#329 Barnabas: Serving with Generosity 

July 20, 2022

The first recorded action of Barnabas was one of extreme generosity.   

36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:36-37, NIV). 

Barnabas sold a field he owned and gave the money to the church leaders. He was not the first of the believers to do this (see Acts 4:34), but his name is the first one mentioned in this regard. His action seems to have inspired Ananias and Sapphira to also sell their land (see Acts 5:1-11) but their heart and motives were entirely opposite to those of Barnabas.  The generosity of Barnabas demonstrates traits that all serving leaders do well to imitate.  

Generosity serves by demonstrating sacrifice. 

Barnabas sold the field he owned. This property was likely at his home in Cyprus and perhaps his family inheritance. He likely needed to travel home and then bring the money back to Jerusalem. In any case, in addition to giving the value of the property he gave time and energy. His act of generosity was a sacrifice and reflected the posture of his heart to give. Many leaders are in leadership for what they can get out of the role whether financial gain, prestige, or power. 

But serving leaders sacrifice their own desires and needs to serve those they lead. At times, like Barnabas, this may be a financial sacrifice. But many times, serving leaders sacrifice time and energy or other resources for those who follow. True generosity always demands costly sacrifice.  

Generosity serves by demonstrating sympathy.   

Barnabas was moved to generosity by the needs in the community. There were people who had needs and he had sympathy and compassion for them. He was not looking down on others, but he was looking out for others. His act of generosity shows his heart of sympathy for the needs of others more than his own needs. He recognized that he had possessions that were not intended only for his use but to bless others.  

Many leaders see others as the means to an end, people that can help accomplish the goal or the vision of the organization. But serving leaders do not see ‘workers’ or ‘members’ but they see human beings with their own dreams, passions, and desires. They look at others and see opportunities to bless and encourage. Because serving leaders focus their heart outward, they respond to these needs with sympathy and compassion. They recognize that they have been entrusted with gifts and resources that are intended to flow through them to others.  

Serving leaders give generously to those with genuine needs because they truly care about others and sympathize with their needs.  

Generosity serves by denying self.    

Barnabas sold his land and “brought the money and put it at the apostle’s feet.” In this gesture he gave up the right to determine what happened with his contribution.  The apostles would decide how it would be used in the early church. He wasn’t generous to receive praise. While it’s natural to want others to recognize our good deeds, Barnabas denied himself in this act. His act of generosity shows the focus of his heart which was on others rather than self.  

Many leaders consider being as generous as Barnabas but want to make sure that their name will be announced in the list of donors. Others act with generosity but want to control the outcomes or determine the way others should receive their gift. But serving leaders deny themselves and generously release power to others.  

For further reflection and discussion: 

  • How does the generosity of Barnabas challenge me as a leader? What action can I take this week to be more like him?  
  • When I give, is my generosity sacrificial or do I usually give only what I don’t want or use anyway? What steps could I take to be more generous?  
  • How do I see others on my team? Do I view them as persons who are there to help accomplish my vision or do I see them as humans of equal worth as myself, with their own dreams, desires, and difficulties? How does my view of others impact my leadership?  
  • Reflect on a time when you gave finances or tangible items to others with these questions. Was I able to give without any need for recognition or appreciation? Was I able to release control of the gift fully to the recipient or did I maintain power in the transaction? What do my actions reflect about my heart?  
  • Read Acts 5:1-11, the account of Ananias and Sapphira who also sold their property. In what ways did their generosity contrast with that of Barnabas?  

Until next time, yours on the journey, 

Jon Byler 

In the next issue, we’ll examine how Barnabas served with a team.