God used Barnabas in a very influential way during the development of the early New Testament Church. His nickname of ‘Encourager’ was given to him because he not only set an example of living God’s way of life, but also excelled at motivating and inspiring others to do so as well.
We only have a little information about Barnabas’ background. In Acts 4:36-37 we are told that his given name was Joses or Joseph and that he was a Levite from the island of Cyprus. The apostles gave him the name Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement” or “ Son of Exhortation” because of his positive attitude towards others. Colossians 4:10 also reveals he was either a cousin or an uncle to Mark the evangelist and Gospel writer, and other scriptures show Barnabas was a great mentor and support to him.
In Acts 11:22-26 we find Barnabas, who was then active in the Jerusalem congregation, sent by the Church leadership to Antioch to give encouragement and direction to people who were responding to God’s Word there. This is also when Barnabas sought out the Apostle Paul in Tarsus to assist with the instruction of those in Antioch.
Not only did Barnabas support and encourage Mark, he also supported and vouched for the Apostle Paul, formerly called Saul, after God had called him and he became converted (Acts 9:26-30). Many in Jerusalem were concerned, remembering Paul’s former deeds, but Barnabas spoke to the apostles and verified Paul’s story of his conversion and described how strongly he had preached in Damascus.
Subsequently, Barnabas took Paul and the young disciple, John Mark , on a trip through Asia Minor. By this time Barnabas and Paul are both referred to as apostles (Acts 14:14). Although we are not told of the particulars of Barnabas’ ordination, he must have exhibited the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) along with the humility needed to be ordained to such an office.
Sadly, a serious disagreement arose between Barnabas and Paul over whether young John Mark should accompany them on the trip. Paul was so upset with John Mark returning home in the middle of their first journey that he didn’t want him to accompany them again. Barnabas, however, insisted they should take Mark. Eventually, being unable to resolve the matter, they went separate ways (Acts 15:39-41).
Fortunately this disagreement was not permanent, as Paul and Barnabas later worked together in serving the church in Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 9:6). Some time later, Paul implicitly acknowledged that Barnabas had been right not to give up on John Mark because he had become a good minister—he was “useful” to Paul for ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).
Barnabas lived up to the good name of ‘Encourager’ others gave him, and his example is one that all of us should strive to follow. God records the histories of men such as Barnabas to show us what great things He can do through men and women who strive to overcome their human nature and yield to Him.