BARNABAS THE ENCOURAGER
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Words are powerful tools of influence. All of us can speak words and so all of us have the power to encourage or discourage others. The life of Victor Sirebianca is a radical illustration of the power of words. His teacher said to him, "You are a dummy. You will never graduate. You will always be a dummy. Go get a vocation and stop wasting your time and everybody else's." Victor figured she should know what she was talking about, and so he dropped out of school. For the next 16 years he just bummed around the country working at different jobs.
He was 32 years old and going nowhere as a dummy. Then an acquaintance said to him, "You should go and get tested to see just what you potential is. You could amount to something." With this encouragement Victor went and got tested. He discovered that he had an IQ of 160. He was a genius. He decided to act like a genius and he began to invent things and get patents on them. Then he wrote a best seller book. He became the International Chairman of the Amenza Society where you have to have an IQ of 140 to be a member. Because somebody encouraged him to be what he could be he stopped being a dummy and became the genius he was. He was always a genius, of course, but the fact is, he was also a dummy for believing the words of discouragement.
We believe what we tell ourselves about ourselves, and if we are influenced by negative people, we will have a negative self-image. If we believe the encourager we will have a positive self-image. That is why every person is truly blest if they have a Barnabas in their lives, for Barnabas was an encourager. He always saw the good side of people. He saw past their failures to their potential for good. It is amazing we do not know Barnabas better, for he is one of the most influential men in the New Testament. He played a major role in the early history of the church, and a major role in the lives of the men who wrote the New Testament. Yet he seems like an obscure person because we do not know much about him compared to Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul. He was a man behind the scenes who encouraged great men like them to be all they could be.
The first man he greatly encouraged was Paul. When Paul was first converted Christians were afraid of him. He had been a brutal enemy of the Christian faith. He had arrested many and had even aided in their deaths. The Christians in Jerusalem were fearful when he came. Acts 9:26 says, "When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple." This was a very strange situation for Paul. He wanted to be their friend, but they were suspicious. The next verse provided the solution. Verse 27 says, "But Barnabas took him and brought him to the Apostles." Barnabas took him right to the top and made it clear that Paul was truly converted and was a great messenger of the Gospel. After this Paul could move about freely and speak boldly in the name of Jesus. Barnabas was the friend that helped Paul overcome his bad image and become an accepted spokesman of the faith.
Barnabas went on to play a major role in the history of Paul. In Acts 11 we see the church at Jerusalem sending Barnabas to Antioch where many were coming to Christ. Verse 23 says that when he saw the great work he was glad and encouraged them to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. Verse 24 describes Barnabas: "He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.." People were coming to Christ under his ministry. He could have had all the glory of this great work, but verse 25 says that he went to Tarsus to look for Paul. He brought him back to Antioch, and for a year they taught the faith to great numbers of people.
It was there in Antioch that disciples were first called Christians. Paul never would have been there for that great experience had Barnabas not gone to get him. Barnabas was the great encourager of Paul. He was back in his hometown of Tarsus when Barnabas came to him. Who know what was going on in his mind at that time? Was he fading out of the picture? Was he going to settle down in his hometown and become a professor? We don't know what his plans were. All we know is that Barnabas went and got him and took him into active ministry that changed his life and the rest of history. Barnabas never wrote one word of the New Testament, but he was the encourager of the man who wrote nearly half of the New Testament.
In Acts 13 the Holy Spirit told the church to send Barnabas and Paul on the first missionary journey. We don't have time to follow them, but these two men started churches all over the world. In Acts 14 we have the account of their healing of a lame man in Lystra, and the people were so amazed that they began to worship Barnabas as Zeus and Paul as Hermes his chief messenger. Not too many men in history have been mistaken for gods, but these two were, and Barnabas was thought to be the chief god-Zeus. The implication is that he was a big man who was impressive in his presence. Barnabas could have been a powerful man building up his own following, but he didn't do it. He was an encourager of others, but had no ambition to be a big shot himself.
Barnabas had the gift of encouragement and he used it. It even cost him his place in the New Testament that he might have had, but he was so set on encouraging one who needed it that it cost him much of his own reputation. When he and Paul were heading out to visit all the churches again, Barnabas said, "Let's take Mark with us again." Paul said that Mark had let them down the last time and he was not going to take a quitter with them. This led these two best friends, who had changed the course of history together, to go their separate ways. Barnabas took Mark anyway, and Paul went with Silas. Dr. Luke followed Paul and so the rest of the book of Acts is about him and Silas. It could have been about Paul and Barnabas, but Barnabas refused to dump his cousin Mark.
He paid a heavy price for Mark. He gave up a place in history for his sake, but he saved Mark for the kingdom of God by his act of encouragement. This young man went on to be a worthy servant of Christ, and even Paul later acknowledged this. He wrote in II Tim. 4:11, "Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry." This young man he did not want to give a second chance ends up as his faithful helper because of the encouragement of Barnabas. Mark went on to write the first Gospel that was written. Matthew and Luke copied a great deal from his Gospel. The man behind the scenes, who never wrote a word of the New Testament, was a key factor in much of the New Testament writings because of his encouragement.
Ivan Hagedorn in Biblical Messengers Of Encouragement writes, "No one comes any closer to reflecting the true spirit of the Gospel in the entire New Testament than does Barnabas." He was like Jesus in many ways. Jesus wrote none of the New Testament either, but he was the one who inspired it. Barnabas wrote none, but he was the encourager of those who did. You can be great for the kingdom of God, not just by what you do, but by what you encourage others to do.
Barnabas made people feel big when they were feeling small, and he made them feel hopeful when they had failed. He kept people going who otherwise might have given up. To be an encourager is a great honor in God's book, for he cared more about the fame and success of others than his own. The result was that most of his key friends are better known than he is. But the whole family of God is richer because of it.
We need to face this reality: Not everyone has this kind of personality. We can all strive to be like Barnabas, but we may not ever be just like him, for he was by his nature an encourager. Barnabas was not even his real name. His name was Joseph from Cyprus. But in Acts 4:36 we are told that the Apostles called him Barnabas because it means Son of Encouragement. This was his nick name and not the name on his birth certificate. This is not what his mother called him, but this is the name he got from the leaders of the Christian faith because of the kind of guy he was. He was an habitual encourager.
Every time you see him he is encouraging someone. He sold some of his property and brought it to the Apostles to encourage them in their work of building the church. He was generous and he gave to encourage. That is a great motive for giving. You give money, time, labor, hospitality, or words-whatever meets the needs of others because it encourages them. He did not give to get recognition, but did all he did to encourage others. He was the friend of everyone he met because his goal was to encourage everyone he met. He was fun to be with because he accepted you, warts and all, and he loved you when others would let you down. He was a people person. Not all Christians can be this way completely, but he represents a goal toward which we are to be moving.
Paul was not like Barnabas all the time. He could not defend Mark and be as compassionate as Barnabas. Paul was more hard nosed, but that too was a needed characteristic in the church, for there were con-men galore deceiving Christians. Barnabas was the type that would be taken in, for he was too open to give everyone a chance. The church needed people like Paul to protect the church, and so we see that all kinds of personalities are needed for balance. But we can thank God for those who are like Barnabas, for encouragement is a universal need. Many feel that it was the character of Barnabas that led the Christians at Antioch to be first called Christians. It could very well be that we owe the very name Christian to this Christ-like man.
Gary Smalley in his book The Blessing tells of how one teacher gave him the encouragement he needed to change his life. When he was in grade school he could not get math, and it was still a problem for him in college. He had to repeat geometry in his senior year and it looked like he was going to fail again. The teacher reinforced the sense of failure by putting the failing students along the back wall. One Monday he dragged himself into the class room to be seated with all the other failures in the back row. Then his life was suddenly changed, for there was a substitute teacher. The regular teacher had been assigned to a different district. It is hard to believe that a teacher can make so much difference, but listen to the testimony in Smalley's own words, and you will feel the power of a Barnabas in action.
"Something that teacher said that morning literally changed my life.
In fact, it motivated me so much that I ended up minoring in
mathematics in college! While I didn't realize it at the time, he actually
blessed me and other students in the class. He did this by providing us
with a clear picture of an active commitment-.....
Standing before the class that morning, our new teacher told us, "If
anyone fails this class, then I have failed." He made a commitment that
morning to do whatever it took to see that we all pass the course. He
pledged himself to see that we learn and enjoyed the subject to the best
of our abilities. Whether that meant his staying after school to tutor us
or even coming in for a special session on the weekend, he dedicated
himself to seeing that each of us made it through the course."
Smalley goes on to say that the whole attitude of the class was changed, and at the end of the year everyone passed. He even received his first A in math. We have no idea how many lives this teacher encouraged. He was one of those behind the scenes people who never got his own name up in lights, but he encouraged others to go on and do their best so that they became famous and helpful to many others. We tend to scold and criticize the weaknesses of children, but the approach of encouragement motivates children to go beyond their weakness and be over comers.
The best people in care giving professions are those who see the opportunities to be a Barnabas. Barnabas went out of his way to encourage people. He put himself through great inconvenience and sacrificed what would have been best for him. The surprising thing is that it is possible to be a Barnabas often by just saying words of encouragement. It sometimes cost far less in stress and tension to be an encourager than to be a discourager. Sherman Rogers, the industrialist writer, tells of the day he was made foreman of a logging camp in Idaho. He was planning on firing a spiteful worker named Tony whose job it was to sand hill number two so the giant sleds would not run down men and horses working that area. The owner of the camp came to him before he took any action and said, "Whatever you do don't bother Tony. He's cantankerous and a holy terror sometimes, but I've never had a better sander. Not a man or horse has ever been lost on his hill."
Roger's later that morning met Tony by the fire where he was warming sand to throw on the icy hill. He said, "Good morning. I'm the new foreman. The boss told me what a good man you are." Then he told Tony what the owner had said. Tony had tears running down his face. He said, "Why didn't he tell me that before? Thank you, thank you!" he said as he shook Rogers's hand. That night Tony was the talk of the teamsters. The next day he threw enough sand to cover a dozen hills, and he joked and smiled all day. He went on to become the superintendent of one of the biggest logging camps in the West. He said to Mr. Rogers many years later, "That one minute you talked to me back in Idaho changed my whole life." Barnabas strikes again.
Mr. Rogers only passed on an encouraging message. It cost him nothing, but the owner could have done it, but did not do it. He was not necessarily a mean man, but he just was not a Barnabas, for he did not realize what a difference it could make to a man to have some encouraging words. Masses of people could be encouragers, but they just never think about it, and never realize the power they have to encourage by simple acts of kindness and words of encouragement.
Barnabas never held a man's past against him. So what if you were a bloody tyrant in the past, and you hurt and killed innocent people? Such was Paul, but Barnabas took him in as a friend and encouraged him to a better future. So what if you were a coward and betrayed your friends in the past? Such was Mark, but Barnabas accepted him for what he could become and not for what he was, and he became great. Others looked to the past and said how awful, but Barnabas looked to the future and said how awesome. May God help us all to be more like this encourager.