We live in a world that crams the need to succeed down our collective throats. And we tend these days to determine the success of things by how many “likes” it generates or “followers” it has on social media. “Bigger is better” is a mantra that has been driving many for a lot of years. The Church must always be careful not to uncritically swallow what the world wants to feed us. God demands obedience to His revealed will and faithfulness to Him all the time.
And oftentimes that obedience and faithfulness will not be seen or acknowledged by most people. Are we willing to serve God and love our neighbors without much recognition? As Luke records the continuing work of the Risen Jesus Christ in Acts he provides snapshots of several believers who were instrumental in the advance of Christ’s kingdom, but about whom we know little else. Ananias is a marvelous example of a saint who faithfully obeyed Christ’s command even when others might not have approved—and then we hear nothing more about him!
Luke has much more to say about Barnabas, but even so, he seems to stay out of the limelight. Would we be content to serve and have others receive the accolades?
Barnabas, you remember, wasn’t even his name at first—he was called “son of encouragement” because of his character. We meet him in Acts 4:36-37 when Luke provides that exemplary summary of the early church’s one heart and soul (see v. 32). Joseph, a Levite, a native of Cyprus, gives us the positive example of God’s grace shown in meeting the needs of others (vv. 33b-36). What a contrast to Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit and reaped the fateful consequences. What a blessing Barnabas was to the church as a body both in his gift as well as his example! I thank the Lord for those in our church today who encourage us in their voluntary giving to meet the needs here and elsewhere for the glory of Christ! Will you pray about being like Barnabas as God gives you opportunity? Here his encouragement is not in words but in sacrificial deed.
We next see Barnabas reaching out and embracing Saul when everyone else was suspicious and afraid of him. “But Barnabas” is the beautiful way Acts 9:27 begins. The “son of encouragement” spent time getting to know the one the Lord had called to be the apostle to the Gentiles and interceded on his behalf, encouraging the other apostles to accept Saul as a true convert. Unlike the immediate aftermath of Jesus meeting Saul on the road to Damascus, we are not told that Barnabas had a vision where Jesus specifically instructed Barnabas to go to Saul. From the silence, we are left to infer that Barnabas took the initiative to get to know this former persecutor of the saints by God’s ordinary grace. The “son of encouragement” wasn’t afraid to go to a former enemy; he himself knew the transforming power of grace when Jesus gets hold of one’s heart. And Barnabas must have spent significant time with Saul to be able to affirm so persuasively that Saul was an authentic disciple. Are you and I reaching out and drawing others closer into the work and worship of the church? Do we invest the necessary time and effort to get to know someone else so well that we can vouch for them? Will we speak up on behalf of that person when their character or commitment is questioned? How much are we encouraging others (even just one or two people!) to be actively involved in the life of LRPC?
Barnabas continues to be used by God in wonderful ways. He is sent by the church in Jerusalem to confirm and build up the work of the Lord in Antioch (Acts 11:22-24). As he sees what God is doing there, he goes and gets Saul to help in this Gospel work (vv. 25-26). Later (Acts 13:1-3) Barnabas and Saul are sent off as missionaries. He went, and he was willing to be second. Though he had been a believer first, Barnabas is happy to encourage Saul/Paul in his gifts and calling from the Lord while ministering faithfully for Christ alongside him. We call them Paul’s missionary journeys, frequently forgetting that initially Barnabas was right there with him. I think that was fine by Barnabas, the “son of encouragement”. After all, one of the great blessings of being an encourager is seeing God greatly use the person you’ve been encouraging! Do you know that blessing? Are you willing to take second place? To be lesser-known?
Lord, help us to follow the example of Barnabas and be encouragers!