Barnabas: A Timeless Example of How to Love Well
Influence matters. It happens all the time and all around us. It’s not a question of whether it occurs but only of the type of influence that is occurring. Some of it is positive. But sometimes it can feel like influence tends to be negative. Either way, influence matters in human affairs . . . and it matters to God!
That’s a key idea in Jesus’s first recorded sermon, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7). In this sermon, Jesus calls His followers to influence the world with such an attractive display of God’s way of life that it causes praise to God. Jesus uses two ordinary, everyday items as metaphors to show us how to influence the world: salt and light. Both salt and light make a massive difference to life around them. They affect their environments, and that is God’s will for our lives. Christians are to be as influential as salt and light!
But what does that look like? I understand how salt and light influence the food on a plate or the darkness of the night, you might say. But what does a salty, bright life of influence for Jesus look like through me?
God provides a timeless and practical role model for us in the book of Acts: a man called Barnabas. Through Barnabas, God gives us a picture of a life that modeled influence. Barnabas shows us rather than tells us how to love in a way that naturally and unapologetically influences those around us for God. He was an ordinary, everyday believer who modeled how to influence the world for Christ from right where you are. Barnabas lived out truth through love in a way we can all copy.
We first meet him in Acts 4:36–37, where he shows us three ways we can love well today:
So Joseph, a Levite who was a native of Cyprus,
called by the apostles Barnabas (which is translated
“son of encouragement”), sold a field that belonged
to him and brought the money and placed it at the
apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:36–37)
BARNABAS LOVED WELL THROUGH HIS WORDS
This is what he is best known for today—words of encouragement. It’s also the reputation he had in the early church. He was a person whose words put a spring in another’s step, a smile on another’s face, and hope in another’s heart. His character is even the reason he acquired the nickname Barnabas; that’s not his birth name! So we leave the name Joseph behind (sorry, Mom!) and instead go with Barnabas. That’s what he was to those around him. He was “Mr. Encouragement,” and encouragement matters. Encouragement expresses God’s love to a discouraged world. And a life of encouragement is very accessible to followers of Jesus Christ. On average, a person will speak around 860 million words in a lifetime. That’s plenty of opportunity to join Barnabas and influence others with words. Your encouragement will love others well.
BARNABAS LOVED WELL THROUGH HIS WALLET
Many things could be said of Barnabas, but God wants the record to show that our role model loved well through his possessions. That’s as practical as it gets: sacrificial giving. Barnabas owned a piece of farmland—presumably on the island of Cyprus—and sold it. He didn’t just think of selling it. He didn’t plan to sell it one day or leave it as part of his estate when he couldn’t take it with him. No, he sold it. Why? Because he saw needs in the lives of those around him. He wanted to be a part of God’s work right away.
Expressing love to others through giving is what this introduction to Barnabas most strongly emphasizes. His story presented a contrast to the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11). Like Barnabas, they were Christians and part of the local church. Like Barnabas, they owned land, sold it, and then gave the money to the apostles. But Barnabas gave generously out of love for those around him, whereas Ananias and Sapphira wanted to appear generous. Genuine love for people expresses itself in selfless generosity, which indicates a grateful life to God. Barnabas is generous because he understands the generosity of God in the giving of His Son. Your giving will love others well.
BARNABAS LOVED WELL THROUGH HIS WALK
Barnabas pursued a life of humility, selflessness, and self-abandon. He gave of himself, not just of his stuff. Consider what selling land meant back then. At that time, a minority of people owned all of the land. Most people worked the land for those few owners. And those landowning elite made all the important life decisions for the rest; therefore, you couldn’t get your hands on a piece of land easily. There were no real estate offices to walk into, no online listings, no open real estate market, and no bank mortgages for the average person. Land transactions took place among the elite and represented status and importance. The minority who owned land sold it at great cost to themselves—a sacrifice of personal status. It cost them a seat at the table of importance in that world’s structures. Barnabas didn’t just give up an asset in selling that farmland; he gave up his high standing in the social hierarchy. He entrusted the distribution of the money received from the sale to preaching apostles. That’s because he valued and was submissive to God’s structures in the church. Barnabas pursued a walk of humility, not personal status. Your humble walk will love others well.
Influence matters today.
Influence matters today. God wants to influence the world for Christ through you in a way that honors Him. He’s provided a practical and timeless role model for us on how to love well as salt and light. Barnabas-like love through your words, your wallet, and your walk will make a difference in the lives of those around you. It will influence the world with an attractive picture of God’s way of life that results in praise to God.
Watch Jonathan’s DTS chapel message about Barnabas and encouragement.
To read more, check out Jonathan’s new book, Authentic Influencer, and be encouraged to walk with Barnabas, learn from God, and shape the world for Jesus Christ, one life at a time.
About the Contributors
S. Jonathan Murphy
Dr. Murphy comes to the Seminary from a variety of places. While born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he was raised in the Canary Islands, Spain, and educated in Northern Ireland, Edinburgh (Scotland), and Dallas, Texas! Such cross-cultural exposure has nurtured a diverse range of interests from cheering for Ulster in rugby and Spain in soccer to enjoying all things related to history and a love for God’s people all over the world. Jonathan pastored in Northern Ireland before joining the seminary. His heart beats to encourage and shape leaders for the local church worldwide. He and his wife, Sarah Jane, have four children.