Barnabas: A Case Study on the Ministry of Encouragement


Acts 11:24 says this of Barnabas: he was “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” God describes Barnabas as a man who lived by the strength and grace of the Holy Spirit. God describes Barnabas a man who believed His Word, a man whose live greatly encouraged others. Anyone that God publicly assesses this way is someone that we want to emulate!

Most of what we know about Barnabas we find in the book of Acts. Barnabas (real name Joseph) was a Levite whose family had relocated to Cyprus sometime during Israel’s turbulent history (Acts 4:36). He also had family in Jerusalem that was fairly well-connected: Mary, John Mark’s mother, and maybe others. He himself was a well-off landowner, with land in Cyprus and/or Jerusalem. Apparently, he was in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, and he stayed there after receiving Christ.

A Son of Encouragement

We see in Acts how powerfully God used this man. His life and ministry is summed up for us in the name that he was given by the apostles: “Barnabas.” This name means “son of encouragement.” The dominating characteristic of his life was that he encouraged others to know and faithfully follow Christ.

When we read about Barnabas in Scripture, we learn from his example how we too can be used of God to encourage others for Christ. We, like Barnabas, can and should have a ministry of encouragement. The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to be “encouraging one another, and all the more as we see the Day drawing near” (10:25).

How did Barnabas’s life encourage others so profoundly? How did his life exemplify being an encourager to the church?

Barnabas was an example of consecration/dedication.

He sold his land (Acts 4:32-37).

After Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was working mightily. Many new believers were selling their assets and using the money to meet urgent needs. Not only did Barnabas gave a large offering to God to help, but he also apparently sold his land and gave all the proceeds to the apostles. He gave away his financial security. This act of whole-hearted faith and generosity born out of love for Christ encouraged others to be willing to give and sacrifice for the work of the Lord as well. This was the first major way that Barnabas’ example encouraged others. Everything Barnabas had was God’s.

He gave up his rights to better serve Christ (1 Cor 9).

Barnabas was the apostle Paul’s co-laborer to the Gentiles. He agreed with Paul to choose tentmaking instead of receiving regular financial support. He and Paul did this so that those they preached Christ to would not be confused about their motives. This decision meant that Paul and Barnabas would have to expend lots of time and energy on supplying needs and face financial difficulties that they could have otherwise avoided.

He and Paul chose not to marry as they pursued an itinerant and dangerous ministry. They laid aside their rights to lifestyle choices, choosing instead to live in ways that maximized their usefulness to Christ.

Barnabas willingly sacrificed for others and the ministry of the Gospel. He made sacrifices that had long-term effects on his life. Barnabas lived out consecration.

I have known missionaries who gave up lucrative jobs in the USA to serve Christ full-time in cross-cultural ministry. I recently met a young single woman who took a teaching job in one of the most dangerous American inner-city ghettos to be a light for Jesus there. Testimonies like these spur others to consider what they should do for Christ.

Barnabas was an example of faith and trust in others.

He believed in Saul/Paul (Acts 9:26-31).

Everyone was afraid of the ruthless Saul who had hurt so many Christians, especially in Jerusalem. Now this same man returned to Jerusalem preaching Christ and wanting to fellowship with the believers! No one wanted to believe that Saul was real.

Barnabas heard Saul’s testimony, observed his life, and believed in him, even when no one else would. He was willing to take that risk. Using his own influence, he brought Saul to the other apostles and urged them to accept him—which they did. Barnabas’s faith and courage was a huge encouragement to Saul first, then to all of the church of Christ as they then witnessed God’s saving grace upon Saul’s life (I will refer to Saul only as Paul).

He believed in the Gentile believers (Acts 11:22-23).

Reports were coming to Jerusalem of Gentiles in Cyprus and Cyrene coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ in numbers. Barnabas was sent by the church in Jerusalem to go and see the work of the Gospel among the Gentiles. Was God working among the Gentiles like Peter described?

Barnabas went and saw the grace of God at work there and was glad. He was not resentful that God’s grace was equally available to the Gentiles. Even though these new believers did not come to Christ through his own ministry or that of his co-laborers, he was not cynical of their faith. When he saw evidence of new faith, he immediately rejoiced. When we read Paul’s letters, we see that the new churches were battling all kinds of sin issues and false teaching. And yet, Barnabas encouraged and strengthened them.

He believed in John Mark (see below).

Barnabas was an example of intentional verbal encouragement.

Barnabas continually exhorted/encouraged people to remain faithful.

Acts 11:23-24 says,

When he [Barnabas] came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.

We find in Acts that this is a key ministry of Paul and Barnabas, but especially of Barnabas. Barnabas seemed to be constantly urging people to follow the Lord, be faithful, and to overcome. In Acts 13:43 it says he “urged them to continue in the grace of God.” Acts 14:21-22a records that Barnabas was “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith.”

Do you have people in your life that have greatly encouraged you? As a foreign missionary, I have been greatly strengthened through the ministry of encouragement that I have received from men like Mark Batory, J. D. Crowley, Marshall Fant III, and Bruce McAllister. Their example and words of truth given at key moments have been greatly used of the Lord in my life.

Barnabas was realistic about trials and difficulties in the life of faith.

Paul and Barnabas encouraged God’s people by reminding them: “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Barnabas did not encourage people by affirming them in what they wanted to do and be. Nor did he encourage people by telling them what they wanted to hear. He encouraged them in the truths of the Word of God. True encouragement comes from God and His truth. True encouragement directs us to find hope and comfort in the Gospel.

Barnabas was an example of humility as a team player.

He wanted to work with others (Acts 11:24-26).

Barnabas sought out Paul to come to work with him. He was not a loner. As a humble “good man, full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith,” he sought to build up and enable others to serve the Lord. You can’t do this serving alone.

He served well alongside a very gifted Paul (Acts 13:1-2).

This man fulfilled his ministry with Paul faithfully, enduring many trials and much persecution. He was willing to take a back seat and be second man as Saul rose in prominence.

Team ministry is the norm in the New Testament. Even so, working in a team is a serious challenge to the flesh. Pride, personal preferences, and the pressures of daily ministry make for an impossible situation outside of the grace of Christ. It is harder still with cross-cultural missionaries and all the extra burdens and cares that they have. Missionaries simply must be “good men and women, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.” Mutual submission to one another, a commitment to love and to lay down preferences—this is a huge encouragement to one’s co-laborers. How devasting it is when co-workers allow pride and personal preferences to drive a wedge and create disunity!

He accepted correction when swayed by the Judaizers (Gal 2:13).

In Acts 15:1-21, we see how influential Jews attempted to change the Gospel message. Initially Barnabas really struggled and was almost led astray, but he accepted correction by Paul. He then stood firm (Gal 2:13). Humility makes the man in Christian ministry.

He faithfully endured much persecution alongside Paul from the relentless Judaizers.

With Paul, Barnabas had to face unbelieving and confused Jewish Christians everywhere they went. Persecution and misunderstanding were continual, but he stood with Paul no matter how hard things got.

He graciously parted ways when disagreement could not be overcome (Acts 15:36-40).

Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement about whether to encourage or discourage John Mark from joining their next missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to give John Mark a second chance. He was willing to take the risk and have Mark join them, but Paul was against this. They agreed to follow their consciences and part ways but maintained love and fellowship.

Mark’s failure must have been significant for Paul to be so determined not to take him. Whether or not John Mark’s being kin to Barnabas was a factor or not, Barnabas believed that John Mark had learned from his failure and would prove to be a fruitful servant of the Lord. Later records show that Barnabas’s faith in John Mark paid off, which Paul acknowledged (Col. 4:10; 2 Tim. 4:11).

We, too, can become sons and daughters of encouragement.

Let’s consider how to apply this God-honored example of Barnabas to our lives and ministries.

Barnabas was an example of what it means to be dedicated/consecrated to the Lord. He was all-in: a genuinely whole-hearted Christian who wanted to do God’s will. Am I all-in? Do I give certain areas of my life to God but not others?

Barnabas had faith and trust in the power of the Gospel and believed that people can grow and change. This is the kind of heart that allows us to make disciples. He was not cynical or jaded in his attitude towards others and what God can do. Have I allowed personal experiences and disappointments with others to cloak my attitude towards others with cynicism?

Barnabas was on-mission to lovingly urge people to follow Christ and be faithful. Barnabas was looking to encourage others. Am I on-mission?

Barnabas was characterized by humility. This allowed him to work with people in many different situations and make a difference. People full of pride damage relationships and create problems. Humble people heal and strengthen. Am I growing in a humility by grace that it seen in my relationships?

If we want to be an encouragement to others, if we want to be used of God to help others spiritually and for eternity, we need what Barnabas had, to be “filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.”

Forrest McPhail Bio

Forrest has served as a missionary in Buddhist Cambodia in Southeast Asia since 2000. He presently serves as the Asia/Australia/Oceania regional director for Gospel Fellowship Association missions. He enjoys writing and teaching on missions and the Buddhist worldview. He and his wife, Jennifer, have 4 children.