In 1981, Carolyn and I moved to Vista, California to start a new church. Through mutual friends we met Phil and Virginia Feliciano and asked them to pray about joining us as founding members.
They prayed and made a commitment. Soon we met in their living room with 13 people for the first Sunday of our church.
The next three years proved to be quite challenging as conflicts erupted and many left the small church. However, the Feliciano’s remained faithful. I would not have blamed them if they had left. But, they kept their commitment and in time the church grew. What faithful friends they were.
They stayed until Virginia died and Phil moved away almost thirty years later.
We are more connected than ever through the internet and social media. Yet many live lonely, isolated lives. God created us to be relational yet it seems that true friendship is uncommon.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: if one falls down, his friend can help him up. But, pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”
Friends pick each other up and strengthen each other. The lonely and friendless have a distinct disadvantage.
But how can we develop true friendships? The best way is to be a true friend, like Barnabas whose remarkable friendship qualities are recorded in Scripture.
Here are five qualities of true friends we can learn from the life of Barnabas and apply:
1. Be an Encourager
“One of the believers was named Joseph. The apostles called him Barnabas (this name means ‘one who encourages.’) He was a Levite, born in Cyprus. His real name was Joseph but he was called Barnabas which means “one who encourages.” (Acts 4:36 NCV)
Barnabas had a reputation and was therefore nicknamed “the encourager.”
Like him, God wants us to encourage others: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
People crave encouragement. If we encourage sincerely, we will make friends and be a great friend.
2. See Potential in Others and Reach Out
When the great Apostle Paul first became a Christian it was Barnabas who introduced him to the other apostles (Acts 9:26-27). They were afraid because Paul had been a well-known persecutor of Christians. Barnabas believed in Paul’s potential, befriended him and vouched for his transformed life.
Great friends see the potential, the good, and the reasons to believe in others. They reach out in friendship.
3. Share Generously
Barnabas was remarkably generous: “Joseph [Barnabas] owned a field. He sold it and brought the money, and gave it to the apostles.” (Acts 4:37 NCV)
Barnabas realized a need and responded sacrificially. Imagine selling a piece of property and giving all of the funds to others. That’s what he did.
“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2-3 NIV)
This first missionary trip began the spread of the Gospel westward. Barnabas, along with Paul, sacrificed by leaving his familiar surroundings and suffering hardships and persecution so that others could learn about Jesus.
Many reading this article are part of this heritage of the spread of the Gospel westward. We are eventual beneficiaries of Barnabas’ generously by sacrificially spreading the Gospel!
“For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.” (Acts 11:24 ESV)
4. Put Friends First
In Acts 13 when Barnabas and Saul first set out on their journey, it is clear that Barnabas was the missionary team leader. His name is mentioned first. He had been Paul’s mentor and he led the way.
However starting in Acts 13:13 Paul’s name comes first and that order continues through the rest of the account.
Barnabas willingly took second place as he recognized the leadership gifting of his mentee Paul. He exhibited true grace and humility.
In his famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie wrote six practical actions for being a great friend by putting others first:
Become genuinely interested in other people
Remember a person’s name and use it
Listen well and encourage others to talk about themselves
Talk in terms of the other person’s interest
Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely
5. Be Faithful Even when it Costs You Greatly
Eventually Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways in ministry (see Acts 15:36-41). Interestingly, they parted company over Barnabas’ insistence on welcoming back a missionary team deserter named John Mark.
Barnabas’ faithfulness as a friend to John Mark cost him his friendship with Paul.
Was such faithfulness the right thing to do? Yes, as proven by the fact that later John Mark once again assisted Paul in ministry (see 2 Timothy 4:11) and wrote one of the four Gospels, the Gospel of Mark!
Which of these five qualities do you want to put into practice today? (You can comment below.)