Jun 6, 2024



Some people are best known for their nicknames. Honest Abe is one that comes immediately to mind. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprian, was given the nickname Barnabas by early Christians, meaning “son of encouragement.” Most every time he is mentioned in Scripture, true to his name, he encourages someone. In Acts 9, Barnabas sticks up for him when the apostles are dubious about Paul’s conversion (9.23-24). In Acts 11, Barnabas is sent to encourage new believers in the church at Antioch to remain true to the Lord (11.23). In Acts 13, when Paul departs on his first missionary journey, Barnabas accompanies him in a support role (13.1-3). In Acts 15, when Paul wants to leave John Mark behind because of a previous desertion, Barnabas insists that Mark be given a second chance (15.36-41). Where would the church be if Barnabas had not spoken up on Paul’s behalf? Half of the New Testament books bear Paul’s signature. Where would the church be if Barnabas had not supported John Mark? Mark penned the gospel that bears his name.
Tertullian put forward that Barnabas was the mysterious author of Hebrews. Clement reported that the second-century Epistle of Barnabas originated from Barnabas’ hand. Later, a 16th-century Gospel of Barnabas surfaces, attributed to you know who. Most everybody wants to affix Barnabas’ name to their writing. And why not? Luke describes Barnabas as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11.24).

Wouldn’t you know it? Today’s early church prayer is attributed to Barnabas also, although it’s more likely a second-century liturgy commemorating him. This early church prayer asks God’s direction in making right use of the gifts and talents given to us:

O Lord God Almighty,
you have built your church on the foundations of the apostles,
under Christ, the head cornerstone,
and to this end, you blessed your holy apostle, St. Barnabas
with the singular gift of the Holy Spirit.
Leave me not destitute, I pray,
of your many gifts and talents,
nor of the grace to make a right use of them,
always without any goals to serve self,
but to your honor and glory;
that making a due improvement of all those gifts
you graciously entrust me with,
I may be able to give a good account of my stewardship
when the great Judge will appear,
the Lord Jesus Christ,
who reigns with you and the Eternal Spirit,
one God, blessed forever.

Prayers of the Early Church, edited by J. Manning Potts

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.