Barnabas ... son of encouragement
Luke’s account of the fledgling days of the Christian Church in the book of Acts is a very inspiring read.
One person who stands out for me in the early chapters is a man called Joseph. He belonged to the tribe of Levi, and the earlier dispersion of the Jews under Roman persecution had resulted in his family fleeing to the island of Cyprus.
This is what Luke says about him:
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No-one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
“Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”
- Acts 4:32-37
Two things stand out for me about this Joseph.
Firstly, he was a team player. He happily participated in the sharing of resources which became a distinctive mark of the Early Church.
They were a new movement, relatively few in number and lacking in influence, and with very limited resources; yet they had been commissioned by the Risen Lord with a mammoth task: to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28: 19-20).
Yes, he had claimed to have “all authority in heaven and on earth”, and he had reassured them: “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”, but it was still a very daunting task.
Working as a team, with the same vision and depending on each other’s support and reliability, was essential to the success of their undertaking. Joseph’s attitude fitted into this scenario very well.
Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, the other disciples had given Joseph a nickname: ‘Barnabas’, or ‘Son of Encouragement’.
Nicknames usually derive from a defining characteristic. Now, 2,000 years later, most of us only remember Joseph by his nickname!
How encouraging he was to Paul after his miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:26-27; 11:21-30), and on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-7; 13:42-14:28). How encouraging he was to poor John Mark when he suffered from homesickness and somehow wasn’t equal to the pressure of Paul’s super-human zeal and drive (Acts 15:36-39).
In our school community we need to be like Barnabas. We all need to share our gifts and resources, each one’s strengths making up for the area where another might be lacking - helping each other out. And we all need to be encouragers, especially when another member of the team is finding it tough, even messing up!
Constructive criticism is very helpful and encouraging when offered with a Barnabas heart. It is not only in our teaching and learning but in our relationships that we will most impact the world for Christ.