The Son of Encouragement

by William J. Stewart

Most of us have had a nickname at some point in our lives. Generally nicknames are either a shortened form of our name or based on a characteristic that identifies us. The man we know as Barnabas from the Bible was actually Joses—Barnabas was a nickname given to him by the apostles. The latter part of Acts 4 reads:

And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement) a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:36-37)

The apostles saw a man who was interested in others; who would do his best to build other people up. The name stuck! Barnabas was an investor in people. Let’s notice four instances in his life where he was indeed the Son of Encouragement.

He Invested His Money

We have already cited Acts 4:36-37, which speaks of Barnabas selling a piece of land and giving the proceeds to be used to minister to the needy. It was this act that prompted the apostles to call him Son of Encouragement. Perhaps because he gave so much, others were willing to give more too. Maybe he displayed a great attitude and concern for the needy when he came with his gift. Whatever it was, it impressed the apostles.

The Bible speaks of our responsibility to minister to the needs of others. Certainly such is accomplished collectively through our giving on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:1-3), but that is not the extent of our responsibility to minister to the physical needs of others. If we have the ability, we are individually responsible to minister to needs that we are aware of (James 2:14-16; Matthew 25:34-46). Hear the words of Paul on the subject:

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:9-10)

If we were nicknamed according to our concern for others, what would we be called? Hopefully it wouldn’t be “Son of Selfishness,” or “Too Busy to Care,” or “Half-hearted One.”

He Invested His Reputation

When Paul came to Jerusalem, claiming to be a Christian, the disciples did not believe him. It was Barnabas who received him when others would not (Acts 9:26-27). In fact, he put his own reputation with the apostles on the line, bringing Paul into their presence, so he might share with them what the Lord had done with him in Damascus. It would have been easier, more convenient, less stressful, etc. to side with everyone else – but consider all that God would accomplish through Paul, as recorded in the Scriptures. What if Barnabas hadn’t stood up for him?

Years later, as Paul and Barnabas prepared for their second journey together, they disputed about whether they should take John Mark with them (Acts 15:35-41). On the previous mission, John Mark went with them, but turned back for some reason (Acts 13:5, 13). It seems that Paul had no patience to or interest in giving this young man another opportunity. However, Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, insisted that they should take him the second time also. Barnabas gave him an opportunity for redemption.

Are we willing to invest our reputation? Are we willing to look beyond the shady past that someone has (Paul killed Christians!!), and give them the benefit of the doubt? Will we lift up those who have fallen short, and encourage them to do better the second time, or will we neglect to even give the opportunity?

He Invested His Abilities

Remember, the apostles acknowledged this man to be an exceptional encourager. When news came of those who had obeyed the gospel in Antioch, the apostles wanted to send someone to encourage them in the faith (Acts 11:19-22). I doubt it took long to decide who would be best to go. We’re told of Barnabas:

When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. (Acts 11:23)

As Luke continues to write about the brethren who were at Antioch and Barnabas’ work with them, the writer spoke very highly of him (Acts 11:24), and reveals that God richly blessed the work that was done at Antioch (Acts 11:26).

Are we willing to invest our abilities? Do we have the Isaiah disposition – “Here am I, LORD, send me” (Isaiah 6:8), or are we too involved in our own things to be any use for the Lord and His people? When there is an opportunity to fill a role that is lacking, are we willing to fill that place, in expectation that God will bless us as we give ourselves wholly to His cause? Barnabas was such a man!

He Invested His Ego

In Acts 9:27; 11:25, 30; 12:25; and 13:1-3, 7, we read of Barnabas and Paul. Each time, Barnabas is listed first. It would be hard to read through the details of these texts and not conclude that Barnabas was the primary and Paul was his companion. However, in the midst of chapter 13, that changes. Acts 13:13 speaks of “Paul and his party…” References in the remainder of the chapter are to “Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 13:43, 46, 50), not Barnabas and Paul.

Barnabas is mentioned in Acts 14 and 15, and then no more in the book of Acts, and only 5 more times in the rest of the New Testament. Conversely, the rest of Acts follows Paul’s activity, and the majority of the books in the New Testament were written by Paul.

If Barnabas were a man driven by ego, he’d have taken exception to Paul rising above him in the Lord’s work. Barnabas was focused on the Lord’s will be accomplished, not personal gain or exaltation.

Will we set our ego aside for the furtherance of the gospel? Are we willing to take a seat that seems less important in man’s eyes, and that perhaps puts us in the shadow of another? May we be humble and willing to serve in whatever capacity we are given.

Will we be investors in people? If we are willing to do so, it will benefit the Lord’s people, our neighbours, and ourselves. God wants us to be interested in others and invest ourselves in others. Let us follow the example of Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement.

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