Summary: Part of a sermon series on Galatians
In 1896, Henry Ford, who eventually invented the car, attended a company event where Thomas Edison (the great inventor of the light bulb) was the guest of honour. His friend introduced him to Edison as "the man trying to make a car that runs on gasoline."
Edison asked young Henry Ford a host of questions and when the talk was over, Edison banged his fist down on the table and said, "Young man, that's the thing! You have it! Your car is self contained and carries its own power plant."
Years later, Ford, reflecting on their first meeting, said in a newspaper interview, "That bang on the table was worth the world to me. No man up to then had given me any encouragement. I had hoped that I was headed in the right direction. Sometimes I knew that I was, sometimes I only wondered, but here, all at once and out of a clear sky, the greatest inventive genius in the world had given me complete approval. The man who knew most about electricity in the world had said that for the purpose, my gas motor was better than any electric motor could be."
Thomas Edison was an encourager who made all the difference to Henry Ford and it resulted in something magnificent which we all take for granted today. Barnabas was exactly the same for Paul.
His real name was Joseph (Acts 4:36), but he was renamed like Peter, Barnabas which means “Son of Encouragement”. Encouragement means to put courage into someone. The courage not to give up, to see the potential in someone or something, to battle against the odds and win. Every group needs an encourager. We need an encourager. Someone who will walk alongside us, helping us along.
Barnabas was drawn to people that he could encourage and he was a great help to those around him. And when Barnabas encouraged Christians, non-Christians flocked to become Christians.
Barnabas’ actions were crucial for the Church. In a way we can thank him for most of the New Testament. God used his relationship with Paul at one point and with Mark at another to keep these two men going when either might have failed. Barnabas did wonders with encouraging words.
As we saw in the Thursday group when Paul arrived in the Church following his conversion the local Christians were understandably reluctant to welcome him. They thought the story of a conversion was a trap to arrest more of them. Only Barnabas was willing to risk his life to meet with Paul and convince the others that their former enemy was a true believer. We can only wonder what might have happened to Paul without Barnabas.
As Barnabas’ life shows, we are rarely in situations where people don’t need a word of encouragement rather than a hard word. Our tendency is often to criticise instead of help. It may be important at times to point out someone’s shortcomings but before we have the right to do this, we must build that person up through encouragement. Are you prepared to do that from today? Will you encourage an encourager or a minister or a brother rather than seek to bring them down? Have you given thanks for those people and encouraged those who walk with you? How important encouragement is!
Unity (V2-3, 7-9)
So 14 years after his miraculous transformation Paul had a word from God that told him to go up to Jerusalem. In those 14 years Paul had been setting himself aside to learn alone with God and with others and had been spreading the Gospel throughout the Gentile world. But as we have seen there was a bunch of people who had come to Christ but insisted that you also needed to keep the Law of Moses to be a real Christian. Paul touches on them in Verse 4. They were also teaching that Peter and the other Jewish Christians like Peter and James and John were teaching the same as them. So Paul was in the wrong.
It was time to go and see Peter, James and John to sort things out. Paul had received his Gospel from Jesus which of course the others had too when they spent three years with Jesus. At the meeting Paul was open and shared his gospel openly with the Apostles in Jerusalem. A gospel that says salvation is offered to all regardless of wealth, status, religious and cultural background, nationality, education or gender. Jesus is a free gift to everyone. What they all discovered of course is that they agreed totally together and the unity of the Jewish Church and the Gentile Church was preserved.
There are several lessons in this for all of us. First, an approach where we share openly our thoughts and feelings and beliefs builds trust. Sharing openly brings understanding where there may have been misunderstanding and mistrust before. For instance, we may think someone who worships in a different way to us can’t be a Christian. But have you talked and shared your core beliefs with that person and allowed them to do it with you? Have we bothered to try and understand why using candles or icons could be important to someone? Or have we written them off because we think that because they use icons or candles they don’t hold the same beliefs about Jesus and the Gospel as I do? Have we bothered to share our core beliefs with each other, not the way we practice our faith and worship?