Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

St. Barnabas: Son of Encouragement

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One of the great men, not well known to many as some of the other names of the New Testament, is St. Barnabas whose first mention is in the Holy Book of Acts. Born as Joseph or Joses, it was the disciples who gave him the name Barnabas which means Son of encouragement or son of consolation (Acts 4:36). This name was indeed a very proper name for someone who lived to encourage those whom others feared or rejected.

Born on the Island of Cyprus in the year 1 A.D St. Barnabas was a Jew from the tribe of Levi. St. Clement of Alexandria and the historian Eusabius recorded that he was one of the seventy apostles our Lord Jesus Christ commissioned to preach (Lk 10:1). We do not know exactly why the apostles gave him the name Barnabas but by following his life and accomplishments we can see clearly how he rightly deserved this name for he was a great encourager to many who came in his path.

The Holy Book of Acts describes St. Barnabas, For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith (Acts 11:24). St. Barnabas was a man with a good heart and the mind of Christ was implanted in him. He was kind, truly a man of God and being full of the Holy Spirit he definitely produced the fruit of the Spirit love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23). He was full of the Christian faith himself, and therefore desired to spread it among others; full of the fruits of that faith that works by love. He was sound in the faith, and therefore pressed the others to be so.

The first deed, we learn about St. Barnabas, is that he was among those who sold their property and laid all its proceeds at the feet of the apostles for the support of the needy of the Jerusalem Church, And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles feet (Acts 4:36-37). St. Barnabas generosity and charitable deed contrasted with the deceiving actions of Ananias and Sapphira mentioned in the Holy Book of Acts 5.

We encounter St. Barnabas again few years later, after the conversion of Saul. Knowing of Sauls reputation, his persecution of the Church in Jerusalem and his presence at the stoning of St. Stephen witnessing and approving of it, the disciples were distrustful and justifiably fearful of him on his return to Jerusalem, three years after his conversion, And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple (Acts 9:26). But while all the others doubted, St. Barnabas had faith in this new convert and despite the general fear he decided to encourage Saul, accept him and introduce him to the apostles. Not only did he bring him to the apostles but presented his case defending him and urging them to accept him, But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus (Acts 9:27). Due to the encouragement of St. Barnabas, Saul joined the apostles and became accepted by the Church in Jerusalem.

When news came to the apostles in Jerusalem, that men from Cyprus and Cyrene preached to the Hellenists in Antioch But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord (Acts 11:20), they decided to send one of them immediately. St. Barnabas being a Levite from the Gentile island of Cyprus was chosen and sent by the apostles to Antioch to strengthen the work there. Arriving and seeing the labor and the grace of God, St. Barnabas the encourager took it upon himself to encourage others in this city and expand the ministry, When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord (Acts 11:23). Feeling the need for help in his ministry at Antioch and because of the nature of this city, St. Barnabas thought of Saul being like himself a Jew who grew up in the Gentile world and understood the Gentiles. St. Barnabas traveled without delay to the distant city of Tarsus to find Saul. He brought him back to Antioch with him and began the work of preaching (Acts 11:25). This team of Barnabas and Saul was very successful and fruitful. They worked together for a whole year in this city during which time the Church was further strengthened So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26). By the order in which St. Luke gives his account, Barnabas and Saul indicates the pre-eminence of St. Barnabas in this mission.

About this time prophets came to Antioch and predicted a great famine to take place in Jerusalem (Acts 11:28). The Christians of Judea were seemingly especially affected, so the believers at Antioch gathered a contribution and it was again the team of Barnabas and Saul who carried the relief funds from Antioch to Jerusalem Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:29-30). Once their mission was accomplished, Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch and brought with them the cousin of St. Barnabas (Col 4:10), St. John Mark, the Evangelist (Acts 12:25).

While still in Antioch As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, 'Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away (Acts 13:2-3), by Divine direction, they were consecrated as missionaries, and sent forth on what is usually known as St. Pauls 1st Missionary Journey. St. Mark began this journey with them. The journey took them to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to the island of Cyprus. While on that island, two major changes occurred, Saul was then called Paul and St. Barnabas gradually faded away as the leadership role had changed from St. Barnabas to St. Paul (Acts 13:9). They continued their journey to Salamis, to Paphos then to Perga where St. Mark for some reason left them to go to his home at Jerusalem. St. Paul and St. Barnabas continued their journey and finally ended up in Antioch of Syria.

When St. Paul planned his second missionary journey of the churches of Asia Minor, St. Barnabas agreed to accompany him (Acts 15:36). But when St. Barnabas suggested taking St. Mark with them, St. Paul, remembering St. Marks failure to continue the first journey with them, disagreed. A contention arose between them resulting in the separation of the two missionaries. St. Barnabas took John Mark with him and embarked for Cyprus. In this decision St. Barnabas actually was once again being the encourager doing what he did before for St. Paul being a sponsor and mentor for a promising servant of the Lord.

At this point (Acts 15:3741), the Holy Book of Acts terminates the story of St. Barnabas, but he is mentioned several times in St. Pauls writings (1 Cor 9:6; Gal 2:1,9,13; Col 4:10). Tradition tells us that he was stoned to death in 61 A.D. at Cyprus and that at the time of his death he was carrying a copy of the Gospel of Saint Matthew that he had copied by hand.

May our Lord Jesus Christ grants us to be like St. Barnabas good servants, full of the Holy Spirit, to see the best in people and be encourager of all in order to bring glory to His name.

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