Joseph to Barnabas

Pastor Josh Combs

“Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement).” Acts 4:36

The numbers are stunning. At the outset of the book of Acts, “the company of persons was in all about 120” (1:15). That was the entirety of the church Jesus had established throughout His earthly ministry. But on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 were added    to that number. And then days later, the Scripture says “many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” The exponential growth was staggering. As the “apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33), more and more people were coming to Christ to be saved. One of the earliest converts in this massive revival was a man named Joseph. He was a Levite from the island of Cyprus. Being a Levite meant that he had an incredible Old Testament education and was extremely dedicated to Judaism. We do not know exactly when Joseph became a follower of Jesus, but he heard the gospel, possibly even at Pentecost (Acts chapter 2), repented of his sins, and believed on Jesus for the salvation of his soul.

As persecution increased against the early church, voluntary socialism became increasingly important. Newly converted Christians were losing their jobs, homes, families, and in some cases even their lives. The church’s responsibility to share their resources became more than just a charitable exercise. Sharing food and finances became a necessary act of the church to support persecuted and poor believers. Joseph, having been born again, joined in. The Bible says, he “sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:37). This was a freewill gift for the care of the church and the furtherance of the Gospel message.

Because of this act of generosity and certainly others, the apostles decided that the name Joseph failed to exemplify all that this man was. So the apostles called him Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” Joseph had such a gift of encouraging others that the church changed his name. Whether he always had a somewhat uplifting spirit or this was a dramatic change that was part of his salvation experience, he was now officially the son of encouragement, Barnabas.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, encouragement means to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope. To encourage is to spur on or to give help. This was not only the character quality he possessed, but who he was. He was Barnabas. In Romans 15:5, Paul calls the Lord, “the God of endurance and encouragement.” Barnabas was created by God and now indwelt by the Holy Spirit with the gift of encouragement. We ought to strive for that same encouraging spirit. People around us ought to feel inspired, more hopeful, and strengthened after spending time with us. If we serve “the God of encouragement,” we ought to be very encouraging.

We also need people in our lives to encourage us. Life can be extremely discouraging. We can become hopeless, negative, and cynical. God has imparted to certain people an extra dose of encouragement. Find those people. First, be encouraged by them. Secondly, thank them for their words and acts of encouragement. Lastly, learn to be like them by finding someone else to encourage.

On a personal note, I thank God for the Barnabas’ that He has placed in my life—people who inspire, give hope, lovingly challenge, and give help. My wife Jennifer has become the greatest encourager   in my life. I also know two men that, in spite of whatever personal difficulties or challenges they may be facing, always make time to encourage. They inspire and spur me toward being a better person. Thanks Chris. Thanks Russell.

Today’s Bible Reading: Acts 4:32-37; 9:26-30; 11:22-26


Webster’s Dictionary

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