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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Name Game - Barnabas

St. Barnabas in stained glass

Sometimes nicknames outlast our given names, particularly if they tell something about us. We’ve all known people “named” Tex, or Slim, or maybe even Grumpy or Smiley. If the nickname fits, it’s likely to stick. And that’s exactly what happened to a man named Joses. In fact, we hardly ever remember his given name.

Joses was one of the first believers to sell land, giving the money to the church for distribution to people who were in need. He was living in Jerusalem, but came originally from the island of Cyprus. He was a Levite, which tells us that he was of the priestly line of Jews.

We are also told that he already had the nickname of Barnabas. And how did he get that name? It’s just a word to us, but it means “son of encouragement.” He must have been such a positive thinker, and so eager to cheer up and help others that he came to be called “The Encourager.” Think of how strong that theme must have been in his life, to result in being dubbed as a result of the quality.

If it hadn’t been for Barnabas, we might never have had the writings of Paul. After Saul’s conversion, he came to Jerusalem to convince the church people that he was now on their side. Naturally, they thought it was a trick to get more names of people that he could kill. The Christians at Damascus had tried to kill Saul, and he had to sneak out of the city by climbing over the wall. If word of that escapade had reached Jerusalem, it probably didn’t inspire confidence. Guilty men don’t run, right?

Barnabas, alone, went to meet with Saul (Paul), and brought him back to the rest of the believers, telling them that he believed the conversion was genuine, and that he had preached the Gospel in Damascus.

When Paul left on his first missionary journey, Barnabas went with him. As often happens with two strong leaders, they had a disagreement. John Mark had traveled with them, but returned home after only part of the tour was finished. Later, when Barnabas wanted to bring Mark along again, Paul refused to let him. So the two men parted ways. As a result, two teams were formed, Paul and Silas, and Barnabas and Mark. The Gospel was spread even further because of this. The two men later reconciled.

Luke says that Barnabas was sent to Antioch. Some of the believers fled there after Stephen was killed. They were some of the first to convince Greeks to believe in Jesus. It’s noted that these were mostly men from Cyprus and Cyrene. Since Barnabas was a Cypriot (and probably spoke Greek), perhaps that is why he was sent. We are told that he was glad to see what God had done at Antioch (in modern Turkey), and encouraged the believers. This surely gave credibility to the new concept that the Gospel was for everyone, not just Jews. And it was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.

Although he’s seldom remembered as one of the pillars of the early church, probably because his writings aren’t in the accepted canon of Scripture, he was certainly one of the pivotal people of New Testament times.

What’s your nickname? As a child, my mother often called me “The Little Thundercloud.” I’m glad that one didn’t stick, although I do tend to be too serious. If you were to be renamed based on your character, would you be Happy, Smiley, Encourager, or Dopey, Lazy, Grouchy? Our character will outlast our name, whether we gain an actual nickname or not.

Acts 4
Acts 9
Acts 11

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