As far as we know, the first introduction we have to Barnabas is found in Acts chapter 4. In this chapter we learn that his given name was Joses and he was a Levite from Cyprus. We also learn that the apostles “surnamed [him] Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation)” (Acts 4:36). If the name was given because of Barnabas’ character, and most likely it was, then he was an encourager. Barnabas was one who met the needs of others. We mentioned that, as far as we know, this is the first mention of Barnabas in Scripture. We state it this way, because Jewish legend (which often had its origin in truth) says that Barnabas was the same man as the rich young ruler which caused sorrow to the Lord upon their encounter, because he walked away sorrowfully having much goods. Be that as it may, Barnabas whose life as revealed in Scripture is certainly worthy of our attention. His was of sterling character.
Concerning Barnabas, we remember that when the brethren were fearful and questioning Saul of Tarsus and his conversion, it was Barnabas who was there to meet the need. Luke records,
And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus (Acts 9:26,27).
In the eighth chapter of Acts, we learn of a great persecution upon the church that resulted in the brethren being scattered abroad. Verse 8 tells us that “they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.” Later Luke records these words:
Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord (Acts 11:19-21).
With this great number of conversions arose a need for further teaching and instruction. Continuing in this context, we learn of Barnabas’ role:
When tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord (Acts 11:22-24).
After that, Barnabas would depart to Tarsus, “for to seek Saul” (Acts 11:25). From there he would continue with the apostle Paul in their evangelistic effort. Surely we are impressed by the fact that he had a good and honest heart which obeyed the gospel and produced much fruit.
Barnabas also had a great concern for the brethren. The very name that was given to him by the apostles in Acts 4 indicates there was a strong love for the brethren within this saint. His willingness to sell a field and give the proceeds to the apostles to meet the needs that were present indicates the brethren were foremost in his mind (Acts 4:36, 37). His willingness to stand up for the apostle Paul in the beginning shows great concern for the brethren. It seems whenever we see a glimpse of Barnabas in Scripture, it is in a context where he is doing something for someone else. Though there are many other examples we could present and develop in thought, one example stands out in our mind, which we believe is worthy of our attention. In Acts 15, after the conference discussing circumcision and the keeping of the law, Paul and Barnabas continued teaching in Antioch for a space of time (Acts 15:35). It was at this time that Paul determined it would be good to go back and visit every city where they had preached the gospel and see how the brethren were doing (v. 36). Yet, of Paul and Barnabas it says “a contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other” (v. 39). The contention was over whether or not John Mark should accompany them on this journey. Paul thought it not good because John Mark had “departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work” (v. 38). Silas thus would travel with Paul and Barnabas would travel to Cyprus with John Mark. Just as Barnabas had once stood with Paul when he was in need and desired to number himself with the brethren, he now stood with John Mark when Paul would have no part of it. One must wonder how this must have affected John Mark and also how it may have affected Paul. It was later that the apostle would call for John Mark saying “for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Tim. 4: 11). Without question, Barnabas was one who had great concern for the brethren.
It seems we live in a day where most are looking out for themselves and their own. It is rare, sometimes even in the church of the Lord, to find men who are able to overcome strife or vainglory and in lowliness of mind esteem other better than themselves. However men like Barnabas “look not on their own things, but…also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:4). We need more like Barnabas in the Lord’s church today. Let us all study our Bibles more and more as we strive to build character within our lives, and may we learn the great lessons from our faithful brother Barnabas.