June 11 was the Feast of St. Barnabas on the calendars of many liturgical churches. Normally, I would have preferred to publish this article on that date. I trust that you will forgive me for the late post. After all, probably most of you have never even heard of the Feast of St. Barnabas. Some Christians may not even know who he was. Among the great men of God in the New Testament, he is easy to overlook. Yet, we cannot ignore his impact on church history and the daily Christian walk of most believers. The New Testament would be very different without him, even though he did not write any of its books.
Without Barnabas, Paul would most likely have been ostracized by the church and lost to history. We would not have his 13 letters in the Bible. Many Bible scholars doubt that he wrote Hebrews (I agree with that view), but they will acknowledge that it was probably written by somebody who was connected with Paul; thus, we can thank Barnabas for the letter to the Hebrews. Without Paul’s input, we would lose the Gospel of Luke and Acts, as the author of those books was one of Paul’s ministry companions. Lastly, we would not have the Gospel according to Mark, since Barnabas played such an important role in his life.
Think about that: Barnabas plays a role in the origin of 17 of the 27 books in the New Testament. All Christians owe him a debt of gratitude. Maybe we should send each other “St. Barnabas Day” cards next June 11.
Barnabas first appears in Acts 4. While being persecuted, the early Christians in Jerusalem began living semi-communally. They held all things in common, and the wealthier disciples would sell property to help feed the poorer members. Barnabas was one of those wealthier Christians:
“Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36–37; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
While his material wealth helped people then, it would be his birth in a Gentile nation and his gift of encouragement that would cement his place in church history. Shortly after Paul’s conversion, it was Barnabas who took the former persecutor under his wings and made certain he could worship with the other followers of Jesus:
“When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase” (Acts 9:26–31).
Barnabas did not hold Paul to the past. He believed God could change the worst sinner and was willing to offer a former enemy a chance to be welcomed as a brother in Christ.
Later, when “men of Cyprus and Cyrene” came to Antioch and began preaching the Gospel to Gentiles as well as Jews, the apostles sent Barnabas to look into the situation. (This was the first time Christians had made a significant effort to evangelize non-Jews.) Since he was a Jewish believer from their home country, he could discern the situation from both sides’ perspectives.
“Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:23–26).
After all this time, Barnabas sought Paul. He recognized Paul’s potential and knew he could play a vital role in building the church in Antioch. The rest is history: The two continued to minister together for several years. They eventually parted ways when Barnabas recognized that his nephew, John Mark, needed the same encouragement and second chance he had once shown Paul (Acts 15:37–39).
The church and the world need encouragers. We need people like Barnabas in our lives. You can be Barnabas to others.
A Barnabas inspires and influences the accomplishments of others, whether or not others recognize his or her behind-the-scenes contributions. There is no Book of Barnabas in the Bible, but as we saw earlier, he had a huge impact on the Scriptures.
A Barnabas does not harp on one’s past failures. He or she recognizes that God can forgive and transform anybody.
A Barnabas recognizes a person’s gifts and potential and helps them pursue God’s will for their lives.
Be a Barnabas. Be the person who encourages and inspires others so that they can achieve the great things God has planned for them. We need people who will help us let go of the past, pursue the future that God desires for us, and change lives and hearts by bringing the kingdom of God wherever we go.
Since Hallmark will probably not begin selling St. Barnabas Day cards any time soon, we can honor his life by speaking words of encouragement every day to those we meet:
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29, emphasis added).
How have you encouraged others or been encouraged in your walk with the Lord? Share your experiences or advice by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.