(March 13, 2023) Richard Winter shares on something badly needed in church circles today…
I love stories so let me begin by telling you one that I heard many, many years ago and has stayed ever fresh in my mind.
Once upon a time… (original story opening, eh)… it was announced that the devil was going out of business and would sell all his evil equipment to those who were willing to pay the price.
On the big day of the sale, all his tools were attractively displayed… Envy, Jealousy, Hatred, Malice, Deceit, Sensuality, Pride, Idolatry and other implements of destruction, each price tagged marked.
Over in the corner by itself was a harmless-looking, wedge-shaped tool very much worn down, but with a higher price than any of the others. Someone asked Satan what it was, and he answered, ‘Discouragement.’
Actually he’d deliberately priced it so high that no one could buy it! To this day it has never been sold. It still belongs to Satan, and oh how he still uses it on all humankind (Author unknown).
Every one of us, at one time or another have encountered discouragement. Discouragement is ‘one of the strangest, strongest, subtlest, sneakiest of sins.’ It is a sort of gnawing, gradual, simmering, growing, insidious, low-grade spiritual fever. As it builds up… you slow down! You get weary and you give up!
Apply the best antidote
So what do you do when discouragement comes a-calling? Apply the best antidote! And what is that? Encouragement!
In simple terms, ‘En’ indicates ‘make, put in’ and ‘courage’ indicates where… the ‘heart’ of course. If you like equations, here one… en+heart= ‘putting courage into someone.’ Like Popeye and his spinach!
If you have ever been to any sporting event you will realise that the spectators play a very important role in encouraging the players. We also need people to cheer us on in life.
New Testament language
Encouragement, correctly understood, is the language of the New Testament where the term ‘to encourage’ is used more than a hundred times. Do you realise that the church can be and should be one of the most encouraging places in the world?
Scripture’s Barnabas sets the gold standard for encouraging others and its affects… so let’s read about his first mention in Acts 4:36-37: ‘Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.’ What a great description for a Jesus follower in troubled times!
In Acts 11:24, the Bible tells us that Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. But the outstanding quality for which he will always be remembered more than any other was his ability to encourage others.
That spiritual gift of encouragement was so outstanding in his life that it was no wonder the early church had decided to give him the new name of Barnabas (v37 above)!
Point to ponder: What nickname would someone give you? Or me? Stubborn, Sunshine, Happy, Grumpy or Dopey? Hmmm, Doesn’t that make you think of the seven dwarves, and not about good Christian characterisations?
Every instance of Barnabas in scripture finds him encouraging others in faith, developing leaders and building up the church. There are at least two places in the New Testament where all Christians are commanded to be like Barnabas and encourage one another…
- I Thessalonians 5:11, ‘… encourage one another and build up one another…’
- Hebrews 3:13, ‘… encourage one another day after day.’
Barnabas characteristics of any encourager are these… he or she –
1. Gives generously
Why did Barnabas so willingly sell his land?
There were many poor people in the early church, and he saw the needs! (Incidently, often when people come to Christ and desire to witness Jesus, they may lose their jobs. Christian news reports tell that this is happening today!).
Furthermore, a great revival had broken out in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, and many people from other places who came to know the Lord stayed behind because they wanted to receive instruction, to be in fellowship with other believers and grow in the Lord.
Barnabas, a landowner, saw that the financial need was great and of his own free will sold his land and donated proceeds for the care of the poor. When encouragers sees a need, they say, ‘I will give what I can, and do what I can, to meet that need.’
Giving need not be in terms of money. You may not be rich in money, but every one of us has the opportunity to encourage others…
- Sick people don’t need money, just a word of concern.
- Lonely people… just a few minutes of time.
- Hurting people… just a touch on the shoulder.
- Discouraged people… just a sentence of hope.
Are we ready to lay ourselves down for another person? Do we have to be like Barnabas and sell things? Sometimes… or it could be as simple as sending a caring message to someone who is burdened.
Remember the song that says. ‘… like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.’
2. Sees God’s grace in an imperfect church
Acts 11:19-23 tells that because of persecution, the early church was scattered and some ‘… men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.’
Antioch is quite a distance north of Israel, in Syria. The persecuted Christians who fled there from Jerusalem had witnessed their faith in Christ all along the way. Soon a church was born in Antioch, and the apostles back in Jerusalem felt responsible for its pastoral care and instruction in Christian doctrine. And that the ever-encouraging Barnabas was the man for the job.
What else were the Jerusalem leaders concerned about? Basically a trio of reasons. The new converts were –
a. Ignorant of Old Testament scriptures relative to gospel teachings.
b. Unpolished pagans.
c. Holders possibly of offensive habits, even probably.
Barnabas did not see all these flaws… only what God had done, was doing, and could do in the lives of those converts. Instead of judging, he rejoiced that they are saved and encouraged them.
One of the best things we can do is to encourage someone to grow in Christ. An encouraging church that has Barnabas types will be like what this wonderful old American folk song requests:
‘Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam where the deer and the antelope play.
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.’
3. Finds the best in others
This requires good insight – spiritual insight.
Paul, although he had been gloriously, miraculously converted, was still under suspicion by the church’s leadership. Acts 9:26-27 tells of Barnabas’ insightful heart regarding the new ‘Saul’… ‘When he [Paul] 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.’
That old adage about a leopard being unable to change its spots must have entered the apostles’ minds when Saul showed up claiming to be a Christian. Naturally, they didn’t trust him, thinking that he was trying to infiltrate their ranks. Unsurprisingly it was Barnabas who befriended Saul… he defended Paul, giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Imagine what a loss it would have been to the church if Barnabas had not extended the hand of friendship to the learned Paul… who would write most of the New Testament!
Is there someone you should encourage in this way?
4. Sees ‘second chance’ opportunities
Acts 15:36-40 tells that years later the established Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ Barnabas wanted to take along John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul didn’t think it wise, because Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in that work.
So there was an argument between Paul and Barnabas over whether young Mark would accompany them on this proposed missions trip. Paul had been so upset with Mark returning home in the middle of their first journey that he didn’t want him. Barnabas insisted that they should. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left for Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
With this matter standing between them, they went separate ways. However, in spite of Mark’s earlier failure, Barnabas did not give up on him and gave him a second chance… and the gospel was preached in a wider range of countries! Barnabas was not only ‘Son of Encouragement,’ he was also ‘Apostle of the Second Chance.’
And apparently, he did a pretty good job in training and encouraging Mark… because we know from Paul’s later letters (Colossians 4:10, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24) that he eventually changed his opinion about Mark and counted him among his closest fellow workers!
Point: With the right encouragement… and with God’s help, such ‘Marks’ can start over with a guided second chance! Someone you know that can make it with your encouragement?
5. Breaks Satan’s discouragement
There is a difference between the way discouragers see people and encouragers see people.
Discouragers can’t see beyond a person’s past, failures, mistakes, shortcomings… and tend to write people off quickly and for good. Barnabas didn’t! He encouraged Paul, and they both encouraged Mark. The message here is for us to follow suit!
- An encourager sees a person not as they are now – but as they can become.
- Needing an assistant, Barnabas knew exactly where to find one. He sought out Paul and became his mentor.
- He applied his life to the fulfilment of Paul’s ministry.
- Barnabas also saw the potential in Mark, believed the best of him, and did not hold his past against him.
- The message here is for us to follow suit!
Jesus did not give up on His disciples who had failed Him. Peter had denied Him, yet He lovingly restored Peter. Even when we fail Him, Christ is still willing to receive, renew, and ‘reuse’ us for His service.
6. Holds no grudges
Acts 15:2 talks about Barnabas and Saul being set aside by the Holy Spirit ‘for the work to which I have called them.’
Later the couple became Paul and Barnabas. Paul superceded Barnabas but there is no evidence of him reacting adversely to Paul’s new prominence. He was quite happy and there is no record of him expressing any bitterness or jealousy whatever.
The only person mentioned in Acts as a ‘good man’, Barnabas was able to help Paul succeed and did not begrudge it.
We live in a fault-finding, selfish and uncaring world where people find it easier to criticise than recognise the good; to tear down rather than build up.
If you look around and find that there are no encouragers to be found, there can be but one reason… the missing encourager is you! Be bold and lend a hand to lift up a fellow brother or sister in Christ.
The Barnabas effect is far-reaching and it begins with you and me.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, I pray that we too will become bold encouragers like Barnabas… for God’s glory and the eternal good of others. If all of us do our part as sons and daughters of encouragement, the world around us will soon feel the Barnabas effect.
And… the devil’s discouragement tool with be worthless, useless!
Dr Richard Winter pastors The Connection Church, Huntington Beach, California. Link: OnlineConnect@gmail.com
Amen, Richard! Yes, even though the enemy is still using the weapon of discouragement, some excellent thoughts to encourage and challenge our hearts. Barnabas really knew the God of the second chance and so he was well placed to be an ‘Apostle of the Second Chance’ — or even third, fourth … fifth…