Next to Paul of Tarsus, Barnabas appears to be a diminutive man, not apostolic and vigorous in the way Paul seems to have been. Reading about him in the Acts, one gets the distinct impression that Barnabas was a softer man – more inclined to conciliation and peacemaking than Paul. But we shouldn’t underestimate the spiritual stature and influence of this man by this comparison (or, for that matter, the peacemaking qualities of Paul.) It is really a case of different roles, different gifts, different callings. After all, it was Barnabas that was most influential as the human instrument in helping Saul of Tarsus get started on his ministry journey (see Acts 11:25).
There is a great need for the likes of Barnabas in the church and the work of God’s kingdom today. Barnabas is the kind of person who believes in people even when they don’t believe in themselves. No doubt this had a lot to do with the restoration of a man like Mark to ministry after his departure in the midst of that first mission with Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:13). The existence of the Gospel of Mark is a great testimony to the persistence of a man like Barnabas to reactivate a burned-out disciple.
So many people in ministry become discouraged by the challenges and difficulties of Christian faith and action. And it is for want of people like Barnabas that the discouraged often sink even deeper into despair and become more or less permanently disabled. Where are the Barnabases of this day who are willing to seek out the Sauls and Marks along the way to restore them to Christian fellowship and ministry? Where are those who are willing to find people on the periphery of the church, providing a listening ear, and a means to grow and move forward in ministry?
Barnabas people have a nose for those who need comfort and encouragement. They can see the potential in a discouraged or marginalized disciple for spiritual renewal and effective service in God’s kingdom. They take the time to look for people like that, to spend time with them, and to give them hope for renewed engagement with Christ and his cause. Like Barnabas, these people have the gift of encouragement and of teaching. They also have a sense of patience and perseverance in unusual ways. They are special jewels in the church and the kingdom of God. They are good people, full of the Holy Spirit and faith who have a role to play in seeing large numbers of people brought to the Lord (Acts 11:24). Much of my own progress in Christian faith and ministry I’m sure, has been due to people like Barnabas who have come alongside to encourage me when I’ve been tempted to give up.
I think it would be unreasonable for me to aspire in ministry to the likes of a Paul, a Peter or a James. But I like Barnabas. Somehow I can see him watching out for people like me like Jesus watched out for Zacchaeus (Luke 19). I know there are many times that I have not been like Barnabas. I’ve missed seeing what God sees. I’ve missed opportunities for spiritual encouragement because I’ve been too far-sighted. But I do aspire to follow Baranabas’ ministry example. Hopefully I might be one who could come alongside the discouraged and disenfranchised like he did to bring hope and healing for life and for ministry.