Summary: Barnabas - is an encourager and we should learn from him
ENCOURAGEMENT TO BE AN ENCOURAGER
The Duke of Wellington, a famous military leader who defeated Napoleon was asked at the end of his life if he had any regrets. He said that if he had a regret it was that he did not give more praise. Someone once said “flatter me and I may not believe you, criticise me and I may not like you, ignore me and I may not forgive you, praise me and I will not forget you.” There is something about praise and encouragement that, although we may find hard to believe or accept, never leaves our hearts or minds. This morning I want to encourage you to become an encourager. To be one of those people who encourage others on to greater things in the kingdom of God. To help us understand this I am going to look at Barnabas in the book of Acts.
Turn with me firstly to Acts 4.36-37 – this is where we first encounter Barnabas in the book of Acts. He is mentioned 34 times in the NT and all but 5 of those are in the book of Acts. I want you to note first of all that his name was ‘Joseph.’ His parents had called him Joseph but he was given the nickname ‘Barnabas’ –which meant ‘son of encouragement.’ Bar = ‘son of.’ ‘Nabas’ was Hebrew referring to a prophetic exhortation which encouraged or built people up. We know also from this text that he was a Levite. That is, he was from the priestly tribe of Israel. We learn that he was from Cyprus and this enabled him to be an important bridge between the Hebrew and Hellenistic worlds in the church, which would become significant later.
Turn now with me to Acts 9 verses 26-27. Saul (Paul) has been converted to Christ on the road to Damascus and has come to Jerusalem to meet the Apostles. They are justifiably afraid of him and it is Barnabas who takes Paul to the Apostles. In fact we read in verse 27 that it is Barnabas who retells the story of Paul’s conversion to them and not Paul himself.
Turn to Acts 15.36ff. Paul and Barnabas have a disagreement over John Mark. John Mark had let Paul down on a previous journey but Barnabas wants to give John Mark another opportunity to serve. Paul and Barnabas disagree and separate at this point. Later Paul calls for John Mark and he describes him as one of his closest companions and servants in the gospel. Barnabas takes this opportunity of encouraging a young man who has failed in the past by offering him another chance to serve. He saw in John Mark the grace of God even if at this point Paul does not.
Now turn to the passage we read this morning from Acts 11.19-26.
Verses 19-21. Stephen has been martyred and once again the Christians have been scattered by the persecution. Luke tells us that they continued to preach the gospel and that many people had come to faith in Christ. Luke records for us that there was a significant number of people who came to faith and that this was because the hand of the Lord was upon the believers. We have here the geographical and cultural expansion of the gospel. Geographically it has spread from Jerusalem to Judea and then on into Samaria and now out to the Gentile nations. Culturally it has moved out from the Jews in Jerusalem to the Jews in the Diaspora and now on to the Gentiles.
Verse 22 – is a significant verse in this account. News of the gospel reaching Antioch has filtered back to Jerusalem and the apostles send Barnabas to Antioch to investigate. I find it significant that it was not an Apostle who was sent but Barnabas. No doubt part of the reason for sending him is that he is from Cyprus and therefore understands the culture etc.
Verses 23-24 read. Barnabas arrives and witnesses what? Luke tells us that he witnesses the ‘grace of God’ at work amongst the people of Antioch. He is gladdened by what he sees in Antioch. His generous spirit is moved to joy at the sight of people coming to faith in Christ Jesus. Luke tells us that having witnessed the work of God’s grace in their lives Barnabas encourages them to persevere in the faith in ‘remaining true to the Lord Jesus with all their hearts.’ There is a deliberate play on his name – he (Barnabas – son of encouragement) encouraged them. Please note this is no general encouragement but a specific encouragement to wholehearted devotion and commitment to the Lord Jesus. Barnabas did not come and utter nice platitudes but encouraged them to persevere in the gospel. This was a critical moment in the life of this young church and of these new born babes in Christ. So often people come into such situations and all they do is find fault and raise their own self-esteem by criticising others. Not Barnabas. he arrives and he firstly seeks to see the grace of God at work. How did he know it was the grace of God at work? People turning from sin in repentance and faith to Christ Jesus. People confessing Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Barnabas did not burden them with rules and regulations – instead he encouraged them to persevere in their wholehearted commitment to Christ. Did you note the word ‘wholehearted?’ Not apathy. Not here this week and not next week. Not read my bible today but not tomorrow but wholehearted commitment. He encouraged them to be ‘true to the Lord.’ We would say ‘faithful to the Lord.’ Loving the Lord above all else. Having the Lord as the one whose word you obeyed, heeded, listened to and sought counsel from. He encouraged them to be true to the Truth – Christ Jesus. Barnabas knows that their hearts will determine the direction of their lives. If the gospel is to take root and firmly establish their lives then their hearts must be devoted first and foremost to Christ. You see the gospel can only put down deep and firm roots by faith when it is grounded in the heart of a believer. Otherwise when the sun rises and the heat of the day comes the plant withers and dies – according to the parable of the Sower.