Over the last year and a half I’ve had a little miniseries going on called “Unsung heroes.” No, we’re not going off on another tangent from Acts. But we have come to someone whom I consider one of the most underrated guys in the entire Bible. That’s my definition of an unsung hero: Someone whose little attention which is paid to them is wildly disproportionate to their place in God’s redemptive plan. I’ve listed Caleb, Rahab, Jonathan, and Andrew, and there are a lot of others. Their stories are brief in Scripture, but God used them in a way in which one crucial decision moved the Great Plan forward. I guess I’m a little iconoclastic in that way: If you’re familiar with the Bible, then you know stories about the “Big Guns” like Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, etc. But if God decided to include a narrative about someone, then there’s something we can learn from them.
Barnabas is my latest addition to this honor roll. Like Andrew, he was destined to be on the edge of the spotlight but never to stay in it for very long. As far as we know, he never preached a sermon, and there aren’t any books of the Bible named after him or by him. He was partners with Paul on their mission journeys together, but almost from the very start he was overshadowed by the apostle. When they started out, they were known in the book of Acts as “Barnabas and Paul,” but very shortly, that changed to “Paul and Barnabas.” We only have silence as evidence, but there’s zero indication that Barnabas exhibited any jealousy or resentment over being pushed into “Second String” territory.
The first time he’s mentioned in Acts, he’s a ringleader of a trend that appeared in the early church. In order to meet some immediate needs, some believers would sell their property and present the proceeds to the apostles to use as they saw fit, and the first time he's mentioned he's putting his money where his mouth was. One interesting thing we see here is that he has something in common with Peter: Both of them are much more famous for their nicknames than for their birth names. Simon son of John would be forever remembered better as “Little Rock,” and Joseph the Levite from Cyprus would always be known as “Son of encouragement,” or “Encourager.”
You know, I’ve had some nicknames in my younger days, and most of them were not nearly as nice as “Encourager.” I'd love to have that name, wouldn’t you? When you’re feeling low, the Lord in his mercy often sends us a Barnabas just when we need him/her. They might encourage you by participating in a ministry like this guy did, but quite often they do their job by not speaking at all (or very little). They might just wrap their arms around you and whisper in your ear “I’m here for you, and I’m praying for you.” It’s pretty rare for God to use them to encourage you by giving you a lesson in theology. Unlike Job’s friends, they instinctively understand that the time for that is pretty rare when encouragement is needed.
If you’re a Barnabas to someone else, then I want to be an encourager to you for a moment. You might always be looking at and applauding someone else in the spotlight. You’ll never get the attention that a preacher or a pastor or an evangelist gets. But your Shepherd knows your name. He sees the embraces you’ve given. He hears the words that you’ve whispered to someone to pull them out of darkness. And when the right time comes, you’ll be applauded by nail-scarred hands, and you’ll know it’s worth it.
If someone has been a Barnabas to you, have you been thankful? First you need to thank your Father for sending them. That person is his grace and mercy in human flesh. And second you need to thank them. That gift is often a lonely and draining one. I promise you, they need a pick-me-up too.
Lord Jesus, who around me needs this? To whom are you sending me?