph is an encourager!
We all know people like this; they’re not just easy to be around—they draw people to them. After all, who doesn’t need encouragement? Encouragers are sensitive to the situations and circumstances of others and always seem to be ready to assist them in some way. As we trace Barnabas’ footprint in Acts, the trait that stands out more than anything else to me is his generosity.
In 4:36-37, it’s his financial generosity. It’s not unreasonable to assume that many of the pilgrims who came to Jerusalem for Pentecost and became disciples saw the need to stay longer and learn more (2:42). That meant the infant Jerusalem church had some immediate and pressing financial needs. It’s possible that Barnabas had previously been involved in helping to meet those needs.
The next time we come across him is in 9:27. Saul has gone from persecutor to preacher but had to leave Damascus when some there plot to take his life. He arrives in Jerusalem and seeks refuge there but no one wants anything to do with the man responsible for the persecution that came on the Jerusalem church. We don’t know how long this situation lasted but you can imagine how alone he must have felt, his former friends wanted to kill him and his new family wants nothing to do with him—until Barnabas steps in. He takes Paul to the apostles and speaks up for him. Here’s a man who rich in his willingness to listen (when others didn’t want to) and generous in his belief in them (when others were unwilling). He later does much the same kind of thing in regard to John Mark (15:36ff).
When Gentiles are brought to Christ in Antioch, the church needs a good man to go there and work with them. Who do they decide upon? Barnabas. What does he do? He goes to Tarsus to recruit Saul to work with him (11:22ff). Here is a man who is generous in terms of his outlook and compassion for others.
When Paul later writes Romans he speaks in the twelfth chapter of some of the different gifts God has given to people in the body of Christ. In v. 8 he says that if someone’s gift is giving, they are to “give generously.” You wonder if at this point Paul paused and thought of his friend Barnabas.
We can’t all be Barnabas and maybe we’re not gifted in the area of giving as some were (and are)–but we can nonetheless in our own ways live generous lives.