"Barnabas: Bolstering Boldly in the Background"

June 20, 2010 Father's Day Acts 11:22-30


A mother and her 4-year-old son were looking through an old family photo album. The boy pointed at a picture of a handsome young man with dark, curly hair. He asked, "Who's that?" His mother replied, "That's your father." A confused look crossed the little boy's face. He demanded, "Then who is that bald guy who lives with us now?" (!)

That might be a little discouraging for his dad - and the rest of us fathers who are only too aware of our rapidly vanishing youth! We can overlook the lad's remark, he's a bit young to be completely aware of social niceties. But dads, on the other hand, though they know better, can be discouraging at times in their words to their families. Today we look at Barnabas, a champion encourager in the early church; his loving behaviour built others up as a reflection of his life in Christ by the Holy Spirit's power.


Barnabas isn't actually his real name: in Acts 4:36 he's introduced to us as "Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement)..." So he's originally a Jew, from the tribe of Levi, but from a nearby island in the Mediterranean rather than from Judea. He would have been familiar with the Greek language and also a different culture - you can see how God's already at work in his life preparing him for missions, much as we saw the Lord preparing Saul throughout his growing up. Yet he seems to have had connections in Jerusalem: he was a cousin of John Mark, perhaps through Mark's mother Mary to whose house Peter went when freed miraculously in prison in Acts 12(12). He was likely tall and handsome with a sense of bearing; the people of Lystra suppose he must be Zeus (the chief pagan god) when Paul heals a man lame from birth (Ac 14:12).

In small communities people often are labelled with nicknames, some more complimentary than others. But for this Levite Joseph, others found him so uplifting that it was if 'encouragement' was his middle name. In Hebrew, 'bar' means 'son of' and the root 'nb'is 'to prophesy'. Acts 13:1 says "In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas..." is mentioned first, so he probably had a prophetic gift that could supernaturally discern a person's divine giftings, who God is crafting them to become in Christ, and thus Barnabas could speak to them encouragingly, helping them believe they could become the person in reality he saw in them in spirit.

Barnabas couldn't help saying uplifting things to folks. He saw the good, the potential, within them and built them up in that direction; Acts 11:23, what's the first thing he does when he arrives on a scene? "When he arrived [at Antioch] and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts." Consequently the church was also built up; v24B, "a great number of people were brought to the Lord." As a prophet he could probably also help them confront their individual sins, repent, and receive forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

On this Father's Day, it's important for dads to realize how important our role is in our families to encourage others. The New Testament doesn't have a lot to say to fathers specifically (just a couple of passages), but what it does say emphasizes the importance of encouragement. Colossians 3:21, "Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged." Do we 'lay down the law' and 'lower the boom' when kids mess up in a way that discourages them, and later makes them resentful or bitter? Isn't there another approach that would encourage them rather than tear them down? Likewise, Ephesians 6:4 begins, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children..."

The Life Application Bible comments, "The purpose of parental discipline is to help children grow, not to exasperate and provoke them to anger or discouragement...Frustration and anger should not be causes for discipline.Instead, parents should act in love, treating their children as Jesus treats the people He loves.This is vital to children's development and to the understanding of what Christ is like." As you re-present the Lord in your family structure, resemble Him in His patience, love, empathy, understanding, and encouragement.


Acts 11:24 is the single verse in the New Testament that packs the most in when describing this significant apostolic volunteer in the early church. How's Luke begin it? "He was a good man..." Barnabas today might have belonged to PromiseKeepers because he was a 'man of integrity'. Unquestionable integrity, good through and through. He seems to have been universally respected in the early church, as far as we can tell from the New Testament. When there's a job to be done, who do they send in? Barnabas. When there's a major gift to be transported or message to be conveyed, who do the leaders send it in charge of? Good ol' Barnabas. Acts 11:30 - the church at Antioch in response to a prediction of a severe famine send help to those in Judea "by Barnabas and Saul." When the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 settles the important question about circumcision and adherence to other Jewish laws, the pillars of the church send Barnabas and Saul to convey the news to the Gentile churches (Ac 15:25).

Kids and their moms need, and benefit from, dads (or at least male role models) in a family who are basically 'good'. Jesus said, "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Mt 7:9ff) Being good and sharing good things with our families reflects God's goodness to us.


Giving good gifts was something Barnabas specialized in. At the time we're introduced to him back in Acts 4:37, what's he doing? He "sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet." These love-offerings were distributed to the poor, the widows, as any had need. Barnabas' gift must have been significant because it's singled out for mention. He would have been the type of person who didn't sit back to wait and see what others gave; instead, he led the way in generosity.

Barnabas also had a sacrificial attitude out on the mission field with regard to personal support. Like other missionaries he had the right to ask for church people to maintain him, but like Paul he worked part-time to pay his own way. In 1Corinthians 9:6 Paul asks rhetorically, "Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?" Money certainly wasn't Barnabas' god; he wasn't greedy or out for gain, but generous.

It was sad to hear in the news this week of a father and son both being sentenced to life imprisonment, with no chance of parole for 18 years, after their pleading guilty to the 'honour killing' of their daughter/sister who rejected wearing the Muslim head-covering and other restrictions. Children should be able to have fathers who pour into their lives, not take it from them. Even in a father's role of disciplining and punishing, it should be for their children's good not destruction. Hebrews 12(9f) says, "Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness."


What's the beloved physician's second descriptor of Barnabas in Acts 11:24? "Full of the Holy Spirit..." This is where Barnabas' goodness and encouragement, comforting and counselling others, came from. Jesus promised in John 14(15ff), "If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you." So when Luke says Barnabas was 'full of the Holy Spirit", this is who he's referring to - the Counselor / Helper / Paraclete, 'one called alongside to help', God's very Spirit of truth who would guide the apostles in their teaching and superintend the writing of the New Testament.

Acts 11:26 says "for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people." The Holy Spirit showed them what to teach, how to build God's truth into people's lives and this new community thing called the church. People could see in Barnabas' life the 'fruit of the Spirit' Paul later described in Galatians 5(22f) - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and so on. The Spirit draws people to Christ through His qualities manifested in believers' lives.

Barnabas practised spiritual disciplines - keeping in step with the Spirit was more important to him than regular meals, for example. In Acts 13:2 the church at Antioch perceives God's call for Barnabas and Saul to be missionaries: "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said..." Again in 14:23, "Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust." Disciplines of prayer and fasting give us opportunity to pay special heed to the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit works in Christian dads to help us be more like our heavenly Dad. Psalm 103(8,11,13) says, ""The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love...as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him...As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him..." Barnabas' behaviour reflected God's compassion, graciousness, and love. He was a connector - v25 from Antioch he goes to hunt for Saul around Tarsus and brings him to help in the work. That takes humility, to admit you need help! Furneaux comments, "He had none of the littleness which cannot bear the presence of a possible rival." He was also a Christlike mentor: v26 after Barnabas and Saul's teaching, "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." That was a significant new thing - the label sure stuck, didn't it? The Holy Spirit was transforming people's living and behaviour to be like Christ's, so they started to stand out from the general population as 'little Christs' or 'Jesus-followers' hence the name. The Spirit was noticeably taking hold, and Barnabas' obedient ministry was a big part of that.


Our fifth and last feature of Barnabas' make-up is also in v24, "He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit AND FAITH." Other words for faith are trust, believing, seeing God's possibilities. Hebrews 11 (the 'faith chapter') describes it this way in v1, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Barnabas trusted in a God who worked miracles, who would come through in the crunch - a God who could and would do marvelous things in people's lives, though that might seem unlikely given past history.

Remember Saul's persecution of the church, throwing men and women in prison, 'breathing out murderous threats' before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus? He was suddenly turned 180 degrees - but who was going to trust him? 9:26 records, "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." Nobody wanted to make contact. Perhaps whenever little cluster of believers saw Saul coming, they instantly scattered.

I can sort of imagine the church leaders sitting around in some dark corner and one says, "I hear reports that our enemy, that bounty hunter, has suddenly met the Lord and become a follower." (pause) Another adds, "I suppose we should really check it out." (pause) A third observes, "But who would risk their neck over this? It might be a trap!" (Longer pause) Then Barnabas volunteers, "I'll go." And everybody takes a gasp and looks at him! That's faith - being willing to lay your life on the line for the Lord's sake. V27, "But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles."

Another instance - Barnabas' cousin John Mark had accompanied him and Paul on their first missionary - at least through the Cyprus section. But 13:13 tells us, "From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem." In short, John Mark bailed. Why, we're not told. Maybe he was afraid of travelling in the mountainous region they were entering. Maybe he got seasick. Maybe he sensed the leadership was shifting from his cousin Barnabas to the newcomer Paul. For whatever reason, Mark wimped out and Paul was not impressed. So a little later when they were going to start a second expedition in 15:37ff, "Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus..." Paul wasn't willing to take a risk by giving Mark a second chance, but Barnabas was. He saw potential in Mark despite his past failures.

How did it turn out? In 2Tim 4:11 Paul much later writes, "Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry." Writing to Philemon, it's obvious Mark is with Paul who terms him a 'fellow worker'. And Paul tells the Colossians (4:10) Mark sends greetings and they're to welcome him if he comes to them. So obviously Mark panned out, probably benefitting from Barnabas' patient training.

Have you ever wondered how much of the New Testament we'd have without Barnabas? Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark, which Luke and Matthew seemed to have borrowed from heavily. Paul wrote so many letters. Barnabas was the man of faith who took risks to involve them both and trained them so adequately.

So dads too can emulate Barnabas' faith, seeing the potential in sons and daughters even when they fall short, patiently training and coaching and cheering them on to live lives of significance in the Kingdom. Faith sees God's possibilities. Like our 'father in faith' Abraham of whom Paul writes in Romans 4(16-21), "[the promise comes] to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed-- the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations...he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised."

How about your fathering - is it relying on your own strength, trusting in your material means and human ability; or does your family see you trusting God to bring about what's beyond your resources? Do you need God? Barnabas trusted God to do great things, way beyond what he could achieve on his own.


in 1989 an 8.2 earthquake almost flattened Armenia, killing over 30,000 people in less than four minutes. In the midst of utter devastation and chaos, a father left his wife securely at home and rushed to the school where his son was supposed to be, only to discover that the building was as flat as a pancake.

After the traumatic initial shock, he remembered the promise he had made to his son: "No matter what, I'll always be there for you!" And tears began to fill his eyes. As he looked at the pile of debris that once was the school, it looked hopeless, but he kept remembering his commitment to his son.

He began to concentrate on where he walked his son to class at school each morning. Remembering his son's classroom would be in the back right corner of the building, he rushed there and started digging through the rubble.

As he was digging, other forlorn parents arrived, clutching their hearts, saying, "My son!" "My daughter!" Other well-meaning parents tried to pull him off of what was left of the school saying, ''It's too late!'' "They're dead!" "You can't help!" "Go home!" "Come on, face reality; there's nothing you can do!" "You're just going to make things worse!"

To each parent he responded with one line: "Are you going to help me now?" And then he proceeded to dig for his son, stone by stone.

The fire chief showed up and tried to pull him off of the school's debris saying, ''Fires are breaking out; explosions are happening everywhere.You're in danger.We'll take care of it.Go home." To which this loving, caring Armenian father asked, "Are you going to help me now?"

The police came and said, "You're angry, distraught, and it's over.You're endangering others.Go home.We'll handle it!"To which he replied, "Are you going to help me now?" No one helped.

Courageously he proceeded alone because he needed to know for himself, "Is my boy alive or is he dead?"

He dug for eight hours...twelve hours...twenty hours...thirty-six hours...then, in the thirty-eighth hour, he pulled back a boulder and heard his son's voice. He screamed his son's name, "Armand!" He heard back, "Dad? It's me, Dad! I told the other kids not to worry. I told 'em that if you were alive, you'd save me and when you saved me, they'd be saved. You promised, 'No matter what, I'll always be there for you!' You did it, Dad!"

"What's going on in there? How is it?" the father asked. "There are fourteen of us left out of thirty-three, Dad. We're scared, hungry, thirsty, and thankful you're here. When the building collapsed, it made a wedge, like a triangle, and it saved us."

"Come on out, boy!" "No, Dad! Let the other kids out first, 'cause I know you'll get me! No matter what, I know you'll be there for me!" (source: Joe Wheeler, Heart to Heart Stories for Dads)

The Lord has promised in Scripture to be there for us. As Barnabas was full of faith, as the boy trusted his dad would come for him - may we too be fully persuaded of our Heavenly Father's unfailing love and commitment to us. Let's pray.