God’s People, part 234: Barnabas

Read Acts 4:36-37

“But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening, they tore their clothing in dismay and ran out among the people, shouting,”  (Acts 14:14, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

barnabasPart 234: Barnabas. When it comes to the New Testament, we think a few prominent figures. We think of Mary and Joseph. We think of Jesus Christ and his twelve disciples. Among them, we think of Peter, John and James. When it comes to Acts, we predominantly think of the Apostle Paul; however, barring those who have read the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline epistles (aka letters), most would NOT know the name, “Barnabas”; yet, he was a very influential apostle in the early church.

Barnabas’ actual name was Joseph and he was nicknamed Barnabas which means, “son of encouragement”. While on the surface it may not be clear why he was given that nickname, a closer read of Scripture provides the clues as to how Joseph fit into his nickname. When Saul of Tarsus first became an apostle, he was taken under the wing of Barnabas, with whom he traveled the known world on mission trips to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles.

While the Scriptures do not explicitly say that Barnabas was Paul’s mentor, it can be ascertained by the order in which their names appear. In Acts 11:30; 12:25; 13:2, 7, they are always listed in the following order: Barnabas and Saul. From that point on, however, they were listed as Paul and Barnabas. That means that from that point on, Paul (who decided to use his Roman name) was the apostle in charge.

Yet, mentoring Paul was not the only place where we find Barnabas encouraging people. He was a mentor to many, no doubt, including his cousin John Mark, which may or may not have been the same Mark who wrote the Gospel. Not only did Barnabas encourage him, but he advocated for him when Paul no longer wanted John Mark to be a part their missionary journeys.

The reason behind this is that John Mark had been with Barnabas and Saul (before he was using his Roman name) on their first missionary journey together. At some point during that first journey, John Mark had “abandoned them” midway and returned to Jerusalem. I put the word “abandoned” in quotes because, while it is never mentioned why John Mark left them, Paul was upset by it and clearly viewed it as a sort of abandonment of duties.

Thus, when Paul invited his good friend Barnabas on his next journey, and Barnabas stated he wanted to bring John Mark along, Paul vehemently disagreed. That, sadly, ended up in the a division between Barnabas and Paul. They parted ways and Paul went on his next journey with Silas, while Barnabas went to Cyprus with his cousin. The two sadly never joined forces again.

It is impossible to know if the two kept in contact with each other from that point on, or if their split became a permanent end to their friendship, or if they’re going separate ways made it impossible for them to reunite; however, Barnabas stood up to Paul in defense of his cousin Mark. He believed his cousin should be shown grace and encouraged to grow. As a result, Mark went on to possibly author the Gospel (though that is disputed) and more than likely to be a bishop of Apollonia.

Thus, as Christians, we could use to be like Barnabas. We could use to be an encourager and an advocate for people who we see great potential. Some times we do need to be like Paul and move on from people who are consistently unreliable; however, in this case, Paul may have been too rash as John Mark only left them once.

We, too, can often write people off too quickly because it seems like the easier route; however, Christ (and, ironically, Paul too) encourages us to be encouragers and a people who build others up. We are not to write people off, but to extend grace and extra chances to them, until it becomes clear that they are unwilling to accept such grace and change. Let us be encouragers, like Barnabas, and nurture people into deeper commitment and discipleship.

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”  – Paul of Tarsus, Apostle of Christ in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, NLT

Lord, help me to be an encourager of the church. Give me the grace to extend to those who may not be where I think they should be, for I know I am not where you think I should be. Thank you for your grace and your love. Amen.

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