One of the great persons of the New Testament is Barnabas – and he’s also one of the most overlooked persons of the New Testament. Yet Barnabas is one of my favorite Biblical characters.
As we read in Acts 4:36, his given name was Joseph, one of the many Josephs of the Bible. But he was known as Barnabas, which translates as son of encouragement. He is already known as Barnabas when we meet him so his spirit of encouragement predates his comings and goings with Paul. I will also note that most of the Barnabas stories appear in the Gospel According to Luke, rather than in Paul’s writings. Clearly, Barnabas’ reach was greater than just his work with Paul.
I would encourage you to be a Barnabas, an encourager. When Paul likens the Christian community to a body, one of the spiritual gifts he identifies is the gift of encouragement, “if it is to encourage, then give encouragement” (Romans 12:8). Be Barnabas to those around you.
But today, I want to focus on the Barnabas in your life. There is definitely a Barnabas in your life. Have you identified who that is? Have you taken the time to step back and reflect on what a powerful impact that person is having through you? Have you told them that you appreciate her/his ongoing support?
There is a tendency here in our humility to say that only a Paul, the one who stands out front and delivers the message, is in need of a Barnabas, but this is flawed thinking. You don’t have to be the one standing on stage, as it were, bringing the message. Whatever it is you do, someone is in your corner cheering you on.
I should also point out that these Barnabases don’t always stay in the shadows. In Acts 14, Barnabas “speaks boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace.”
Early in our lives it is parents and then as we grow the circle widens to include teachers, coaches and mentors. Then we begin our adult lives and definitions aren’t as clearly discernible. Just because you haven’t consciously identified someone as urging you on, don’t believe for a minute that they aren’t there fulfilling that need.
To help you along as you contemplate the concept, I offer the lyric of a favorite song of mine. It was well overexposed and almost became a parody of itself, but the ring of truth lies within. Hear the message of Wind Beneath My Wings and see who comes to mind:
So I was the one with all the glory
While you were the one with all the strength.
A beautiful face without a name for so long
A beautiful smile to hide the pain.
I can fly higher than an eagle
For you are the wind beneath my wings.
It might have appeared to go unnoticed,
But I’ve got it all here in my heart.
I want you to know, I know the truth, of course
I know it.
I would be nothing without you.
Yes, the song anoints the encourager as his/her hero, and often that is the case with the Barnabas in our lives. I also know full well that when I first heard it there was a clear message to me that the writer was relaying a heretofore unexpressed sentiment. S/he had never delivered this message clearly to the one s/he held so dear. And so it is with me, I am not quick to realize who it is that is providing the wind that keeps me aloft, and even slower to acknowledge them.
You will note I have been writing here in the singular, but in my case there are dozens of Barnabases that keep me going. I’m a stubborn and difficult object to move. As I contemplate the thought, my list gets longer and longer.
I want to call out each of my Barnabases here, but I have watched way too many awards shows and seen winners list out those to whom they owe their success – and without fail, someone gets overlooked. So, I assure you I am calling your names as I type this musing. If you’re wondering if I just said your name, it’s a pretty sure bet I did.
Ever grateful for the Barnabases in my life,