In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, Saul of Tarsus, who became known as the apostle Paul, is named a staggering 170 times! The apostle Peter, the rock on whom Jesus was building his church, is mentioned a respectable 60 times. But who do you think after those two is the character who is most prominent in Acts? It’s not surprising that we find it difficult to think of this person. Great men often shine so bright that we lose sight of those in their shadows. (Can any of us remember the name of the last Vice President of the United States?) So, who do you think is the most prominent figure in the Book of Acts after Paul and Peter? It’s not John, the disciple Jesus loved who wrote his Gospel and his letters. It’s not James the brother of Jesus who became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. It’s not Stephen the first martyr, or Philip the evangelist. Instead the surprising individual who is named 24 times in Acts is a Levite from Cyprus called Joseph. But you will know him better by the name the Early Church gave to him. He is Barnabas, which means, “Son of Encouragement.” Barnabas was a pillar of the Early Church. He was the man entrusted with the challenging task of representing the church made up of Jews in Jerusalem to the new church made up of Gentile converts in Antioch. And he was just the right choice for that job because he had exactly the right gifts – he had the ministry of encouragement.
THE MINISTRY OF ENCOURAGEMENT
Acts 11 19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
We have seen before how the Good News of Jesus spread around the ancient world. It wasn’t initially by apostles or evangelists. Persecution from the Jews in Jerusalem led to the first Christians escaping, probably most often back to their original home towns. Those countless unnamed ordinary Christians just gossiped the gospel in synagogues and marketplaces and in their own homes. But they weren’t satisfied with just telling the Jews about Jesus. They even told Greek people as well! Very many people were saved and new churches were formed all over the place.
We saw a couple of weeks ago how God used visions to take the apostle Peter to Joppa to the house of the Roman Centurion Cornelius, to make sure that the Jewish Christians would believe that non-Jews could become Christians. But now in these Greek cities there was a risk that the new Christians would forget their Jewish origins and so the Early Church in Jerusalem took the initiative.
Acts 11 22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
There was no-one better to send for this important mission than Barnabas – Son of encouragement. The New Testament often uses the word encouragement to sum up the different ways in which Christians support each other and build each other up in the faith. The same Greek word can be translated in different ways: encouragement, consolation, comfort, help, exhortation, even urging. Of course the source of all encouragement and consolation is God Himself. Comfort and encouragement and help are all aspects of the life in all its fulness which God the Holy Spirit brings to every Christian.
2 Corinthians 1 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort.
Somebody has written, “God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us into comforters.” We are blessed to be a blessing. God encourages and consoles and helps us to that we can encourage and console and help other people too. That was Barnabas’s ministry – to bring God’s encouragement and comfort and help to the new Christians in Antioch.
23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Barnabas was the Son of Encouragement! But as Christians we should all encourage each other.
Hebrews 3 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’
Hebrews 10 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We all need encouragement and consolation and help and support sometimes. Just as the coals on the fire need each other to keep burning bright. A coal which falls by itself on the hearth will grow cold. Christians need each other if we want to stay on fire for God. We all need spurring on to love and good deeds sometimes. Encouragement is so helpful and uplifting. If you’ve ever played competitive sport you will know just how important it is to have your team-mates cheering you on. So we all need to encourage each other. Barnabas went to visit the new Christians in Antioch, and new Christians especially need encouragement and support. Not just when times get hard – but all the time. God encourages and consoles us so that we can encourage other people in our turn. So let’s see what we can learn from Barnabas’s example of encouraging. How did he do it?
There was one particular individual who Barnabas encouraged but for the start of that story we need to go back to Acts 9 where we read how Saul of Tarsus had been converted on the Damascus Road when he saw a vision of the Risen Jesus. Ananias had visited Saul and he had been filled with the Holy Spirit and baptised. Then immediately Saul began preaching the gospel there in Damascus but the Jews plotted to kill him so he escaped, And this is what happened next.
Acts 9 26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 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. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.
Three years earlier Saul had been persecuting the church so fiercely and throwing many Christians into prison. So it is understandable that when he showed up again the Christians in Jerusalem were scared when Saul tried to join them. But it was our hero Barnabas, son of encouragement, who was the mediator who brought Saul into the church in Jerusalem. Barnabas took an enormous risk going to meet Saul for himself and hearing his story, making friends with Saul when everybody else was terrified of him. Barnabas encouraged the new convert Saul by taking him under his wing. In today’s jargon Barnabas was a mentor to Saul. Encouraging is not usually a group thing – it is most often one-to-one, up close and personal. And in due course, Barnabas brought Saul and introduced him to the apostles and they welcomed him too.
Fast-forward eleven years or so and back to Acts 11. Barnabas was encouraging the Christians in Antioch but he knew what they would really need next would be teaching. And he knew just the right person for the next phase of the ministry there, the very individual Barnabas had encouraged before.
Acts 11 25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch.
Barnabas had been the one who introduced Saul to the church in Jerusalem. And now Barnabas is the one who brings Saul on to the scene to help teach the new Gentile Christians in Antioch. And you may notice something very interesting in the next verse.
So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
Did you notice who was doing the teaching ? In a list of names you always mention the most important person first. Barnabas was the leader, Saul was the sidekick. At this stage Barnabas was training Saul how to teach and how to encourage. He was still encouraging Saul by letting him share in the teaching. Barnabas was a really big cheese in the Early Church. Think about the faith and humility he was showing by sharing the teaching with Saul. Barnabas was the leader and Saul was his apprentice as they taught the church in Antioch together. And that nicely illustrates the first of three ways in which Barnabas brought encouragement to the new Christians there.
ENCOURAGEMENT THROUGH GOD’S WORD
What those new Christians needed most of all was good solid teaching from God’s Word the Bible. Any time we are discouraged or struggling or apathetic in our walk with God, we need the encouragement which only God speaking to us through his Word can bring to us. God will comfort and console and support us, if only we will open our bibles and listen to Him!
2 Timothy 4:2 says 2 preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction,
Often the best way we can encourage and console and comfort and help other Christians is through the Word of God. Preaching and teaching and Bible study are helpful. But sometimes a Bible verse will leap out at you which would be just right for your friend. So pass it on! Who could you encourage through God’s Word this week?
ENCOURAGEMENT IN THE HOLY SPIRIT
Barnabas and Saul were doing a great job teaching the new Christians in Antioch. But the church in Jerusalem also sent another group of people to encourage them even more.
Acts 11 27 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)
Encouragement was one of the blessings which the Holy Spirit brought to the Early Church. That should not surprise us. In John chapters 14 to16 Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Comforter, the Consoler, the Encourager, the Helper.
Acts 9 31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
That encouragement and comfort and consolation by the Holy Spirit often came as Christians exercised spiritual gifts such as prophecy. In Romans 12:8 Paul includes “encouraging” in a list of spiritual gifts. In Acts 15 the Jerusalem church encouraged the Gentile Christians not only by sending them a letter of teaching but also by sending them prophets who could encourage them with messages from God.
Acts 15 31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. 32 Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers.
The core purpose of prophecy is to encourage and build up Christians.
1 Corinthians 14 3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.
Giving the Corinthians guidance on their worship, Paul wrote,
1 Corinthians 14 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.
We read about Barnabas that,
24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
So it is no surprise that he and others brought encouragement in the Holy Spirit to the new Christians in Antioch. As I will keep on saying, we should expect God to speak to us in dreams and visions and prophecies as well because the very same Holy Spirit is at work in our lives today. Who could you encourage by using the gifts of the Holy Spirit this week?
ENCOURAGEMENT BY LOVE IN ACTION
God doesn’t just speak, He acts! And when Christians are encouraging each other that won’t only be in our words but also in our actions. The prophet Agabus foretold a great famine, and the new Christians in Antioch wanted to do something very practical to help other Christians.
29 The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
Again we shouldn’t be surprised about this, because they were being taught by Barnabas. Helping the poor in practical ways is precisely what Barnabas had done to earn his nickname, Son of Encouragement, in the first place. Back in Jerusalem in Acts 4 we read, Acts 4 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Generous giving to people in need is a wonderful way of encouraging them. I still give thanks to the dear brothers and sisters of Bushey Baptist Church who generously paid not only the fees but also all my living expenses so that I could study at London Bible College and become a minister. In particular just one couple contributed a major part of that. We can encourage other people by giving money, or by gifts in kind, or by giving our time and our assistance in all sorts of practical ways. And as Jesus said, it is more blessed to give than to receive. Perhaps there is an individual or a family you could encourage by love in action this week?
Encouragement by the word of God, in the Holy Spirit and by love in action. We should all encourage one another in our faith. Saul of Tarsus, who became known as Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, certainly learned the importance of encouragement from Barnabas, as we can see in his first letter.
1 Thessalonians 2:11 … we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
1 Thessalonians 3 2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow-worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith,
I Thessalonians 5 14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
Paul learned the importance of encouragement from Barnabas. And that wonderful example leaves us all with a simple question. “What kinds of Barnabas deeds can I do this week?” How can I bring encouragement to somebody through God’s Word? How might I encourage somebody in the Holy Spirit? How can I encourage somebody by practical love in action? “What kinds of Barnabas deeds can I do this week?”
DURING REFRESHMENTS take the opportunity to encourage somebody!