In my last blog post I addressed the story of a woman in Old Testament times by the name of Naomi who through her encouraging ministry secured a prosperous life for her daughter in law Ruth. Despite some of life’s most difficult circumstances, Godly leaders are able to help encourage others to achieve great things.
Another Biblical character often over-looked is Barnabas. This New Testament character does not get much attention in Sunday school classes or sermons, but he has always been one of my favorites. At first glance, he is[ke1] a mere role-player in a cast of superstars. And even then, he is not long for the story, exiting halfway through the book of Acts after a dispute with the Apostle Paul over who to take on an upcoming mission’s trip. When it came to finding and empowering people for ministry, Barnabas’ actions are exemplary. An argument could be made, at least from the human perspective, that without his contribution and knack for finding, training, and developing leaders, there would be no Apostle Paul, no book of Romans or any of Paul’s other New Testament letters. Without Barnabas there would be no Gentile Christians, and no gospel of Mark. That is quite a legacy for someone who gets so little love from theological pundits and preachers.
In the fourth chapter of the book of Acts, we learn of this Levite from Cyprus named Joses whom the apostles called Barnabas. That nickname translated is “Son of Encouragement” or “Son of Exhortation” and was probably given to him because of his inclination to serve others and his willingness to do whatever the church leaders needed.
In Acts Chapter 9 we meet up with Barnabas again after a man named Saul had experienced a radical change. Saul who once had persecuted and executed Christians had now experienced a dramatic conversion through an encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Saul had become a Christian himself, but he was having trouble gaining acceptance among the leadership in the Jerusalem church who he had previously hunted down.
“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.” Acts 9: 26-27
Saul was being shunned by the church with Peter and the other disciples who were not trusting and wanting nothing to do with him. It was Barnabas, the encourager, who always looking for the best in people, brings him to the church leaders and tells them about the change in brother Saul.
In another episode of Barnabas’ life, we see that Saul who had gone back to Tarsus, was preaching there and making tents as a way to support himself. Still not accepted by the other disciples, Saul had been shunned by the Jerusalem church for about 9 years. Barnabas needed help in leading a new church at Antioch and he went looking for Saul and trained him to be an effective leader. At the end of the year at Antioch, the pair head out on a new missionary journey. Here is where the scriptures refer to them as Barnabas & Saul. But along the way Saul gets a name change and from then on they are referred to as Paul & Barnabas, denoting Paul being the leader. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Barnabas was his willingness to step aside and take second billing.
President Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit” Not many people can go from top-billing to second banana on the marquee but Barnabas did not seem to have a problem with it. The example set by Jesus that Barnabas had learned about was that the path to greatness is found in encouraging and serving others.