Barnabas, Son of Encouragement

People call me Barnabas, though my parents named me Joseph. The Apostles gave me the new name. It means “son of encouragement.”

Why do they call me that? They said they saw certain qualities in my life. To me it just seems natural to believe the best in people. When I meet someone who has potential to be great—and doesn’t everyone have that potential—I look for ways to encourage. I like to come alongside potential leaders and help them make progress in their personal lives and in their service for the Lord.

Some people want to step behind and push. Others want to jump in front and pull. When I come alongside, shoulder to shoulder, we walk together for a time. We see the path ahead and move toward future goals. I urge them to listen to Jesus and do what He says. This approach has helped many leaders.

Let me give you an example.

No doubt you have read Dr. Luke’s book and his account of Paul of Tarsus. Sometime after Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he came to Jerusalem wanting to join with the disciples. One problem: was he was a scary guy–everyone was afraid of him. He was a major leader in the persecution against us! People couldn’t accept that he had really become a disciple. I wanted to believe the best, even though it was difficult. I needed to be open to the idea, he really had become a believer, his heart had changed.

After praying and gathering my courage I found Paul and talked with him face to face. I asked him many questions and carefully listened. The things he said, the expression on his face, the genuine love for Jesus, the witness in my spirit and so much more convinced me he was my brother! We cried, we embraced and we prayed. I believed and trusted him and the Holy Spirit within him.

Putting my own reputation at risk, I took him to the apostles. As we walked down the narrow streets, I thought about how, if I was wrong, we would all be in serious danger. When I introduced Paul, I explained that on his journey to Damascus, he had truly seen the Lord. The Risen Lord Jesus Himself spoke to Paul. In Damascus he was baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. Afterward, he went out into that city preaching freely and boldly about Jesus.

Thank the Lord! The Apostles recognized the story was true. Opening their hearts, they welcomed him into the fellowship. Paul was free to pursue ministry in Jerusalem and beyond.

So this is what I do. I make the effort to take interest in people, listening to hear what God is doing in their lives. I ask what God is saying to them and encourage them to step out in faith and obedience to Him. Eagerly I follow up later, asking them to tell me how it all went and to discover what they’ll decide to do next.

This is probably why the church in Jerusalem sent me to Antioch. Let me tell you a little about this too:

As I mentioned, we saw intense persecution in Jerusalem. It broke out right after Stephen was stoned to death. Most of the believers fled for safety throughout Judea and Samaria. Thankfully, wherever they went, they told people about Jesus. Because they were Jewish, like me, they talked only to fellow Jews. Unexpectedly, in the city of Antioch, a few believers shared the Good News with Greeks. To their surprise, the Greeks believed.

Imagine, Gentiles!

Word reached Jerusalem. The church said, “Gentiles in Antioch are coming to the Lord! Let’s encourage these new believers.” For this wonderful honor, they chose and sent me “the son of encouragement.”

Upon arrival, I asked the disciples to tell me everything. As we spent time getting to know one another, I began to see the evidence of the grace of God. Listening to their stories, I overflowed with joy! Continuously I encouraged them to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.  I urged them to faithfully follow-through with everything the Holy Spirit spoke to them to do.

More and more people came to the Lord! Extra help was needed. I thought to myself, “What an ideal opportunity for Paul.” Then off to Tarsus I went, hunting for my friend. When I found Paul I invited him to come back with me to Antioch. For the next year, the two of us taught the church. It was there that we disciples were first called Christians, meaning “little Christs.” As long as they associated Antioch believers with Christ, that name was fine with us!

The church eventually sent Paul and me off on journeys to spread the Gospel among distant unreached peoples. Originally they referred to our team as “Barnabas and Paul.” Over time, I noticed people speak more of us as “Paul and Barnabas.” How rewarding this was for me to hear! I had done my part in propelling Paul forward in his life and ministry.

My next job was to come along side John Mark…but that’s another story.

May I encourage you now? Believe in people. Discover effective ways for you come alongside and help propel them toward greater fruitfulness in their personal lives and in their service for the Lord. As someone very close to me wrote:

“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24