Summary: Could you use some encouragement? Couldn't we all? See how Barnabas is a wonderful example of the blessings of Christian encouragement. Encoruagement needed, given and received!
“You look like you could use some encouragement.” Has anyone ever said that to you? Maybe they didn’t have to say it out loud, because the look on your face said it all. It had been a long week at work, it had been a disappointing meeting, it had been a rough day at school, it had been another frustrating conversation with a son or daughter, the news from the doctor was not what you had hoped to receive. But then someone started talking to you. They began to remind you of some very simple Bible truths that you had heard many times before, but you really needed to hear again. That you’re never alone because God is right there with you, that you don’t need to be overwhelmed by worry because God’s got it under control, that God has a good plan, that God gives us fellow Christians to listen to you, to support you, and to help you through. Encouragement needed, encouragement given, encouragement received. What a great blessing that person is to you!
There was a man who lived in Jerusalem following Jesus’ ascension into heaven, right around the year 30 AD who was well known for encouraging his fellow Christians. He hung out with Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem although he was originally from the island of Cyprus. His name was Joseph. The Bible tells us that he had sold his personal property and brought it to Jesus’ disciples to support them and their ministry that they were carrying out. Now you might better know Joseph by the name that the Apostles had given to him. They called him “Barnabas,” a Hebrew name that literally means, “son of encouragement.” Obviously Barnabas must have been one of those people who could spot a person a mile away who needed encouragement and then made sure to provide it. And let’s face it, the Christians during this time really needed all the encouragement that they could possibly get.
The persecution of Christians was beginning to ramp up. It wasn’t all that long ago that a man by the name of Stephen had been killed because he was a Christian. At that point, Christians started leaving the city of Jerusalem in fear of their lives and travelling throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. A man by the name of Saul was actually travelling from town to town in search of Christians to imprison them and if necessary execute them. Many of these Christians lost nearly everything for confessing Jesus Christ as the Son of God and their Savior. They lost their homes, their possessions, their jobs, their social status, friends, family members and sometimes even their lives – for no other reason than that they were followers of Christ. Encouragement was needed, given and received among these fellow Christians.
While Barnabas was living in Jerusalem, he was one of the first Christians to come into contact with the infamous persecutor of Christians, that man named Saul. Now there had been rumors circulating that Saul had “defected” from Judaism and had become a Christian. There were stories that Saul no longer wanted to kill Christians, but that he wanted to be a Christian. Obviously, the Christians in Jerusalem were a bit skeptical of Saul’s sudden change of heart. Was this just some clever ploy on his part to infiltrate and identify Christians? Who was it that reached out to Saul the future Apostle Paul? The Bible tells us, “When he [Saul] came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:26,27). How encouraging it must have been for Saul to have someone stick up for him, believe him and defend him. This seems to be the beginning of a close friendship between Barnabas and Saul, later called Paul, that would be a great blessing to each of them, and to many others throughout the upcoming years. Encouragement needed, given and received among fellow Christians.
Shortly after Barnabas and Paul’s friendship began in Jerusalem, it was abruptly interrupted. Paul was forced to leave the city of Jerusalem in the middle of the night when he discovered a plot to kill him. Paul spent the next couple of years in his hometown of Tarsus, nearly 400 miles north of Jerusalem, growing in his Christian faith. A few years later, Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem, to the city of Antioch, about 300 miles north of Jerusalem to check out what was going on there. The city of Antioch had become what we might call the world mission headquarters of the Early Christian Church. There were both Jewish and non-Jewish Christians from all over the world worshipping and working together. And when Barnabas arrived in Antioch and needed help teaching and training these Christians, who did he get? We heard, “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people” (Acts 11:25,26). Barnabas and Paul were reunited, and together they taught God’s people in Antioch the powerful and saving truths of God’s Word. It was also during this time that Paul and Barnabas got their first taste of mission work. They were selected by the Christians in Antioch to bring a special offering they had collected to help their fellow Christians in Jerusalem who were facing famine. Again, encouragement needed, given and received among fellow Christians.