Barnabas—Loyal Supporter of True Worship
“THE kingdom of the heavens is like a traveling merchant seeking fine pearls. Upon finding one pearl of high value, away he went and promptly sold all the things he had and bought it.” (Matt. 13:45, 46) These words of Jesus Christ well illustrate the keen appreciation for spiritual things that was required of his disciples. A person who recognized the true value of gaining the kingdom of the heavens would be willing to give up anything else to acquire that most precious of all inheritances. Such a man was Joseph, who bore the surname Barnabas. This native of Cyprus was an Israelite of the tribe of Levi and became one of the early members of the Christian congregation.
Barnabas very much desired that fellow believers benefit from the teaching of the apostles. Many of the Jews and proselytes who were converted had come to Jerusalem from distant places for the festival of Pentecost in 33 C.E. Upon hearing Peter’s thorough witness identifying Jesus as the promised Messiah or Christ, they repented and became baptized disciples. However, they still had much to learn. To enable them to prolong their stay in Jerusalem, believers pooled their financial resources. Barnabas, for example, voluntarily sold a piece of land, giving the proceeds to the apostles for distribution to those in need.—Acts 4:34-37.
What a fine spirit Barnabas displayed! Not only did he value the privilege of coming in line for the heavenly kingdom, but he was also willing to part with material possessions so that others could be strengthened spiritually.
Moreover, Barnabas must have been exemplary in giving encouragement and personal aid. It was doubtless because of his unselfish interest in others that the apostles gave him the surname Barnabas, meaning “Son of Comfort.” (Acts 4:36) In view of his loyal support of true worship, that surname was most fitting.
When the former persecutor Saul (Paul) returned to Jerusalem as a baptized disciple of Jesus Christ, the brothers there were afraid to associate with him. They could not believe that he actually had become a disciple. To be thus prevented from meeting the elders of the Christian congregation may well have been discouraging to Paul. Happily, the “Son of Comfort,” Barnabas, came to his aid. He introduced him to Peter and James, the half brother of Jesus, making it possible for Paul to be accepted fully by the congregation.—Acts 9:26, 27; Gal. 1:18, 19.
LABORS IN ANTIOCH
Later, Barnabas was sent out by the Jerusalem congregation to develop spiritual interests in Antioch. Some brothers from his native Cyprus as well as from Cyrene had proclaimed the “good news” among the Greek-speaking people there. As a result of this activity, many became believers. It brought great joy to Barnabas to see that so many had benefited from Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. Then he encouraged them to “continue in the Lord with hearty purpose.” Now that they were Christians, it was a matter of their maintaining faithfulness. Their ‘continuing in the Lord with hearty purpose’ would mean that they would remain attached to him with all their heart, their affection. From the heart, their whole purpose in life would be to continue to be devoted fully to their Lord.—Acts 11:19-23.
The encouragement given by Barnabas must have had a wholesome effect, especially since “he was a good man and full of holy spirit and of faith.” He was blameless and upright, giving of himself unselfishly. His conduct could not be faulted. Barnabas allowed himself to come fully under the operation of God’s holy spirit. He also had firm faith, backed up by the fruitage of fine works. With such a sterling example in their midst, the congregation at Antioch kept on growing.—Acts 11:24.
Barnabas evidently desired that the best of spiritual help be available to the brothers. Recognizing that he needed assistance in caring for the expanding congregation, he left for Tarsus to search for Paul. Thereafter, in association with Paul, Barnabas furthered spiritual interests in Antioch for about a year. During this time both men went to Jerusalem with contributed relief funds for the brothers in Judea.—Acts 11:25-30.
THE FIRST EVANGELIZING TRIP WITH PAUL
Accompanied by Mark the cousin of Barnabas, the two men returned to Antioch. During a meeting of the local congregation, God’s spirit, doubtless operating through one of the prophets in the congregation, indicated that Barnabas and Paul were to be set apart for special service. With Mark as their attendant, Barnabas and Paul set out on their first evangelizing journey, which took in Cyprus and certain cities in Asia Minor. At their first stop in Asia Minor, the city of Perga, Mark decided to leave them and to return to Jerusalem. Paul felt that Mark was unjustified in doing this, but Barnabas was less severe in the view he took of his cousin’s departure. It appears that during the trip Paul was the one who took the lead in speaking. Both men, however, experienced persecutions from angry mobs. At Lystra, Paul was even stoned and left for dead. Courageously, both men went back to the cities where trouble had broken out and they strengthened the believers. They also appointed elders in the newly formed congregations.—Acts 13:1–14:26.
THE CIRCUMCISION ISSUE
Returning to Antioch, from where they had been sent out by holy spirit, Barnabas and Paul reported on their activities to the congregation. But then a problem arose in the Antioch congregation. Certain men who had come from Judea insisted that Gentile believers could not be saved unless they got circumcised and began conducting themselves according to the Mosaic law. To settle this issue, Paul and Barnabas headed for Jerusalem to present the matter to the apostles and other elders of the congregation there.—Acts 15:1, 2.
At that time both men gave testimony regarding the way in which Jehovah had used them to declare the “good news” to uncircumcised Gentiles. Based on all the testimony given and the evidence of the Holy Scriptures, the apostles and other elders of the Jerusalem congregation formulated a letter showing that circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic law were not required of Gentile believers. The letter stated: “For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication. If you carefully keep yourselves from these things, you will prosper. Good health to you!” When Barnabas and Paul brought this letter back to Antioch, there was great rejoicing in the congregation.—Acts 15:3-31.
It may have been after this that Peter visited the Antioch congregation and freely associated with uncircumcised Gentile believers. But, then, when certain Jewish brothers came down from Jerusalem, Peter withdrew from associating with Gentile converts and spent time exclusively with Jewish brothers. Even Barnabas got unbalanced and did the same thing. But all responded properly when Paul reproved Peter, making clear how wrong such a course was.—Gal. 2:11-14.
FAITHFUL SERVICE WITH MARK
Another problem that arose concerned Paul and Barnabas personally. Paul thought of returning to visit the brothers whom they had met on their first evangelizing trip. However, because Barnabas insisted on taking Mark along, the two men clashed sharply. Since Mark had left them the first time, Paul doubted his dependability and did not want him as a traveling companion. Therefore, Barnabas and Paul went separate ways. Accompanied by Mark, Barnabas returned to Cyprus. (Acts 15:36-39) Evidently Mark labored faithfully with Barnabas, for later even Paul acknowledged that Mark was a good companion. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote: “Take Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministering.” (2 Tim. 4:11) So, Barnabas, with Mark, must have done much fine work in building up the brothers on the island of Cyprus and in making new disciples.
While Barnabas, like any other human, had weaknesses, he lived up to his surname “Son of Comfort.” He played an important role in building up and encouraging the brothers. By his loyal support of true worship, he set the example in ‘continuing in the Lord with hearty purpose.’—Acts 11:23.