He was born Joses, a Greek variant of the name “Joseph.” Later on, when recounting the story of how he sold his possessions to give money to the apostles in Jerusalem, the Book of Acts calls him “Barnabas,” which in Greek translates as “son of encouragement” or “son of consolation.”
Barnabas was a Hellenic Jew from Cyprus, which is an island country located south of Turkey, west of Syria and Lebanon and north of Israel. Barnabas knew the culture and customs of both Jewish and Roman societies. Therefore, his work and influence during the first missionary efforts to take the gospel to the Roman empire were invaluable.
When one of the greatest first-century persecutors of Christians, Saul of Tarsus became the apostle Paul, after his life-changing encounter with the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus, he faced high suspicion, opposition and fear from the leaders of the early church. After all, Saul headed many fierce rallies against Christianity. But in the ninth chapter of the book of Acts, we read that when fearful disciples refused to accept Paul, it was Barnabas who stood in his defense. Thanks to Barnabas’ testimony, Paul was then able to “stay with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.”
Later on, Paul and Barnabas joined efforts to bring the gospel to gentiles in Antioch, where they worked together for a year. They continued journeying through Cyprus, Pamphylia, and Pisidia – major cities of Asia Minor. They also traveled together to the Jerusalem council in 50 A.D.
Paul was not one of the original 12 apostles of Jesus; however, he was, unquestionably, among the most prolific contributors to the New Testament. His influence in the early Christian church and beyond is undeniable.
But even a man of unshakeable faith and solemn knowledge of God, such as Paul, needs an encourager and advocate. Someone who could go before him and open doors. And he indeed found that trait in Barnabas.
Because Barnabas was born and raised a Greek, he knew the vast differences between Jewish and Hellenic cultures. No doubt, he was vital to help Paul understand the places, challenges and enemies he would find along the way.
When Paul needed an advocate, Barnabas was there.
When he needed entrance in foreign territory, Barnabas’ heritage undoubtedly opened the door.
And when he needed help in the work God called him to do in a hostile land, Barnabas stood faithfully beside him.
We don’t know much about Barnabas. But it is safe to say that without him and other encouragers Paul found in his journey, many of his writings to the churches in the Roman empire would not exist to bless us today.
I pondered that story while praying this morning, as I thanked God for the people who have been instrumental in encouraging my work in ministry.
Accepting the challenge of writing and speaking in my second language was undoubtedly a test of faith — one sometimes met with inevitable discouragement and opposition. As it happens, any time one starts something that is bigger than their innate ability or receives favor from unlikely places, he or she usually experiences some jealousy and hostility. Naysayers, hypocritical and judgmental people are everywhere, including the church.
But thank God for the Barnabases sent our way!
They are the friends and family members who cheer us on when the road becomes steep and hard to climb.
They are the cheerleaders who rejoice with our accomplishments and celebrate when success knocks at our door.
They are the supporters, door holders, defenders, burden carriers, prayer warriors, and selfless friends.
They are often in the shadows, and the limelight may never shine upon them.
Their faces may not be on billboards, book covers, or television announcements. But their names echo louder in heaven than the name of many “famous” people on earth ever will.
Every Paul needs a Barnabas. And every Barnabas needs Paul’s gratitude for the invaluable gift of selfless, unmovable, unshakable friendship and support. Take a moment to thank your Barnabas today!
“As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” — King Solomon, Book of Proverbs
Patricia Holbrook is a columnist, author, blogger and international speaker. Her newly published Bible Study – “Twelve Inches” - starts online on March 2. Visit her website www.soaringwithHim.com to register. For speaking engagements and comments, email pholbrook@soaringwithHim.com
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