Pastor’s Perspective – August 2023
In the book of Acts, chapter 4, we are introduced to a Levite, who lived in Cyprus, named Joseph. Joseph is a believer in Jesus who sold his farm (or field) in order that he might give to the cause of the Church. The money was laid at the Apostles feet. Joseph was given the name “Barnabas” which is translated as ‘son of encouragement,’ and introduced in the paragraph before the story of Ananias and Sapphira. This is intended as a narrative comparison between the sacrificial giving of a true believer (Barnabas) and the fraudulent giving of a couple (Ananias and Sapphira) who keep some of the money for themselves.
Barnabas will soon become a major character in the story of the neophyte Church. In chapter 11 Barnabas returns to the narrative as the disciple who was sent to the Antioch Church to consider the reports of Gentile believers receiving the gospel from those scattered by the persecution of Stephen. Barnabas rejoices in discovering the presence of the Holy Spirit in a Gentile community of believers because “he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”
Barnabas’ response to his discovery at Antioch changes the trajectory of the Church. Instead of returning to Jerusalem he departs for Tarsus to look for Saul, the man who persecuted Stephen and scattered these believers into the Gentile world. He finds Saul and brings him to Antioch and for a full year they minister in the city that first distinguished believers from Jews by labelling them as ‘Christians.’ It was from there that God sent Saul and Barnabas to minister to the Gentiles. And where did the Holy Spirit send them? Cyprus, the home of Joseph the Levite, otherwise known as Barnabas.
Barnabas champions those who most reasonable people would try to avoid. He is willing to work with those who have seriously failed. Saul, in the days before he became the great evangelist Paul, would have been hard to support within any local church. Most of Saul’s wiki page, at this time, was devoted to Saul’s public harassment and persecution of the Church. Saul actively persecuted the Church and gave aid and approval to those who stoned Stephen. When Saul was converted on the road to Damascus, there were few that wished to take him in. How beautiful that the spiritual sons of Stephen, those scattered by Saul’s persecution, would accept the born-again Paul as a leader and minister of the gospel. Who was it that encouraged the behavior of the Church of Antioch; the son of encouragement himself, Barnabas.
Barnabas took Paul under his wing, and soon Paul became the marquee figure. When years later, the partnership fractured, it wasn’t because of a theological dispute or even an issue of authority. The reason was simple. One of their young staff members, a man by the name of John Mark, often credited as the writer of the gospel of Mark, abandoned the team in a moment of fear and panic. He left them without assistance in a crucial moment and by the time he had regained his courage and faith, Paul was too angry to allow him to return.
Paul couldn’t forgive the young man, but Barnabas did. Paul and Barnabas split over John Mark with Barnabas continuing to travel with him while Paul continued forward with Silas as his partner. John Mark eventually began to travel with Peter, and as the legend goes, used Peter’s stories to compile the earliest gospel. The traitor to Paul, became a gospel writer for Christ.
Oh, for the spirit of encouragement. The church needs people like Barnabas today. Those who would put their faith not in what can be seen but what cannot be seen. Those who would pour their energies and work not into what is guaranteed to succeed, but in work that is only capable of success with the power of God. We need those who can support and encourage the work of the gospel. People who will build others up instead of tearing them down. People who will forgive, support, and encourage the Church through the darkest and most frustrating times of failure.
Will you become a son of encouragement?