Author: Mithun Borde & Andrew Sargent, PhD, Contributing Authors for Foundations by ICM
Question: How do you think the newly formed church thrived in the face of persecution and prospered spiritually in spite of the martyrdom of Stephen and James?
First Answer: The Twelve Apostles were leading the church through the power of the Holy Spirit as an effective witness to the Jewish community concerning Jesus Christ.
Second Answer: God used this persecution to forcibly expand their efforts beyond Jerusalem to include even the gentiles themselves. Just as the power of the Spirit led on Pentecost, He continued to empower a new crop of leaders for this global expansion… men like Barnabas, who plays a special role in the gentile church and in the lives of men like Paul and John Mark.
We first meet Barnabas in Acts 4:36 when a supernatural manifestation of love moves some in the new community of faith to sell land to provide the material sustenance for needy believers. Joseph, whom the Apostles have nicked-named “Barnabas.” (Which Acts 4:36 interprets as “Son of Encouragement) is one of them. Being from Cyprus, many have suggested that this signals a severing of ties with his old life there, and his full commitment to the new community of Faith in Jerusalem.
We learn several things about Barnabas in Scripture. It is interesting to note that his revealed character sets Barnabas out as the exact opposite of the description of the sinners condemned in Revelation 21:8. For fun, we’d like to present those characteristics using the man’s English name as an acrostic.
- B – Bold, not coward
- A – Authentic, not unbelieving
- R – Righteous, not immoral
- N – Noble, not an idolater
- A – Admirable, not abominable/detestable
- B – Believable, not a liar
- A – Appreciative of the things of the Spirit resisting sorcerers
- S – Sufferer, not a murderer
B – Bold, not coward
Barnabas was not just bold to speak the word of God but was also brave to give Saul, the Christian killer, a chance when others fled him. In Acts 9:19-25, Saul proves a powerful advocate for Christ in Damascus, winning disciples. In Jerusalem, however, he is shunned until Barnabas risks his very life to embrace him.
A – Authentic, not unbelieving
Barnabas is a faithful man, full of the Holy Spirit. When he witnesses God’s grace in gentile Antioch, he rejoices & encourages them to remain true to Jesus. Seeking their betterment rather than his own glory, Barnabas brings Saul to them. The ministry prospers greatly. (Acts 11:25–26). It is the authentic minister of Christ who lives out John 3:30, “He must increase, I must decrease.”
R – Righteous, not immoral
The Greek word translated as immoral in Revelation 21:8 is derived from a base word that means to sell one’s self… prostitution. It speaks of the unwillingness of most for sexual restraint. Barnabas, however, is a prophet and teacher, a trustworthy man granted authority to collect and deliver large sums of money to sustain the believers in Jerusalem. (Acts 11:29-30). He is trusted as a righteous man who will not succumb to his passions and misappropriate their charitable gifts.
N – Noble, not an idolater
Barnabas has a noble character. He works to support himself in the ministry, just as Paul does, rather than bring the gospel into disrepute among those who are suspicious of their motives. Barnabas’ generosity in giving the proceeds from his land sale also heralds noble character. He strikes a contrasting figure with Ananias & Sapphira, whose greed leaves them unable to part with all the money from their own sale, after boasting that they had. (Acts 5:1-11). Greed is one form of idolatry, and Barnabas resists the common temptation to make a god out of money.
A – Admirable, not abominable/detestable
Barnabas is admirable. He is admired by the Apostles who call him Barnabas and by the Holy Spirit who choses him for missionary service along with Saul, also called Paul. (Acts 13:1-7). Although this mission is labeled Paul’s first missionary journey, Barnabas plays a leading role. When the time comes, Paul moves to the front without a fight for control by Barnabas. He recognizes Paul’s gifts and is happy to see them well-employed for the benefit of believers everywhere.
Here he stands in stark contrast to the detestable leaders of so many Synagogues whose greed (Luke 16:14-15) and jealousy (Acts 5:17 & 13:45) render them abominations before the Lord.
B – Believable, not a liar
The church at Jerusalem entrusts Barnabas’ witness concerning the grace of God in Antioch (Acts 11:22-23; 15:12). When the crowds at Lystra call Barnabas, Zeus (Jupiter—the supreme god), & Paul, Hermes (Mercury—the messenger of the gods & spokesman of Zeus), they restrain them from offering sacrifice to them. Barnabas doesn’t exploit this lie, even when the Jews from Antioch & Iconium coax these very crowds into stoning Paul. (Acts 14:8-20).
A – Appreciative of the things of the Spirit resisting sorcerers
Barnabas is full of the Holy Spirit and manifests the right kind of respect and humility in appreciation of the grace shown to the gifted. It is all about Christ, not himself. (Acts 11:23-24).
Thus, when arriving in his home region, Cyprus (Acts 13), Barnabas stands with Paul against the Jewish sorcerer and false prophet Bar-Jesus, just as Peter stood against the selfish wiles of Simon the Samaritan sorcerer in Acts 8.
When Barnabas witnesses the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon Paul, he appreciates that gifting and allows Paul to assume leadership in their work. (Acts 13:1-13). Acts 13 shows a swift transition of responsibility changing up the phrase Barnabas and Saul (v. 2,7) to Paul and his companions (v.13) to Paul and Barnabas (v.42,50).
S – Sufferer, not a murderer
Both John and Jesus saw the heart of murder in the violent self-interest of those who give way to hate for others. (Matthew 5:22; 1 John 3:15) Barnabas, however, shows again and again that he is an encourager of others, rather than a self-interested brawler. He lives to see others promoted, even if, by the gracious gifts of God, they are promoted ahead of himself. He sees the good in others and stands for them even when it costs him personally… like the time he stood against Paul himself on behalf of John Mark when that young man fails in ministry.
Barnabas influences both Paul and John Mark at crucial points in their spiritual lives, and thus, though superseded by both, has a share in their inspired writings. That which makes men murderers has no foothold in Barnabas’ soul.
We need leaders like Barnabas in our churches. We need leaders who are selfless and act honestly without any ulterior motives. We need leaders who are faithful, staying true to who they are in Christ, and focused primarily on keeping others close to Christ, rather than seeking to become the object of hero worship. Behind every Paul, there is a Barnabas, and we need a Barnabas in every local church. Those whose aim is not competition for prominence but only a deep desire to hear the Lord say to them, “Well done.”