Have you ever met someone who had an infectious laugh, a wide smile, never hesitated to give an encouraging word and always spread positivity everywhere they went?
It’s likely that that person has the spiritual gift of exhortation. "The gift of exhortation is often called the 'gift of encouragement.' The Greek word for this gift is Parakaleo. It means to beseech, exhort, call upon, to encourage and to strengthen."[i] The one Bible character whom I believe best represents this gift is the apostle Barnabas.
We first meet the man they call Barnabas in Acts 4:36. It is interesting to note that the text says that his name was Joses (or Joseph), but “the apostles called” him Barnabas—which literally means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). No one knows exactly why He was given that name, but every time we see Barnabas throughout the book of Acts, he is performing some sacrificial act of servitude.
It is here in this particular text (at the end of chapter four) that Barnabas is introduced, when he sells a piece of land, brings the proceeds, and lays “it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:37). It is this act of benevolence that concludes chapter four and stands in stark contrast to the scheming of Ananias and Sapphira at the start of chapter five. It is without question that Barnabas is a devoted disciple of Christ.
Despite his generosity the two events that probably mark his ministry most distinctly are his support of two very important new believers. The first of the two stories is recounted in Acts chapter nine:
When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord (Acts 9:26-27).
Paul, the author of thirteen books of the New Testament, was on the verge of being totally rejected by the fellowship of believers on account of the fact that they didn’t know whether or not they could trust him. Just then, he is rescued by the Son of Encouragement—Barnabas, who steps in, pulls him in to the sacred precincts of the apostles and pleads his case before the likes of Peter and John. It is obvious that he was a man of great influence among The Twelve. One scholar even suggests that he was among the seventy sent out by Jesus in the gospels.[ii] He then accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey where they would be partners in proclaiming the gospel for two years (Acts 12-14). Though the Bible is not explicit in this, I am sure that Barnabas was able to provide Paul with the wise council that He could only receive at the hands of an experienced Christian.
The second major event begins on a bit of a sour note. At the end of the first missionary journey the Bible records an actual argument between Paul and Barnabas:
Sometime later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing. Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers through the grace of the Lord (Acts 15:36-40).
Now all is not clear what happened when Barnabas and Mark parted with Paul and Silas (aside from their trip to Cyprus), but the next time we see any sign of Mark it is because (ironically) Paul sends for him saying, “…he is helpful for me in my ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). The SDA Bible Commentary suggests that when Barnabas and Mark left Cyprus, Mark returned to Rome to work with Peter.[iii] This fits tradition well, considering it is a widely accepted fact that Mark wrote his gospel account from Rome to the Roman Christians.[iv] It is also understood that Mark received his information about the life of Jesus and ministry of Jesus from Peter (most likely while in Rome).[v]
Who would have thought that Mark would have turned out to be such a productive disciple? I am inclined to suggest that if you have a man that they call the Son of Encouragement as your mentor, then the sky is the limit.
Barnabas stood up for Paul when he was a young Christian—brand new in the faith and rejected by the disciples. He stuck by his side for two years as he pursued the call that God had placed on his life. He gave Paul encouragement. Next, he stood up for Mark even after he quit on ministry and was rejected by Paul. He stuck by him and gave him more opportunities to sharpen his skills in ministry. He gave Mark encouragement. That’s why they called him the Son of Encouragement. He was an exceptional disciple who duplicated himself in others.
Take a moment to think back over your life. Who is the person that was there to give you a timely word of encouragement when you really needed it? Maybe you should call that person up to say thank you for such crucial encouragement in crisis. Say a prayer of thanks to God for sending you a Barnabas. But here’s a better question. How has God positioned you to give someone else encouragement in the midst of difficulty? You never know. You might just make the difference for someone who life is hanging in the balances.
Keep growing forward!
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[ii] (Unknown and Nichols, SDA Bible Commentary Vol. 6 1957) p. 174
[iii] Ibid., p. 317
[iv] (Unknown and Nichols, SDA Bible Commentary Vol. 5 1956) pp. 563-565