One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Barnabas. In Acts, Luke tells us that he was an early convert to Christianity who came from a rich Jewish heritage. He was also one of the most generous members of the early Church. However, his encouraging spirit is the best reason for which he is remembered, for his name means, “Son of Encouragement.”
Acts 9:26-27 reads, “And when he (Paul) 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 (Paul) 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.”
Every time I read these verses, I’m struck by how instrumental Barnabas was in bringing Paul into fellowship with the other Apostles. Barnabas stood in the gap for Paul by testifying to his conversion, his initial gospel work, and his defense of the faith against the Hellenists (Acts 9:28-29). Without him, becoming a member of the small and skeptical band would have been much more difficult for Paul, if it was possible at all. They were scared of Paul, and rightly so. He was the one who had violently persecuted the earliest christians and oversaw the stoning of Stephen. How would they know he wasn’t trying to join them so that he could destroy the Christian Church before she ever got started? Barnabas’s testimony provided the necessary proof of Paul’s life-change.
Three aspects of Barnabas’s character stand out to me when I think about his story. First, he had a solid faith in our sovereign God. His faith caused him to believe that Paul could be changed by the gospel. It also caused him to give credence to Paul’s testimony of his own salvation while causing him to rest peacefully in God’s sovereignty over all the events that would take place. Second, he was courageous. Standing up for Paul wouldn’t have been an easy thing for Barnabas to do. It took courage. Everyone in the room was skeptical about Paul’s transformation. The easy thing would have been for him to remain quiet, but his courage wouldn’t let him. Third, he encouraged Paul and the other Apostles. He intentionally spoke positively about Paul’s change while reassuring the Apostles that Paul would be a great addition to their fellowship and a benefit to their mission.
We would do well to emulate these three characteristics of Barnabas’s life. We need faith to believe that life-transformation is possible, that the testimony of that transformation is credible, and that our God is sovereign over everything that happens on this earth. We should be willing to exhibit courage on the behalf of other people. Additionally, we must develop the habit of encouraging one another as we grow in grace together and spread the gospel. If we would commit to being more faithful, courageous, and encouraging our lives would be fuller, and the world would be a better place to live.
Here’s this week’s Pastoral Update where I discuss becoming an encourager in more detail. Have a great day!