Acts 9:26-28; 11:21-26
“Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you.” William Arthur Ward
Today, more than ever, in all of our relationships, we desperately need encouragers like Barnabas! In the me-first, hyper-competitive world we live in, we all need genuine, honest, faith-filled encouragement.
It is interesting to note that even though we have only a few references to Barnabas in Scripture, most all of us know who he was, or at least we know what he was known for – encouragement!
We first meet Barnabas very early in the story of the New Testament. In Acts 4, we learn that his given name is Joseph, from Cyprus, and he is a Levite, a temple servant. We also learn that already he has been given a nickname by the apostles, Barnabas, which is translated “Son of Encouragement.”
Wouldn’t you like for others to recognize that quality as being so dominant in your life that it became your nickname? This Son of Encouragement was very generous and very trusting. He sold a field he owned and evidently of his own accord brought the money it sold for and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
I think it is clear that one of the characteristics of an encourager’s heart is generosity, whether it’s with earthly resources, time, or recognition. Barnabas understood that his life was a gift from God and how he lived his life for others was his gift back to God.
He realized that sharing what he had as an investment in the lives of others was not a waste, but a definite gain. He allowed God to develop in him a spiritual vision that could see what was most important and he lived his life daily for those things.
Hardwired toward acceptance
See not what a person used to be, but what he/she can or has become in Christ. Encouragers see the best in you, the part that many others miss either because they are too self-righteous or too prejudiced to see it.
How discouraged Saul must have been in Acts 9 when, after his powerful preaching about Jesus in Damascus, the Jews sought to kill him and he had to escape by way of a basket over the wall in the middle of the night! He then traveled to Jerusalem, thinking the disciples would surely welcome him like any other newborn follower of Christ. But they didn’t and we can justify that fear of who he used to be as a valid reason.
Barnabas, however, refused the let the fear of who Saul used to be overpower the reality of who he now was “in Christ.” Barnabas must have been observing what was happening, sought Saul out, took him to the apostles, and vouched for him. He took a risk, no doubt, but he demonstrated his faith not only in Saul, but more importantly in the power of the Gospel to transform any and every human life!
Barnbabas’ acceptance opened the door for Saul then to continue to boldly proclaim Jesus. I wonder if there is anyone in your life or mine for whom the door could also be opened by our encouragement.
Chosen to go
The next time we see Barnabas is in Acts 11, when the good news about the Lord Jesus began to spread outside the circle of the scattered Jews to the Greeks at Antioch.
When it was reported to the church leaders back in Jerusalem that a large number had believed and turned to the Lord, Barnabas was chosen to go check it out. None could be better than the Son of Encouragement for such a task.
Again, his vision is what separates him from many. When he arrived, he saw the grace of God, not the difference in their culture, and he was glad! He saw the power of the Gospel at work in their midst and that was what really mattered. They were no doubt still babes in Christ, but again his vision to see what they could become in Christ was his focus.
His encouragement was forward-focused, urging them to remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of the heart. This good, godly, Spirit-filled, faithful Levite from Cyprus encouraged them to grow – and grow they did! Large numbers of people were added to the Lord. Obviously, encouragement is a catalyst for spiritual growth and evangelism to flourish.
Special vision of the encourager
Finally, an encourager knows that every Christian has a part to play and is alert to how he can encourage them to serve. It had been most likely 8-10 years since Barnabas had last seen Saul, and from a merely human perspective, there was no pressing reason for Barnabas to go seek him out now. Barnabas was more respected, more mature, more experienced for the ongoing of the work.
But Barnabas again demonstrates the special vision of an encourager when he sees the opportunity for Saul to join in the service of the Gospel as much more important than his own prominence. The results were so effective that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch!
I think some Christians think they have the gift of “discouragement,” but that’s not a gift. Neither is encouragement. Encouragement is what ought to be characteristic of every Christian and indeed can be if we follow the example and have the vision of Barnabas.
Someone needs you this week to be a Barnabas to them! Will you be?