One of the guys that I don't think gets enough credit in the Bible is Barnabas. And maybe it's just because when Barnabas and Paul separate, Luke (the author of Acts) goes with Paul and well, just sort of loses track of Barnabas, who goes on to Cyprus with John Mark.
When we are first introduced to Barnabas, we're told...that's not his name. His name was actually Joseph, and he had been born on the island of Cyprus. They called him Barnabas because it meant "the Encourager." That's a pretty strong statement right there, when the apostles themselves know who you are and stop calling you by your name and start calling you by your character. That's powerful. This guy was so good at encouraging others that they just called him "the Encourager."
And for several years, Barnabas travels with Paul. Together, they go about the region helping young churches and teaching young believers and setting out a good path before them in a whole host of places. They are joined here and there by this guy or that one, but for awhile, the narrative is "Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Barnabas." He is integral to the early years of Paul's ministry; he is essential to the foundation of these churches.
Paul gets a lot of credit. He's one of those power guys. He's one of those strong voices. We follow Paul, and we see all kinds of bold preaching and incredible teaching and a guy who isn't afraid to stand up in a crowd and speak the truth as he knows it in the hopes that someone might hear him. Paul is pretty good at setting up structure and about highlighting the guidelines for how you decide who to listen to or what message is worthy to preach. Paul's got a lot of his own talents.
But I can't help but think that there's still a dramatic difference between Paul and Barnabas, personality-wise. And I think sometimes, when we read about Paul asking the churches to encourage specific believers in his letters, that's Barnabas's influence coming out. I think Paul, who spent his whole life as a Pharisee who lived and died by the rules and loved the authority of learnedness, was probably softened by Barnabas, the Encourager. Barnabas probably taught Paul the kind of compassion and human touch that God needed him to have...just by being Barnabas.
The whole falling out is pretty predictable, actually. It's a conflict of these two very personalities. Barnabas wants John Mark to go with them, seeing a measure of potential in the guy. Paul doesn't want John Mark to go with them because he's already failed at least once, and Paul doesn't have time for that. Barnabas wants to encourage the young missionary; Paul's already done with him. Barnabas refuses to give up on him; Paul gives up on them both. And well, I just think that this moment - this moment when Barnabas chooses someone that he can encourage over someone that he can work with - changes something in Paul. I think that's what we see in some of Paul's letters - Barnabas's influence.
So they fall out, Barnabas chooses a young man who needs some encouragement (no surprise), and he takes the young man and heads home, back to the island of Cyprus. And we never hear from him again. After years as an essential cog in Paul's flowering ministry, Barnabas just...drops completely out of the story. After years of being part of the foundation of Christian communities, he's just gone. We don't know what happened to him. We don't know if he traveled around on his own some, if he visited those churches, if he wrote them letters. We don't know if they asked about him, if they were constantly asking Paul about his former sidekick. We don't know what kind of mark or legacy he left...anywhere. Except that we know that it was a legacy of encouragement.
Otherwise, we'd be talking about Joseph right now.
It's just one of those strange things that stands out when we read the Bible. This guy was part of everything, and then he was just...gone. He was in the thick of it all, and he walked away. But he walked away in order to stay true to the very core of who he was, who God had made him, the gifting that everyone so thoroughly recognized in him that they changed his name for it. And we turn the page and we keep reading and it quickly slips our minds, but...I think it matters.
I'm going to have more to say about Barnabas this week. For a few days, probably, at least. But I wanted to introduce the idea and just let you start thinking about him. If you're looking for his story, pick it up in Acts.