Wednesday Apr 19, 2023

Acts 4:32-37 - Barnabas the Man of Grace and Encouragement


     In the previous section (Acts 4:13-31), the Sanhedrin had evaluated Peter and John (whom they regarded as uneducated men), and after asking them to leave the Council briefly, began to discuss how a noteworthy miracle had been performed in Jerusalem that was witnessed by many. The Sanhedrin were impressed by their confidence and recognized that they had been with Jesus. Despite being ordered to stop speaking about Jesus, Peter and John refused to obey and continued to preach. This shows that some acts of civil disobedience are required by God’s people when the civil authorities command something that is contrary to the will of God. After Peter and John left the Council, they reported their encounter to their companions, and they all prayed together for boldness and were filled with the Holy Spirit. The place where they prayed shook, as a sign of God’s approval, and they continued to speak the Word of God with confidence.

Following Text

  • “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them” (Acts 4:32).

     This newly formed group of believers experienced a radical change of heart, and Luke tells us they were of one heart and soul (καρδία καὶ ψυχὴ μία - kardia kai psuche mia). The heart (καρδία) does not refer to the physical organ, but to the “center and source of the whole inner life, with its thinking, feeling, and volition.”[1] The NT usage of the soul (ψυχὴ) is sometimes difficult to distinguish from the heart, as it too can refer to “the inner life of a person and its various faculties.”[2] When combined together, the heart and soul “denotes the common mind that caused the church to be united at the deepest human level.”[3] The result was an abandonment of self and self-interest, as “not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” Here we witness an outward behavior that reflects a transformed heart. 

     God continued to work through His apostles, as Luke tells us, “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). The main purpose of the apostles was witnessing for Jesus. And their witness came with great power (δυνάμει μεγάλῃ dunamei megale), which, considering the context, refers to miracles God was performing through them. The miracles were not an end in themselves, but were intended to be a testimony (μαρτύριον marturion) for the Lord Jesus, specifically concerning His resurrection (ἀνάστασις anastasis) from the dead. The apostles were not pointing others to themselves, but to Jesus. True Christian ministry must always start with Jesus. And referencing only the resurrection seems to be a form of evangelistic shorthand that, by implication, assumes Jesus’ death and burial. One cannot have resurrection without the former events, and when taken together, communicates the core of the gospel message.

     That Jesus is here called Lord (κύριος kurios) is a reference to His divinity. The Bible presents Jesus as God. In the OT, the proper name of God is YHWH (called the tetragrammaton) and is translated LORD, using all capital letters. When the Septuagint was written around 250 B.C. (the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT) the translators chose the Greek word κύριος kurios as a suitable substitute for the Hebrew name YHWH. Though the word is sometimes used in the NT to mean sir (John 4:11; Acts 16:30), and master (Col. 3:22), it is also used to refer to the deity of Jesus Christ (compare Isa 40:3 and John 1:23; or Deut 6:16 and Matt 4:7; cf. John 20:28; Rom 10:11; Phil 2:11).

     And we are told that abundant grace (χάρις τε μεγάλη charis te megale) was upon them all (Acts 4:33b). Grace generally refers to the unmerited favor or kindness that one person freely confers on another without regard to the beauty or worth of the object. Grace has more to do with the heart of the giver who blesses others from the bounty of his/her own goodness. The word grace appears 17 times in the book of Acts and commonly denotes divine enablement to perform a task, which gives success to the ones so blessed (cf., Acts  6:8; 11:23; 13:43; 14:3, 26; 15:11, 40; 18:27; 20:24, 32). God’s grace took material form in the early church, as Luke tells us, “For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35).

     Meeting needs meant providing the basics of food and clothing. James tells us, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (Jam 2:15-16). Paul wrote, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim 6:8). It’s fine if God blesses us with more than these things, but we should always learn to be content with the basics (Phil 4:11-13). It is assumed in this passage that those who were in need either lacked the ability or opportunity to care for themselves. Biblically, it was expected that if one could work, they should (Deut 24:19-21). Working for food is a biblical principle, as Paul said, “if anyone is not willing to work, neither shall he eat” (2 Th 3:10). No work means no food. Of course, this assumes one has the physical and cognitive ability as well as the opportunity. Naturally, a special dispensation would be granted to those who could not help themselves because of a disability. Later, we’re told the apostles were using some of the monetary gifts to help care for widows in “the daily serving of food” (Acts 6:1).

     In Acts 4:34-35, we observe that God did not provide for the needy by means of supernatural acts, such as manna or money coming down from heaven to provide for them. No. God chose to meet the needs of the community of believers through His own people, whom He’d blessed greatly with material wealth. These wealthy and openhanded believers served as conduits of His grace, as they sold their land and houses that were of little personal benefit and gave it to help meet the needs of others. In this way, they were making an investment in their future, as God promises to reward such activities in the eternal state (Matt 6:2-4; 1 Cor 3:10-15). It’s likely this selling of property lasted over a period of time, perhaps several months, and was limited to those who were willing to give of their resources. Meeting the needs of fellow Christians arose from a heart of compassion, not group coercion. The practice of giving to meet the needs of others was wholly voluntary. Charles Ryrie states:

  • “Money talks!” And it did in the early church. The fellowship was strengthened and needs met by the voluntary agreement to hold things in common. This is not “Christian communism.” The sale of property was quite voluntary (Acts 4:34). The right of possession was not abolished. The community did not control the money until it had voluntarily been given to the apostles. The distribution was not made equally but according to need. These are not communistic principles. This is Christian charity in its finest display.[4]

     It is not a sin to be wealthy, as God sometimes blesses His people with great riches. He certainly gave great wealth to Abraham (Gen 13:5-6), Isaac (Gen 26:12-14), Jacob (Gen 32:9-10; 33:11), Job (Job 1:1-3), David (1 Ch 29:1-5), Solomon (1 Ki 10:1-25), among others. Sometimes this wealth came suddenly, such as when God liberated the Israelites from Egyptian slavery (Deut 5:6), and persuaded the Egyptians to give His people vast amounts of silver, gold, and clothing (Ex 3:22). Afterwards, God gave His people the land of Canaan (Deut 4:1; 9:6), which included cities, houses, wells and vineyards for which they did not work (Deut 6:10-11). The Bible also gives wisdom on how to achieve wealth by hard work (Prov 28:19) and investment (Eccl 11:1-2).

     It is worth nothing that in the early church, some wealthy Christians continued to own homes, which shows that the selling of property was limited to those who were willing. In acts 12 we’re told about Mary, who used her home for godly purposes by opening it for Christians to gather and pray (Acts 12:12). Furthermore, Mary had a “servant-girl named Rhoda” who functioned as her maid (Acts 12:13). This implies the continued possession of wealth. In Acts 16 we’re also told about a wealthy woman named Lydia who was a business owner, who was “a seller of purple fabrics” (Acts 16:14), and who later opened her home to Paul and Silas (Acts 16:40). In the Gospel of Luke, we learn there were some wealthy women who financially supported Jesus and His disciples, namely, “Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means” (Luke 8:2-3). These did not cease to be wealthy, but used their wealth for God’s purposes.

     I know some whom God has gifted with great business acumen. These He has blessed with the “power to make wealth” (Deut 8:18). These same skilled men and women have been generous in their giving to help others, and in this way, have followed Paul’s instruction to “those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to set their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy; and to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim 6:17-18). Being wealthy can be a blessing from the Lord, but how one handles that wealth either honors or dishonors Him. And, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, and favor is better than silver and gold” (Prov 22:1). The healthy Christian heart is one that looks for needs in others and then seeks to meet them. Paul wrote, “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor” (1 Cor 10:24). The heart of love “does not seek its own interests” (1 Cor 13:5), but the interests of others. As God’s children, “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:4).

     Personally, I wonder if I lost everything I own and were reduced to the basics of food and clothing, would I be content? Would I trust the Lord, knowing and accepting that “God works all things to work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Would I obey the biblical directives to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; and in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:16-18). Would I “Do all things without complaining or disputing” (Phil 2:14). Would I acknowledge God’s sovereignty over my life, realizing “The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts” (1 Sam 2:7). And, would I praise Him, like Job who said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). The truth is, “we brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (1 Tim 6:7), and it helps produce mental and emotional stability if we hold loosely the material things of this life, realizing God owns everything, and that we are but stewards of what He’s provided.

Meet Barnabas

     In the closing verses of this pericope, Luke introduces us briefly to  Barnabas, who will play an important role in the development of the early church. Luke wrote, “Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet”  (Acts 4:36-37). According to the Mosaic Law, Levites were not to own land (Num 18:20, 24); however, this seems to apply only to land in Israel. Joseph was from the island of Cyprus, and Luke tells us he “owned a tract of land” on the island.

     The name Barnabas (probably from ברנבו) actually means son of a prophet. The question among some Bible scholars is how this could translate as Son of Encouragement? I think Paul helps us here when he spoke to prophets at the church of Corinth, saying, “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be encouraged” (1 Cor 14:31). The idea is that a prophet of the Lord would function as one who encouraged others to walk with the Lord and remain faithful to Him.

     Concerning Barnabas’ character, Luke describes him as a godly man who was noted for his encouragement and willingness to give of his own resources for the benefit of others. Here, the word encouragement translates the Greek noun παράκλησις paraklesis, which, according to BDAG, denotes “emboldening another in belief or course of action, encouragement, exhortation…[the] lifting of another’s spirits.”[5]

     It would seem Barnabas’ life reflected what He saw and experienced in his relationship with God. In Scripture, we learn that God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet 5:10), Who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), Who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29). Grace (χάρις charis) is undeserved favor. It is the love, mercy, or kindness that one person freely confers upon another who does not deserve it (Matt 5:44-45; Rom 11:6; Eph 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5-7). And there is nothing more powerful or encouraging than God’s grace to warm and motivate His people to action. For what flows down from God to his children, when received with an open heart, will find natural outward expression to others, who will “encourage one another and build up one another” (1 Th 5:11a), and will “encourage one another day after day” (Heb 3:13a). I believe Barnabas was one who drank deeply from the well of God’s grace and goodness, and being blessed and encouraged by the Lord, was motivated to do the same to others.

     Barnabas’ first act of encouragement was witnessed in his willingness to give of his own resources for the benefit of others; specifically, we are told he “owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:37). Being a man of grace, he sold his property and gave it to the apostles to be used for ministry purposes. Later, in Acts, we’re told that the church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:22), and “when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God” (Acts 11:23a), he “rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord” (Acts 11:23b). Here, the word encourage translates the Greek verb παρακαλέω parakaleo, which means to “call to one’s side.”[6] The picture is that of one person who comes alongside others and encourages them to accomplish a task or finish a race. In this case, it meant encouraging these Christians to press on and do God’s will. Encouraging other believers “to remain true to the Lord” is what healthy encouragement looks like.

     And Barnabas was pivotal to the early church as seen in other passages. For example, it was Barnabas who supported Paul shortly after his conversion, even though others had reservations about him (Acts 9:27). It was Barnabas who bridged the relationship between the church in Jerusalem and the church in Antioch (Acts 11:22). It was Barnabas who connected with Paul and formed a teaching ministry in Antioch that lasted for a year (Acts 11:25-26). It was Barnabas—along with Paul—who was entrusted to deliver a financial donation to suffering Christians in Judea (Acts 11:27-30). It was Barnabas who helped launch the first significant missionary journey into the Gentile world (Acts 13:1-4). It was Barnabas who helped resolve the first major theological issue facing the church (Acts 15:1-25). It was Barnabas who supported Mark, even after he’d failed (Acts 15:37-38), and unfortunately, his support resulted in a major conflict with Paul that resulted in their breaking fellowship for a while (Acts 15:39-41). However, from later biblical passages we know that Barnabas and Paul—men who were both known for their grace and love—reconciled their differences and were reunited in fellowship and ministry (1 Cor 9:6; Gal 2:9). Overall, Barnabas was noted as being an encourager (Acts 11:23), “a good man”, one who was “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24), and one who “risked” his life “for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26). Barnabas was not without his flaws; however, he possessed the qualities one would like to see in a Christian leader, as he sought to build the Christian community by means grace, love, and solid biblical instruction. Churches and Christians need people like Barnabas, who will stand with them, give them wise counsel, and encourage them in their walk with the Lord.

     Though some wealthy Christians in the early church had a right attitude about wealth, and operated with humility and grace to meet the needs of fellow Christians (such as Barnabas), what follows in the next chapter reveals that some had impure hearts and suffered from approbation lust, where by deceit they sought the approval of others rather than God. These paid a heavy price for their sin.

Summary of Acts 4:32-37:

     The early church had a sense of Christian community within itself and those who had wealth voluntarily shared with those who were in need (Acts 4:32-37). Love was the motivation for sharing, as there was no command from heaven and no human pressure from the church leadership to give. What we see is descriptive, not prescriptive.  Passages like Acts 4:32-37 provide an ideal picture of what the church should look like in its everyday functions.



[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 508.

[2] Moisés Silva, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 730.

[3] Ibid., 732.

[4] Charles C. Ryrie, Acts of the Apostles, Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1961), 35–36.

[5] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian, 766.

[6] Ibid., 764.

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