Without question, as we look at the dangerous influences on our grandchildren in society today, we Christian grandparents would strongly like to influence our grandsons and granddaughters away from these influences and toward lives that reflect biblical values.
However, many of us look at our grandparenting role in the same way my Grandfather Hawkins did. A successful stockbroker and insurance salesman and the father of 12, Harry Hawkins ruled his household with the proverbial rod of iron. When my cousins, siblings, and I came over to stay with our grandparents (as we frequently did) my grandfather often spoke to us in a stern and authoritative tone of voice to impart dire warnings.
I must confess that, while I respected my grandfather, I’m not sure I always responded positively to his authoritative advice and stern rebukes.
Over the years, as I invested time studying the Scriptures and became a grandfather myself at the ripe old age of 38, I discovered another model for grandparenting, one I believe most grandsons and granddaughters would more likely have a positive response to than the approach used by Harry Hawkins. That role model would be Barnabas.
When it comes to a role model for positive encouragement, I don’t think there’s anyone better than Barnabas. While the Holy Spirit should be considered the ultimate role model for encouragement, as Jesus pointed out to his disciples in the upper room, Barnabas gives flesh and blood perspective to the encouragement process. That’s why I like to describe him as a “world-class encourager.”
Originally, he was known as “just plain Joe.” But in Acts 4, during a time when the Jerusalem church was undergoing intense persecution, we are introduced to a man who was given a different name than what he was born with.
Verse 37 reads:
“Thus Joseph, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles, which means son of encouragement, a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
What Luke, the author of the book of Acts is highlighting, is the exemplary generosity demonstrated by this man. People are often given “nicknames” that describe some distinctive attribute. My grandson Josiah and I were both nicknamed ‘Red’ during our early years because of the color of our hair. A longtime friend who was vertically challenged was nicknamed “Shorty.”
But what stood out about Barnabas to the Christian community in Jerusalem was his amazing ability to provide encouragement to those around him. The word encouragement, as found in the New Testament, comes from a Greek word that speaks of ‘one called alongside to help.’ Its original use in the language of the day was of an attorney called in to defend someone accused of a crime. As you likely know, attorneys are often referenced as “Attorney and Counselor at Law,” underscoring two important principles:
I like to think of Christian grandparents as having these two important “encourager” traits. Grandparents typically have a significant understanding of Scripture and how it applies to life. And they are willing to come alongside their grandchildren and share positive insights to encourage them to consider and apply biblical truth to their young lives.
Think with me about the different ways Luke described Barnabas and his role of an encourager in the book of Acts and consider how his actions of generosity, loyalty, consistency, and humility, can relate to those of us who are grandparents.
While the persecution of Christians in Acts 4 left many struggling to put food on the table, Joseph the Levite from Cyprus, already renamed the “son of encouragement,” liquidated his inheritance to help meet these desperate needs. Now I’m not suggesting every Christian grandparent cash in their 401(k) to buy Johnny or Susie a new car or cover their entire cost of college. But it is amazing how generosity can often open opportunities to be heard. Even seemingly small actions like taking a granddaughter to Starbucks for coffee and conversation or paying for a vehicle repair or a new set of tires can break down communication barriers and open young hearts. May God give us a sensitivity to the needs of our grandchildren.
Acts 9 records what likely was the most traumatic conversion of all time, when Saul of Tarsus met Jesus of Nazareth on the road to Damascus. Following his baptism, the beginning of his preaching ministry, and his escape from those who wanted to kill him in Damascus, Saul came to Jerusalem and attempted to join the disciples there. However, fearful of his reputation for persecuting believers, they rejected him. Now, think with me what that rejection might have done to Saul’s newfound faith.
However, Acts 9:27 records how Barnabas stepped in to vouch for Saul’s testimony of faith, which led to his acceptance and expanded ministry in Jerusalem. The encourager was willing to stand up for Saul when it might not have been the popular thing to do—and the result made all the difference.
How does this relate to grandparenting today? For many grandparents, like my Grandfather Hawkins, the default role is that of a critic. So perhaps you can enhance your influence with your grandsons or granddaughters by taking their side, when possible, over that of a teacher, peer, or other influencer (but not a parent).
Another important trait of an encourager is steadfastness. Barnabas played a key role in more than a year of discipling and growth for the believers in Antioch (Acts 11:19–26). It was a period of great blessing, as many new believers came to faith in the city located some three hundred miles northwest of Jerusalem. When Barnabas arrived, he could have complained about all the work he had to do. Instead, Luke records that “he was glad” (v. 23) and began encouraging them that with steadfastness of heart they would cling to the Lord. He didn’t give up
It is significant to note that Barnabas’ concern primarily focused on motivating those he mentored to follow the Lord rather than simply urging them to follow his advice. He urged them to cling to the Savior rather than to him—and his verbal encouragement was backed up by a consistent lifestyle (v. 24).
Finally, when he discovered there were more people to encourage than even he could manage, Barnabas took time out to go after Saul and involve him in the process (vv. 25–26). The end result of their months of encouraging the saints in Antioch together was that for the very first time the believers there came to be called Christians—those who follow or belong to Christ! It was a watershed moment for the church, and it came about as a direct result of a long-term ministry of encouragement. May that be the focus of our influence on our grandchildren!
In the account of his Antioch ministry, Barnabas demonstrated yet another important trait of a world-class encourager—humility. When he first brought his young friend in the faith to work with him, they were known as “Barnabas and Saul.” (Acts 13:2) Before long the two men set off on their first missionary journey in Asia Minor (mostly modern-day Turkey). When they arrived in Antioch of Pisidia (13:4), they were asked to share a message of encouragement (v. 15). After Paul’s message, Luke began identifying the team as “Paul and Barnabas” (vv. 42–43). What an amazing testimony to the humility and gracious character of Barnabas, the world-class encourager! He wasn’t concerned about who received credit or whose name had first billing on the “marquee.” His major focus was to get the job done. Recognizing Paul’s unique gifts, he undoubtedly encouraged his colleague to take the lead.
There is one final trait that surfaced in the life of this world-class encourager in the Acts record, and it directly affected his ministry of encouragement. Barnabas believed in giving those who faltered or failed another chance. Both Paul and Barnabas had agreed to take a young man named John Mark with them on their first missionary journey. Unfortunately (for reasons the Bible doesn’t spell out), when the team reached Perga, John Mark decided to turn back. Sometime later, as they prepared to embark on a second missionary journey, Barnabas suggested they take John Mark with them. Paul sharply objected. As a result of their disagreement, Paul traveled with Silas, while Barnabas took John Mark (15:36–41).
While Bible interpreters disagree over the question of who was right and who was wrong, it seems clear that world-class encouragers like Barnabas are willing to extend a second chance—which is what he did on behalf of John Mark. Ultimately, and I believe as a direct result of the one-on-one ministry of encouragement Barnabas provided John Mark, Paul ultimately asked Timothy to bring Mark to Rome with him, “…for he is useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). I can’t help wondering to what degree the encouragement provided by Barnabas played in that re-assessment by Paul and in the writing of the Gospel that bears his name.
So, what should we grandparents draw——and should we grandparents do——from the record of Barnabas the son of encouragement? We should:
Originally published November 02, 2023