Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 67: Stories of Encouragement in Acts
Acts 9:26-28, 15:36-40
February 26, 2012
Scripture reading: Rom. 12:6-8 (Eddie Kelley)
Q How many of you can point to people in your life who made a major impact not by teaching but simply by being encouraging?
You may remember that a couple of years ago, Marilyn and I went to do a wedding in DC for my friend Israel Kloss. Israel has been that friend to me.
* Even as a teenager, he’d remember thing I said that he thought profound and quote them to other people.
It was because of Israel’s encouragement that I believed I had something worth saying. To this day he is one of the biggest supporters of the book I am writing.
Q Who have you had like that in your life? Maybe a teacher, or a friend, a parent?
Q Who have you encouraged? Is there anyone who would answer my question with your name?
Today, in Acts, we are going to learn from one the Bible’s best encouragers. Some of us are encouragers by nature, some – not so much – but God puts all of in places where we can be a life-saving encouragement to others.
* There are people you can encourage better than anyone else.
God’s Acceptance of OUtsiders
I said last week Acts is the history of the early church; not dates and places, stories of people and what happened to them.
Luke weaves these together to teach about some major themes. The first big theme in Acts is the work and power of the Holy Spirit, and we got to see this played out in Peter’s life.
* The second major theme is God’s acceptance of Gentiles.
The Jews grew up believing that they were God’s only people and so it came as quite a shock to them when they saw accepting the Samaritans first and then the Gentiles.
This was revolutionary to the Jews (hence a central theme of Acts), but not so revolutionary for us. This makes it hard to me to preach on – come on, let’s get really excited about something we take for granted!
But I love how Acts is theology in story form – in Acts we get to see this theme acted out in a relatable way by a man named Barnabas. He is an example of God’s acceptance, not just of nations and people groups, but also of individuals.
* He never wrote a book of the Bible (unless he wrote Hebrews), he may be partially responsible for half the NT being written.
Luke discreetly introduces us to him in chapter 4:
Acts 4:34-37 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.
The church has barely begun, and Barnabas already has a reputation of being an encourager. The Apostles themselves had been encouraged by him. The church was probably filled with people who kept going because of him.
* It is not a coincidence that this name is connected with his generosity – encouragement is a kind of generosity.
This is all we hear about Barnabas for a while, but we are going to fast forward a little bit to see two specific people that Barnabas encouraged at crucial points in their lives.
* Looking at these stories we’ll see two important ways we can be encouragers, as well as a danger of being an encourager.
Skipping to chapter eight: Even as the fledgling church was growing and enjoying great success, you can tell things are too good to last. There is an underlying tension between the religious establishment and the Christians.
There had been many near misses – apostles being let off with a warning, arrests and miraculous jailbreaks. But the whole thing was a powder keg just waiting to explode.
* And explode it did, when a mob murder a Christian leader by the name of Stephen, who becomes the first Christian martyr.
And with that persecution broke out against the church, and a key figure in that persecution is Saul, a zealous Pharisee:
Acts 8:3-4 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
Even in this persecution, you see God’s hand at work – is forced many of the believers to leave Jerusalem and begin spreading the Gospel to Judea and Samaria, as Jesus had commanded.
Skipping ahead a little:
Acts 9:1-2 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
This sermon isn’t about Saul, so don’t want to spend too much time on him, but you understand Saul’s reputation. On the “road to Damascus,” Jesus literally knocks Saul off of his horse and he becomes a Christian.
Acts 9:26-28 When [Saul] 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.
You can see why the apostles nicknamed him “son of encouragement.” In this story we see the first way that Barnabas was an encourager:
1. Paul: Seeing what others don’t and bringing it out
Barnabas saw what others didn’t – he looked beyond the past and saw both the depth of Saul’s (renamed Paul) conversion. He also saw the amazing potential that Paul had.
* Encouragers have an amazing ability to see what others don’t; sometime the other person doesn’t see it about themselves.
Years ago, I watched an episode of the new Twilight Zone where these two people were in this warehouse trying to find something that was for them, but they couldn’t find it for themselves, they could only see the other persons.
* It wasn’t until the reached out of themselves and helped the other that they got what they need.
That is a great picture of how encouragement works – we frequently have the ability to see what others don’t. And sometimes one thing that you say can have a dramatic impact on someone’s entire life:
Before I had even met Marilyn, a friend of mine, Tawny, told me that I would be the kind of father every daughter wishes they would have. From that point on, I wanted to have daughters.
* Tawny brought out the best in me, something I didn’t know was there.
How to bring out the best out of others
a) Keep an eye out for people need encouragement.
Encouraging people seem to have this radar for the downtrodden and discouraged. Pray for the ability to see that. But sometimes they are downtrodden, but they still need to hear it.
* Sometimes it simple is a matter of taking your eyes off yourself and looking at others.
b) Pray for eyes to see what God sees.
Encouragers assumes well of people; they see a big “10” over everyone (John Maxwell). They are looking for the “diamonds in the rough.”
* Ask God to help you see what he sees.
c) Tell them what you see.
It is useless otherwise. E.g. “Green Apron cards,” which I am awful at doing, because I am self-focused, no other excuse.
d) Determine if you can help – have a vested interest.
But being an encourager takes more than just seeing, it requires doing – at a minimum telling what you see and but hopefully also helping them develop it.
* Like with Barnabas, there is spirit of generosity to encouragement.
Imagine the risk Barnabas was taking: How could be sure that Saul’s conversion was real? And even if it was, he probably had reason for a person grudge.
* Barnabas took a risk, made the effort, and invested in Paul.
This wasn’t a onetime thing: In chapter 11, Barnabas is sent to Antioch, which was the 3rd largest city in the Roman empire, and he made a point of finding Paul and including him is the ministry, with great success.
* There was a huge payoff as Paul became a powerful missionary.
2. John Mark: Second Chances
Moving on, Acts tells us that Paul was not the only one who benefited from Barnabas’ encouragement. Barnabas also played a central role in the life of a young man named John Mark, who also happened to be his cousin.
In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas are sent out for their first missionary journey, and they decide to take Mark as a helper. Then Luke tells us something that seems insignificant, but will have huge implications later:
Acts 13:13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.
Skipping ahead a bit, past the end of the trip:
Acts 15:36-40 Some time later 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.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
I understand where Paul was coming from – in his mind he didn’t have time to invest in someone who’d already let him down. I am sure he thought of what Jesus had said about putting your hand to the plow and turning back.
* Barnabas believed in second chances: He saw something in John Mark others didn’t see and was determined to bring it out.
I can almost hear him saying to Paul, “I know he’s a risk, but I believe in risks. You of all people should appreciate that.”
Q Are you more like Paul or Barnabas?
Are more likely to respond with “one strike, you’re out,” or are you willing to give 2nd, 3rd, and 4th chances?
To an extent, this is driven by your God-given personality. Some of us are more naturally one or the other. And there are advantages and disadvantages to both.
* But Scripture shows that our God is a God of 2nd chances.
God calls us to extend the mercy and grace Barnabas gave.
And the pay off for Barnabas’ encouragement was huge. We don’t get to see the process, but we know the outcome:
* According to church history, Mark became an assistance to Peter and wrote the Gospel that bears his name.
* Even Paul came to value Mark “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” (2 Tim. 4:11)
There is a risk, they may not go on to write part of the Bible, but Barnabas didn’t know the outcome when he invested in Mark.
We don’t know what effects our second chances may have. They may not pay off every time, but at the right time and place, our encouragement may be a game changer for someone.
Q Who have you written off?
* It is said the Christians have a bad reputation for shooting this own wounded.
This is personally convicting to me – I am much more like Paul, and this sermon has gotten me praying to his help to be more compassionate and giving to those who have failed.
a) Pray for compassion and grace.
b) Remember the grace God (and others!) have shown you.
c) Ask (again) to see what others don’t.
d) Be ready to be an encouragement
3. Peter: Too slow to confront.
I said earlier that there is a weakness to the “encouraging” personality. Your strength is your weakness, and if you are strong at encouraging then there is a really good chance that you are weak at confronting.
This is a warning based from Barnabas’ life, as told by Paul:
Galatians 2:11-13 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
It seems that Barnabas just went with the flow and was afraid to confront this old friend, Peter. Paul on the other hand had no problem doing so!
Perhaps this was not driven by Barnabas’ encouraging personality, but I think it was based on what I know about encouraging people:
* Encouraging people are prone to sacrifice truth for the sake of relationships.
Q Have you ever let some important stuff slide because you wanted to be encouraging?
It is a very real danger, but in the end you are not helping anyone.
Have you ever watched this player out on Facebook: A person vents about her ex-boyfriend and everyone jumps on to say how horrible he was and she deserved better, etc.
Q How many people say, “This is the fifth time this has happened – maybe you should look at your role in all this.”
* I say that to say: If you are an encourager, beware your tendency to stay silent when you should speak up.
When you see that struggle coming, ask God to help you know what to say, when to say, and how much to say. But you can also ask God for outside help, which leads me to the next point:
We need each other’s strengths
This story tells me something else very important – how much we need each other. Paul uses the analogy of a body with all of its parts. I wonder if he had Barnabas in mind when he wrote that!
* Paul did not have the tools nor temperament to re-mentor Barnabas; Barnabas was not the man to tell Peter off!
If you are a confronting, truth-driven person, you may not be the best person to encourage the down-trodden.
If you are a caring, compassion driven person, you may not be the best person to confront the wayward.
As you see a situation developing with friends or family, look around at the people involved. Who are the ones who are the encouraging voices? – lean on them for that. Who are ones who are the confronting voices? – lean on them for that.
* Don’t judge each other, value each other and work together.
I don’t say this as an excuse – we can all grow. And if there is no one else available, you may have to do both jobs. But it is a great thing to be able to work together in separate roles.
* It is not uncommon to see this balance (and hence tension) in a married couple, allowing you to work together.
Summing it up
As you have probably guessed (if you didn’t already know), I am more like Paul than Barnabas, so writing this sermon has been a huge encouragement to be to be, well, more encouraging.
* Each of us have people in our lives that are starving for encouragement.
If you are a Christian, then you are a spring filled up with God’s Spirit. He has richly given you love, grace, and forgiveness. You know get to share that encouragement with others.
* You become a reflection of God to those around you, you may be the best picture of God’s grace that they will ever see.
Q & A