Shalom! Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. My name is Joseph. Thank you for the opportunity to share my story. I must confess, I felt a little intimidated to speak before such a distinguished group of leaders, but then the Holy Spirit brought the words of Jesus to my remembrance: “ ‘Do not worry about how or what you should speak. . . . For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you’ ” (Matt. 10:19, 20).1
I am a Levite from Cyprus. My given name is mentioned only one time in the Holy Scriptures—when I was privileged to sell a piece of land and lay the proceeds at the apostles’ feet. Not long after that, the apostles gave me another name: Barnabas, “Son of Encouragement,” and I have kept that name and (by the grace of God) have lived that name ever since.
Saul turned Paul
I remember the first time that I met Saul of Tarsus, now called Paul. He had such a bad reputation. He had forced many followers of Jesus to blaspheme, and when they were put to death, he cast his vote against them. But Saul of Tarsus was transformed through a personal encounter with the risen Christ! Brother Ananias had given his testimony to us that the Lord Jesus had appeared and told him at his home in Damascus to go to Straight Street, to the house of Judas, where he would find Saul. There Ananias was instructed to pray for him and lay hands on him, that he might receive his sight again.
And it happened just as the Lord Jesus had foretold. During Ananias’s prayer, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he arose, praising God, and was baptized in the name of Jesus. Saul immediately began to testify in the synagogues of Damascus that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He was directed by a heavenly messenger to retreat to Arabia for a time of reflection, study, and prayer. And then he returned to Damascus in the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, he preached with such holy boldness that the local Jewish leaders wanted to kill him. Fellow followers of Jesus had to lower him over the city wall in a large basket so he could escape unharmed!
When Saul finally came to Jerusalem, the apostles were very apprehensive, to say the least. They knew of his terrible deeds. But the Holy Spirit impressed me to come alongside Saul and encourage him. I went with him to the apostles and stood by his side as he gave his testimony, preaching boldly in the name of Jesus. After listening, the apostles welcomed him as a brother in Christ.
Later, the apostles asked me to travel north to Antioch in Syria. Upon arriving, I sought, by the enabling presence of the Holy Spirit, to live up to my new name—Barnabas, “Son of Encouragement.” I encouraged the believers to be steadfast in faith and faithfulness to the Lord Jesus. I do not consider myself a great orator, but the Holy Spirit helped me, and I claimed the promise of the Lord. “ ‘Fear not,’ ” the Lord said, “ ‘for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand’ ” (Isa. 41:10). And also the promise of Jesus: “ ‘You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ ” (Acts 1:8). During my ministry in Antioch, many were saved.
But the work there was too much for me. The harvest was great, as Jesus had prophesied, but the laborers few. So, led by the Holy Spirit, I traveled to Tarsus to find Saul. He was still boldly proclaiming the truth about Jesus, now in his home territory. We talked and prayed together, and he sensed the call of the Lord to minister with me back in Antioch. We served there in Antioch for a full year and taught a great many people the truth about Jesus. It was there in Antioch that followers of Jesus were first called Christians.
Later, the church leaders in Antioch, after fasting and prayer, were directed by the Holy Spirit to send Saul and me on our first missionary expedition. Now, as I mentioned, I don’t consider myself a great orator, but by the grace of God, I am a “Son of Encouragement.” And let me just tell you that Saul had times when he needed some counsel and encouragement. In Lystra, the people wanted to worship us as gods. “ ‘The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!’ ” they shouted repeatedly (Acts 14:11). They called me Zeus, perhaps because I was older and looked more distinguished, and they called Paul Hermes because, by this time, he was the primary spokesperson for our ministry team.
When we heard that the Lystrans were planning to offer sacrifices to us, we tore our clothes, and shouted, “ ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God’ ” (v. 15).
The mood of the crowd quickly changed; now they were an angry mob. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, presuming him dead. I’m not sure why they didn’t stone me, too, but this I know—as Brother Paul himself declared: The Lord will not allow us to be tested more than we are able to bear but with the test, will provide a way of escape that we may be able to bear it (see 1 Cor. 10:13). Along with the other disciples, we gathered around Paul’s bruised and battered body, calling upon the name of the Lord, and we were overjoyed when he woke up and stood to his feet. Rejoicing in the Lord, we departed for Derbe the next day.
I have happy memories of that first missionary expedition, but there was some sadness in Perga, when my young relative John Mark decided to return home to Jerusalem. He had volunteered for the trip, as Paul was quick to remind him, but the hardships seemed too much for him, and he left us.
When Paul and I returned to Antioch at the conclusion of our first missionary expedition, we shared with our brothers and sisters all that the Lord had done, and we rejoiced together. Two other prophets, Judas and Silas, also testified in the power of the Holy Spirit and strengthened the believers in Antioch.
For our second missionary expedition, I wanted to give young John Mark a second chance. After all, the Lord has given us all many second chances, hasn’t He? But Paul insisted that no weak-kneed quitter could go with us. Deeply hurt by Paul’s harsh words and unforgiving spirit, I wanted to point out some of his shortcomings, but, thanks be to God, I chose rather to step back from the conflict and to take John Mark on a missionary expedition to Cyprus instead. Paul took Silas, and they traveled north through Syria and Cilicia.
What would have happened to John Mark if he had not been given a second chance? Perhaps he might never have written the Gospel record that bears his name? Though not taking credit for what happened, I am just thankful to the Lord that I could be a “Son of Encouragement” to a young leader. I believe that Paul also learned from that experience in Perga. He became a son of encouragement to Silas, Timothy, Titus, and, yes, in later years, even to John Mark.
Why am I sharing my story with you today? Here’s my twofold appeal. First, find a Barnabas who can be a son or daughter of encouragement to you. Ah, you say, “Joseph, I already have a Barnabas.” If that’s true, praise the name of the Lord. Let your Barnabas know how much you appreciate his or her encouragement, wise counsel, and prayers. But if you do not have a Barnabas in your life, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to find one. This is not a luxury but a necessity. We all need a Barnabas in our lives.
Second, be a Barnabas, a son or daughter of encouragement to someone else. You don’t have to be perfect to be a Barnabas. I’m certainly not perfect. In Antioch, when Peter came to visit, we were fellowshiping with the Gentiles who had come to faith in Jesus. Of course, in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile—we are all one in Christ. Amen? But when Jewish leaders came from Jerusalem, we felt pressured to follow traditions, and we separated ourselves from our Gentiles brothers and sisters. That was wrong. And Paul told us so, quite directly!
I’m thankful you don’t have to be perfect to be a Barnabas to someone. It doesn’t necessarily need to be someone younger than you, although often that is the case. Find someone young in the faith, young in their service for Jesus, and offer frequent words of encouragement, pray for and with that person, and support him or her in times of need.
Find a Barnabas, and be a Barnabas. Then, on that glorious day when we see Jesus our Savior and Lord face-to-face and stand on the sea of glass before the throne of God, we will rejoice that we were blessed to encourage one another on our journey toward that heavenly city.
- Scripture is from the New King James Version.