What kind of nickname would you give to a guy named Joseph who was constantly acting and speaking in a way that encouraged, built up, and validated other people?  What alias would be fitting for someone who was willing to take risks in his relationships with others, who would go out on a limb for them, and reach out to those who had been marginalized, shunned, and viewed with suspicion?  If I had lived in first-century Jerusalem and spoke Aramaic, I might have called him Barnabas, as the apostles did, meaning “son of encouragement.”  However, being a 21st-century American who only speaks English, I would probably dub him “E. Eye Joe.”  This man had an incredible “eye” for encouragement and an extraordinary gift and willingness to “be there” for people when they needed it the most and when others had written them off. 

Joseph’s apostolically-bestowed nickname so perfectly captured his character, faith, and behavior that he is never again referenced by this birth name in Luke’s history after his introduction in Acts 4:36.  “Barnabas” stuck!  It is inspiring, convicting, and challenging to see just how consistently this man lived up to his name in the record of the book of Acts.

Barnabas had a “what’s mine is yours” attitude toward his possessions, even selling a tract of land so that the needs of others could be met (Acts 4:32-37).  When Saul the Saint Slayer accepted the Jesus whom he had persecuted as Savior and Lord, Christians in Jerusalem were understandably incredulous and fearful, and they refused to accept him.  Barnabas put himself at risk, “took hold” of him, brought him to the apostles, stood by him, and staked his own reputation on the legitimacy of Saul’s radical conversion and bold new ministry (Acts 9:26-27).

Antioch of Syria became home to a blended church of both Jewish and Gentile converts (Acts 11:19-21).  They had to overcome significant differences that arose from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and language, not to mention the barriers of suspicion and prejudice that had to be broken down in order to mold them into one unified body of believers.  Who could be sent from the Jerusalem church to meet this formidable challenge and to encourage and mature them in their faith?  The call to the bullpen logically went to Barnabas.  When he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, Barnabas “began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord,” (Acts 11:23).  No surprise there! 

Barnabas’ humility is seen in his wise perception that others were needed for the work in Antioch.  This was not a one-man show; he didn’t have to be the spiritual Superman who did everything.  Rather than drawing from the pool of prophets in Jerusalem, he made a trek to Tarsus to look for Saul, who otherwise might have languished in obscurity and discouragement (Acts 11:25-26).  Saul hadn’t applied for the job or sent a resume to Antioch; he was intentionally recruited by Barnabas.  What a stroke of ministerial genius!  The course of Saul’s life and the history of the early church would never be the same. 

With whom did the Antioch church entrust their preemptive famine relief for delivery to Jerusalem?  Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:27-30).  Who did the Holy Spirit want to form the first Missionary Dream Team?  Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:1-4).  Who was sent from Antioch to powwow with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem to calm a controversy involving Gentile converts?  Barnabas and Paul, among others (Acts 15:1-29).  Who was willing to forgive past failures and offer a much-needed second chance to John Mark, even it meant a rift with Paul?  Barnabas (Acts 15:36-40).  Barnabas valiantly championed John Mark’s worth and potential in the work of the Kingdom.  Barnabas was right about John Mark, a fact even acknowledged by Paul much later (II Timothy 4:11).

Barnabas was faithful, not flawless.  He suffered a rare instance of caring too much about what other people thought of him, resulting in the hypocritical distancing of himself from Gentile believers when some hardliners from Jerusalem showed up in Antioch (Galatians 2:11-13).  However, the phrase “even Barnabas” in this passage indicates Paul’s enduring, high estimation of his former mission partner; i.e., even Barnabas, the last person you would ever expect to behave this way.

Who wrote the second of the four Gospels as they are traditionally ordered in the New Testament.  The immediate answer is Mark, but the underlying answer is Barnabas, without whose encouragement I think Mark would have forever lived under the label of “quitter” and “failure.”  Who wrote 13 New Testament letters to churches and individual Christians?  Yes, Paul, but not without the vital intervention and investment of Barnabas; not just once, but twice, in both Jerusalem and Antioch.  Barnabas isn’t just buried in the details of the book of Acts; his imprint is on much of the New Testament.  That’s not even taking into consideration the fact that Tertullian believed that Barnabas was the author of Hebrews!

“He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith,” (Acts 11:24).  

E. Eye Joe!