Discipleship Lessons from the Life of Barnabas.

Before leaving earth, Christ left a task for each believer in the church: to make disciples as a way of life (Matthew 28:19). We flesh out what it means to love God and others through disciple-making. As we exercise our own spiritual gift, each believer is also to be teaching truth from God's Word.


The call to discipleship assumes that one has been born again. In order to help others grow spiritually, you must be relating to God through His beloved Son and becoming like Him. A born-again person has realized that they have nothing to contribute to their own eternal destiny. God wants more than formulaic adherence to a set of rules; like us, He desires relationship.

The life of Barnabas exemplifies three requirements of disciple-makers.


Acts is the only history book in the New Testament. It describes the transition of the faith-based community from Jews worshiping in synagogues to Gentiles worshiping in the church. Since it is historical and not prescriptive, we cannot take everything done in the book of Acts as something we should imitate. Like all narrative books, we can discern principles to apply.

We are first introduced to a believer named Barnabas in Acts 4:32-37. He sacrificially gave the money he earned from the sale of land to help fellow believers in need. The context shows that he simply did what other believers were also doing. He was working hard at being a normal Christian, obeying as the Holy Spirit led.

The normal activities of the Christian life help one move from confusion to clarity, from drama to disciplines. Learning what the Bible says about yourself, others, and God develops a lifestyle that increasingly shows the Spirit's governance. Selling land and giving all the proceeds to the church may not be a normal activity in today's church; what is always normal for a Christian is that God is continually changing you through His Spirit and His Word.


Stories of courage are used to inspire people to "do great things for God," like in the student volunteer movement. It takes the same courage to minister and reach others for Christ as it does to go to the foreign mission field.

Barnabas helped break a fear barrier to discipleship in Acts 9:26-27. The apostles were right to watch out for the flock of believers; Saul had given then good reason not to trust him. The Holy Spirit used a one-on-one method to integrate Saul as a new believer. Barnabas was the individual to break through the barrier of fear. He got to know Saul and vouched for his authenticity before the apostles. The Holy Spirit helped them to understand that God had transformed the former persecutor.

This anecdote from Barnabas' life is a strong example of the priesthood of the believer. In the church age, it is not just an elite class of people who can minister spiritually. Every believer is enabled and called to minister to others. You can take someone by the hand and lead them in their knowledge of Christ!

Good Instincts

Good instincts are biblically based. When we next see Barnabas in Acts 11:19-26, he is ministering to a whole group of believers in Antioch. The apostles wisely sent a Cyprian to disciple others with the same background. Barnabas had the discernment to recognize the work of God's grace when he saw it. He had learned the apostles' message thoroughly and was able to teach it to others. These instincts came from normal Christian living.

Barnabas also knew when he needed to get help and who to call. He brought Paul to Antioch. They discipled together, and Paul learned from Barnabas. Later excerpts from Paul's letters show that he also knew the primacy of discipleship.

Application Points

  • Is discipleship your way of life? The original language of Matthew 28:19 is more literally translated, "As you go, teach." No matter what your spiritual gifting, do you teach others about Christ? This is the responsibility of every believer!
  • Isn't it a relief that the first requirement for disciple-making is simply to be normal? Just continue to study God's Word and be with His people. Is God continually changing you? Are you discovering truth from God's Word on a regular basis?
  • What are the normal activities at your local community of believers? At Grace, these are attending services, developing redemptive relationships with unbelievers, following someone older in the Lord, participating in deeper studies of the Word, giving, and leading someone through discipleship. Do you embrace these? Or do you resist them and show yourself hostile to God's authority in your life?
  • Do you believe it takes the same courage to minister and reach others for Christ as it does to go to the foreign mission field? Your normal Christian obedience is valuable to God! What barriers do you face in discipleship? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you overcome them.
  • Do you have good instincts based in biblical truth? What is the source of your spiritual power?

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • Matthew 11:29-30, 1 John 5:3 – Jesus' demands are not a burden.
  • 2 Timothy 2:2, Titus 2:1-15 – Paul learned the importance of discipleship from Barnabas.
A Hymn to Encourage: "Christian Hearts, in Love United"

Christian hearts, in love united,
Seek alone in Jesus rest;
Has He not your love excited?
Then let love inspire each breast;
Members on our head depending
Lights reflecting Him, our sun,
Brethren His commands attending,
We in Him, our Lord, are one.

Come, then, come, O flock of Jesus,
Covenant with Him anew;
Unto Him who conquered for us,
Pledge we love and service true;
And should our love’s union holy
Firmly linked no more remain,
Wait ye at His footstool lowly,
Till He draw it close again.

Grant, Lord, that with Thy direction,
Love each other, we comply,
Aiming with unfeigned affection
Thy love to exemplify;
Let our mutual love be glowing,
Thus will all men plainly see,
That we, as on one stem growing,
Living branches are in Thee.

O that such may be our union,
As Thine with the Father is,
And not one of our communion
E’er forsake the path of bliss;
May our light ’fore men with brightness,
From Thy light reflected, shine;
Thus the world will bear us witness,
That we, Lord, are truly Thine.