Two opposing characters in the Bible came to mind while am praying for God’s message to the church this Sunday. The Lord impressed on me that our presence in the church should always build, edify our brethren. Or else it can be otherwise.
Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus whose real name was Joseph which means “may God add/give increase”. His other name was Joses which means “He that pardons”. But the apostles called him Barnabas which means “Son of Encouragement”. (Acts 4:36-37) This must have been his reputation and characteristic. Barnabas has a heart to raise up and release others to ministry. He sees the best in people, recognize their potential and empower them. Remember how he treated Paul after his conversion when he tried to join the apostles in Jerusalem. Paul, whose reputation as a murderer and persecutor of believers understandably was rejected by the apostles due to fear and suspicion. They probably thought he could be a spy. But Barnabas took him before the apostles and vouched for him. Later on the church sent off Paul back to Tarsus, his hometown, when the Grecian Jews tried to kill him after he debated with them (Acts 9:26-31). But Barnabas pursued and searched for Paul and brought him to Antioch. For a year Barnabas and Saul ministers together and taught great numbers of people (Acts 11:22-30).
The Scriptures portrayed Barnabas coming alongside Paul and later John Mark to help them enter into ministry. Imagine what might happened to Paul and Mark without Barnabas. It’s interesting that portions of the New Testament were written by Paul and Mark but there was no book by Barnabas. In Acts 13 notice “Barnabas and Saul” leadership tandem later shifted to “Paul and Barnabas”. Yet Barnabas surely did not mind such change in hierarchy. Like Barnabas, we can practice this ministry of encouragement in the church without the limelight. By speaking words of life instead of death or criticism we release the potential in people. The Barnabas spirit edifies and build up the church. The Barnabas ministry is an excellent ministry.
Meanwhile, Barabbas was a rebel, murderer and a thief (Matt 27:16, Mk15:7, Lk 23:25, Jn 18:40). Sentenced to die, he was set free by Pilate the governor when the clamoring crowd asked for Barabbas’ release instead of Jesus. Barabbas catapulted into instant celebrity when the crowd chose him instead of Jesus. The Barabbas spirit signifies those who rebel against authorities causing disunity and confusion in the church. They steal our joy. They can kill our spirit, our zeal. They whine, complain and criticize anything under the sun. The Barabbases are not fun to deal with, they drain our energy.
The question is… should we emulate Barnabas who strengthen, encourage, build up others while pointing them to Jesus or be like Barabbas who discourage people, has a critical spirit, taking the place of Jesus in the heart of His Bride? Prov 18:21 says “Death and life are in the power of the tongue..” Let us therefore chose to speak words of life…see the best in people, releasing their potential, discover spiritual gifts and talents to serve the King of kings.