Paul, who we learned about last week, hung out with a guy whose name means “sons of encouragement”.
I like to think that’s what Barnabas did in the book of Acts. His name is dropped all over this book. He is predominately mentioned once Paul comes into the picture, but if you would just associate him as Paul’s traveling partner, I think you would miss a really important part of who he was. This account of the early Christian church shows Paul and Barnabas partnering in ministry together, but I think it’s bigger than that. Because when you look at Acts chapter 4, it talks about how the church is acting and functioning, and it sneaks this little fun fact in there in verse 36:
“Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means sons of encouragement)…”
This man Joseph now goes by Barnabas, because Barnabas means “sons of encouragement” and that’s what he was good at. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be such an encouraging person that your friends simply called you encouragement?
Paul starts as one of the fiercest oppressors of the Christian Church, and after Jesus meets him on the road to Damascus, he get’s partnered with the most encouraging person around. What a picture that must have been.
Have you ever noticed that when you first came into a community rooted in Jesus, that there’s that one person that you always felt encouraged by? That you always felt loved by? That no matter what you were coming from, they welcomed you?
I think that’s who Barnabas was for Paul. Paul didn’t just come from a regular childhood or a regular occupation. He was a man full of hatred and rage. He imprisoned Christians and had them murdered. I’m sure this man had baggage to carry. He probably had feelings and emotions and mindsets that he had never fully dealt with. So he went on the road with Barnabas, the guy named because of his encouragement. For much of the beginning of Paul’s ministry, Barnabas and Paul were partners. Wherever one name is, the other follows.
“Many Jews and devout converts to Judiasm followed Paul and Barnabas…”-13:43
“And Paul and Barnabas spoke loudly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you…”-13:46
“But the Jews stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of the district…” 13:50
“But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out…” 14:14
“Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders…” 15:2
“And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.” 15:12
On and on, Paul and Barnabas are partners. And I think it’s because Paul was in a tough place. He was living in a world of sin and brokenness and pain, a world that he once took part in. And there’s a difference between living in that world and taking part in that world. And Barnabas knew that. He knew that when you live in that world, it’s hard to not take part in that world. It’s hard to not cower before our fear. But when we begin to cower, we need someone to come beside us and lift us up with hope. We need encouragement.
This is what Barnabas did. He went around giving people hope that helped them keep fighting the faith. He went from group to group, church to church. He encouraged them. He built them up.
We live in a flood of discouragement. We live in a time where we’re fluent in sarcasm and criticism, where it’s easier to complain than encourage. We human beings are by sinful nature ferociously critical of one another. And we let this into our conversations and interactions and ultimately into our hearts. We let ourselves get away with tearing down others, and we encourage others in the same.
But we forget that our God is the God of encouragement.
Romans 15:5 says “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Our God is the God of encouragement and endurance. And if our God, who chose us and created us together and with a purpose, finds value in encouragement and endurance, you can bet He wired us to run on both.
Barnabas got his name by the way he saw the grace of God in all things. No matter what happened, what crisis or controversy, what criticism or failure, Barnabas had a resilient hope in God. John Piper puts it like this: “When some threat discouraged his friends, Barnabas would consistently remind them of God’s promises in such a contagiously hopeful way that their courage would revive.”
We live in a world where threats discourage us daily. We live in a world where children die from preventable diseases every day. Where bombs blow up buildings and gunmen take out crowds of innocent people. Where words are used as weapons and we all too easily see the ones who love us most as people worth hurting and not looking back.
These are the things we cower before. We submit to these things, to the world we live in. And in the moments when we cower before fear, we need a Barnabas to come before us and give us hope. To remind us the world we live in is not the world we take part in. To remind us our God is the God of encouragement and endurance.
Barnabas people are those who soak in and store up God’s word and, by doing so, are able to speak what is good for building others up. They create a culture different from the one we live in. They are the people who are so characterized by encouragement that it becomes part of their character.
Barnabas people encourage. It’s who they are and what they do.
But we can’t always be Barnabas people. And that’s the reality of life. Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes life is terrible and tragic. Sometimes its little things, and sometimes its really big things. But no matter what thing, there will be a day when it’s hard for you to get up.
And on days like that, you need people who are going to surround you without you having to ask. You need people who are going to encourage you and speak truth to you when you don’t want to hear it. In Paul’s life, Barnabas was around when Paul’s life was being threatened, when people wanted to kill him. Barnabas was in the group that picked Paul up off the ground when people threw stones at him in an attempt to kill him.
People may not be dragging you out of the city and throwing stones at you. But the pain we go through is no less agonizing. Stones are thrown every day on Twitter and After School App and all of the things this society creates. . And when we live in a culture where stones are thrown, our tendency is to cower. To give in to that fear.
One of my favorite pastors Matt Chandler has quite a bit to say about this. But I’ll break it down into these two points:
Ladies: God has given you a divine power with words to either build up humanity, or burn it to the ground.
You have so much power in what you say. Your words have the power to build up people or painfully tear them down. And too often we choose the latter. We choose passive aggression rather than loving honesty. We choose to use our words to hurt rather than to heal.
Men: Many of you think encouragement isn’t a guy’s thing. We’re told men are supposed to be brave and courageous. But being vulnerable takes courage. You don’t need to just put your own stone down; being vulnerable means encouraging others to put their stone down. That takes courage. That’s bravery.
But as a whole, men and women, we were created by the God of encouragement FOR encouragement.
If you feel like you’re a Barnabas, like you go out of your way to pour into others and build them up, I want to encourage you to keep loving and encouraging people. Keep kneeling next to those cowering in fear. Keep lifting them back up. Keep seeing God’s grace is all things. Keep helping people put down their stones. Be contagiously hopeful.
And if you feel like you need a Barnabas in your life, seek that out. The best way to learn how to swim is to get in the pool with someone who knows how to swim. Do life with someone who can help you along the way. Seek out someone who you know will help you when things get tough. They sent Barnabas out into the world with Paul; someone who knows living in the world is different than living for the world. You’re in a room full of people who know that.
“Encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
-1 Thessalonians 5:11