The Acts of the Apostles describes Barnabas as a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. (Acts 11, 24). Barnabas original name was Joseph. As the Acts has mentioned, he was a Levite born in Cyprus whom the apostles called Barnabas. (Acts 4, 36).
Barnabas innate goodness and generosity are seen in the fact that he put all his possessions at the service of the early Christian community. The Acts narrates that Barnabas sold a field he owned, brought the money, and handed it over to the apostles. (Acts 4, 37)
This magnificent generosity has been an example for the early Christians. So the Acts has recorded it as the first deed of Barnabas: his generous contribution to the common fund of the early Christian community.
Barnabas must have an impressive personality. In the missionary journey with Paul, at Lystra the people gave Barnabas the name Zeus as their god and Paul the name of Hermes. Impressed by Pauls miracle of making a lame man from birth walk, the Lycaonian people said about Paul and Barnabas, The gods have become like men and have come down to us! (Acts 14, 11)
It was Barnabas who courageously helped Paul and took him to the apostle while other disciples were afraid of Paul as he was known as a persecutor of Christians. Acts has narrated the event in detail. Saul went to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples. But they would not believe that he was a disciple, and they were all afraid of him. Then, Barnabas came to his help and took him to the apostles. He explained to them how Saul had seen the Lord on the road and that the Lord had spoken to him. He also told them how boldly Saul had preached in the name of Jesus in Damascus. And so Saul stayed with them and went all over Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. (Acts 9, 26-28)
Barnabas and Saul were among the specially chosen prophets and teachers in the Church at Antioch. They were set apart from others for missionary works. The Acts tell us about the special mission of Barnabas and Paul. In the Church at Antioch there were some prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon (called the Black), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the governor), and Saul. While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said to them, Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul to do the work to which I have called them. They fasted and prayed, placed their hands on them, and sent them off. (Acts 13, 1-3)
Later the Christians were scattered due to persecution and reached far away places like Cyprus and Antioch. The scattered Christians spread their faith wherever they went. When the news reached Jerusalem that a flourishing community of believers has come to existence at Antioch, the leaders chose Barnabas to go to Antioch. The Acts says,
The news about this reached the church in Jerusalem, so they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw how God had blessed the people, he was glad and urged them all to be faithful and true to the Lord with all their hearts. (Acts 11, 22-23) Here we get an idea of the style of his ministry as a Zealous missionary. As a man of God, he could recognize the working of the Spirit among the people. He could appreciate the faith of the people and encourage them to preserve and grow in their faith.
Perhaps Barnabas is known more for his missionary journey with Paul and for their quarrel as for their going separate ways. The chapters 13 and 14 of the Acts narrate the whole event in great detail. Paul and Barnabas were good missionary companions and preached about Jesus boldly at places like Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.
In Iconium Paul and Barnabas went to the synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of Jews and gentiles became believers. (Acts 14, 1)
Similar things happened in Derbe. Paul and Barnabas preached the Good News in Derbe and won many disciples. (Acts 14, 21)
It is strange that such great missionaries like Barnabas and Paul become party to a quarrel during their successful mission. But the fact is that they did quarrel about the company of a third person. Paul wanted to revisit the disciples in different places and Barnabas was in full agreement with Paul. But he wanted to take Mark, his nephew, with them. But Paul was against taking Mark with them as Mark had earliest left them once in the midst of a missionary journey. The dissention was so great that Barnabas and Paul parted company going each their different ways: There was a sharp argument, and they separated. Barnabas took mark and sailed off for Cyprus while Paul chose Silas and left. (Acts 15, 39-40)
It is consoling to know that Paul and Barnabas later got reconciled to one another and they worked together as co-workers. (1 Cor. 9,6; Col. 4, 10)
Barnabas seems to be one of the most respected leaders among the first Christians in the earliest Church.