But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. Acts 9:27
The experience of feeling spiritually alone is very real. There is the reality of how great your sins are that they can rise up against you and paralyze your soul. On the other hand, there is the suffering and pain of disease, tragedy, and loss that can make you feel shattered into a thousand pieces. Internal struggles and external hardships: both require comfort and consolation.
Each of these experiences can be true for the child of God in spite of the overarching truth that our great High Priest Jesus Christ had so great a compassion for us that He accomplished our salvation. Nonetheless, as the cross is applied to us in time and we live out our salvation day by day, the great Comforter is “touched by the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb. 4:15). That is truly a consolation for us, for to console is to bring comfort at a time of grief, struggle, or suffering. “And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation” (II Cor. 1:6).
These are real emotions, and even great leaders like the apostle Paul felt them.
Often, when one is converted in the powerful manner of having the scales fall from their eyes and being powerfully moved by the Holy Spirit, they are on the mountaintops of faith. But sometimes they are not; for when Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, he was immediately rejected. He was a new man in Christ, but those with whom he sought reconciliation were skeptical of his confession. The events of Stephen’s death were still too fresh in their minds (Acts 7:54-60). They were certainly not going to comfort, support, and console Paul in light of the sins of his past, nor were they going to encourage him in the new path he was being called to follow.
But Barnabas was ready to console and encourage, and the Lord used him to walk alongside Paul in those early days after his conversion and beyond. “But Barnabas took him [Paul], and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:27). He helped Paul tell his story. Even when many did not want to hear it.
This was not a one-time consolation and encouragement. This was who Barnabas was, for the apostles named him such (Acts 4:36). His name was Joses (Joseph), but he was given the surname Barnabas, which means “son of consolation.”
He was originally from the island of Cyprus, the first place where Paul and Barnabas labored on their first missionary journey together (Acts 13:4). He was also a Jewish Levite, and an apostle (14:14), whose very first recorded act of compassion was to sell his land, collect the money, and lay it at the apostle’s feet for relief of the poor (4:37). This is contrasted with the false charity of Ananias and his wife, who were struck dead because of their greed (5:1-10).
Therefore, it is immediately evident from Scripture that Barnabas was a selfless man of compassion.
Yet after Paul’s conversion, even the spiritual consolation and support of Barnabas could not bridge the gap between Paul’s recent persecution and the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. So Paul was called to Arabia, where he received revelations from the Lord and began to preach in the surrounding region of Damascus (Acts 9:22; Gal. 1:17-18). After this, he left for his native Tarsus to sharpen his tent-making skills and wait on the Lord for several years (Acts 9:30; 18:3).
In the meantime, Barnabas was proving himself to be a man with spiritual gifts, for he was soon sent by the church at Jerusalem to Antioch: “Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord” (Acts 11:23-24).
In this Barnabas demonstrated that his consolation was not merely for his fellow man (Paul) who was experiencing rejection, but for those dead, lost sinners who need the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the ultimate consolation!
Many of the people Barnabas preached to and ministered to were scattered abroad because of the intense persecution of Paul prior to his conversion. But in the Lord’s providence, Barnabas remembered and sought out that same “persecutor-turned-apostle”! After several years apart, Barnabas had the Spirit-worked intuition that there was a man capable for the mission work that was to come.
What Barnabas recognized in Paul is that his experience of conversion could be a powerful testimony to the Gentiles that only the Lord changes the heart. Only God can change a pagan into a saint. In an instant, the persecutor can become the persecuted—a complete spiritual transformation that Paul himself experienced in a visible, unique way.
After Barnabas sought out Paul and brought him to Antioch, a whole year passed as that local church developed and was prepared to be the first “calling church” of any missionary program (Acts 11:26). After that year and after bringing relief to the poor in Jerusalem through Barnabas and Paul, the church at Antioch was led by the Holy Spirit to proclaim, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (11:29-30; 13:2).
In a sense, if not for Barnabas, Paul would not have been the man that he was.1 And soon into their experiences Barnabas fades into the background, again a testament to his character, recognizing that Christ must increase and he must decrease (John 3:30-31). Barnabas understood that it was not about his own name and recognition, but about what was best for the church and the name of Christ.
The experiences that Paul and Barnabas shared on the mission field on that first journey were diverse: miracles to confirm that the Lord was blessing their work, angry Jews who shadowed them from city to city, and intense physical persecution, even being left for dead (Acts 14).
Through it all, the gospel was powerfully proclaimed and churches were planted. Upon returning, there was joy in Antioch at the success of the missionaries through the work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 14:26-28). But the joy did not last long as they were challenged by Judaizers who wanted circumcision required for new converts (15:1-5). Again, the Holy Spirit defeated the forces of evil as the church in Jerusalem judged to “not trouble the Gentiles” (15:19, 28).
As my last article explained (April 15, 2023), there was contention between Paul and Barnabas at the conclusion of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:36-41). While Paul and Barnabas were united on the preaching of the gospel to a non-segregated church, they disagreed over the character and reliability of John Mark.
Barnabas may have been a “man of consolation,” but he knew when it was time to be uncompromising. Consolation and resoluteness are not dichotomous attributes of a man. And as was proved in the last article, he was right about John Mark.
And in this we see the consolation of Barnabas towards Mark, too. Before there was even a contention with Paul, Barnabas and Paul took Mark with them when they returned from their relief trip in Jerusalem to Antioch (Acts 12:25). As the last SB article showed, Mark was prepared by the apostle Peter, and Barnabas recognized his gifts right away.
Within that context and through his contention with Paul, Barnabas showed himself to be a man of second chances. If he could see the grace of God in Paul to be a great missionary leader when others were skeptical, he could see something in Mark that would lead him to be used for the benefit of the early church—even after he deserted the missionaries on the first journey (Acts 13:13).
In the end Barnabas saw something Paul did not, for Paul, at the end of his life, penned a request for Mark’s presence to be a consolation to him (II Tim. 4:11). The contention between Barnabas and Paul had clearly been resolved, and the intuition of Barnabas was confirmed. Even prior to this, Paul had written to the Corinthians, defending his and Barnabas’ need to work to support themselves as they preached the gospel (I Cor. 9:6). Clearly the two had reconciled.
But Barnabas was a fallible man just like any other leader in the church. When Paul had a dispute with Peter because he left the Gentiles for the approaching Jews during a meal, Barnabas wrongly followed Peter’s example. Galatians 2:11-14 records the incident:
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation [hypocrisy]. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
From this we see Barnabas was not immune to the pressures of the fear of man. And he, too, was rebuked by Paul for being a hypocrite regarding that important truth that the gospel is color-blind. For being neither Jew nor Gentile is advantageous for being a citizen of the kingdom of God. And Barnabas knew that from his powerful testimony and work with Gentiles on the first missionary journey!
We are also reminded from this passage that our principle and practice must coincide. Paul, Peter, and Barnabas agreed on the principle of salvation by faith alone, but Paul had admonished his colleagues Peter and Barnabas for how they practiced that essential truth.2
Therefore, the Spirit always has a purpose for what is revealed in the Scriptures. Here in the Galatians passage we are shown to be cautious in how lofty we elevate leaders in the church. While they demonstrate great spiritual gifts, possessing a compassion and understanding of others that we even may strongly desire, they remain weak, fallen men. Without the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in them, they are nothing (I Cor. 3:5-7).
But God uses means, and God used Barnabas for the good of the church. And it is clear from the word he preached and his care of others that Barnabas had a deep love for the church.
And Paul would have recognized that love in spite of their contention. Although the two reconciled, Scripture reveals that at the conclusion of the Council of Jerusalem’s important decision, when they had their contention, Barnabas had taken his nephew Mark and sailed once again for Cyprus (Acts 15:39; Col. 4:10).
Christian tradition has consistently cited a martyr’s death for Barnabas in Salamis, Cyprus in AD 60. This can be supported with Scripture, for Paul’s reference to John Mark in his letter to the Colossians (written c. AD 60-62) has no mention of Barnabas, indicating that he may have already died. And so his earthly pilgrimage may have ended where his life and mission work first started.
Barnabas: a life full of selfless acts of consolation, great persecutions endured, and evidence that he was God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
And those “before-ordained” works would follow him. “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them” (Rev. 14:13). They would follow him to his eternal rest where he would obtain the “consolation of Christ,” where all comfort, fellowship, and love reside in our innermost being (Phil. 2:1). That everlasting consolation is the only hope that can bring the ultimate comfort to our weary souls (II Thess. 2:16-17).
1 Rev. Cory Griess. Barnabas (sermon preached May 6, 2018). https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=56181 16167.
2 J. Gresham Machen. The New Testament: An Introduction to its Literature and History (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), 41-42.