About one-thousand-nine-hundred-fifty years ago there was a man named Joseph. Joseph was an example to the early church and is still an example to us. We first meet Joseph in Acts 4:26, “a Levite and a Cypriot by birth, [he was] the one the apostles called Barnabas, which is translated Son of Encouragement.” Of course, you know him—but you know him by his nickname—Barnabas. Think about what it might take, what you must be like, what people would have to see in you to earn—from the Apostles—the nickname, “Son of Encouragement”.
The phrase “Son of” is used a lot in Scripture. Its most common use in the new testament is to refer to Jesus as either the “Son of Man” or the “Son of God”. The second most common use is to identify the father of the person Scripture is speaking about (i.e. “James the Son of Zebedee” in Matthew 4:21 and “John the son of Zechariah” in Luke 3:2). Only a few notable times is “Son of” used to bestow a nickname. In Mark 3:17 James and John are called the “Sons of Thunder”, identifying what, at times, is a negative character flaw. Judas Iscariot is referred to as the “Son of Destruction” by Jesus in John 17:12, definitely not highlighting something to aspire to. But it is this Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, that is identified as the “Son of Encouragement”.
What earned him that nickname—I can think of three things. First, he encouraged the church with his use of his resources. In Acts 4:37, he is identified as one who sold a field and brought the money to the apostles. Barnabas, used what he had to build up and give. While others did the same (see Acts 4:34-35), Barnabas is the only one named—if you don’t count Ananias and Sapphira—who were named for a different reason! Second, Barnabas encouraged the spread of the gospel. It was Barnabas who introduced Saul to the other Apostles (see Acts 9:27). It was Barnabas, sent by the Apostles, who first encouraged the believers in Antioch as they started including non-Jews. It was Barnabas who searched for Saul in Tarsus and brought him back to Antioch to work with and strengthen these new believers—first called Christians in Antioch (see Acts 11:19-26). Finally, it was Barnabas that brought the quitter and likely spiritually immature John Mark to maturity. Recall that John Mark dropped out during Paul’s first missionary journey, and was refused a second chance by Paul (see Acts 15:36-41). However, Barnabas was the one who spent the necessary time with John Mark and it is likely due to Barnabas’ encouraging way that Paul later asks specifically for John Mark (see 2 Timothy 4:11) because he was useful to Paul. Barnabas used his money to encourage the church, he used his desire to spread the gospel to encourage and match Paul with a mission field, and he used his heart for people to encourage John Mark to become so useful. We don’t hear a lot about Barnabas in the New Testament—and we never hear all he did to earn the nickname, “Son of Encouragement”—but what we do hear lets us know that it was a nickname he deserved.