By Nathan Washburn
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Greenbrier
Focal Passage: Acts 4:36-37; 9:26-27; 11:19-26
Courage is slippery. It’s not something that is cemented in someone once for all time. Like any one of the number of feelings we have, it can wax and wane, come and go. In this way, we are not like God. He is immutable, unchanging — the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). However, we do change — daily, even hourly sometimes.
Thus we have a profound need to stabilize our courage. We want to be courageous believers in Christ, not shrinking back in the face of our present evil culture or even our own fleshly desires and despair. We want to be strong followers of Christ, holding forth the cross and having our feet firmly planted on the grace that comes through Him.
Thus discouragement and encouragement are both at hand, and we can trend one way or another. Depending on what we let enter our own minds and hearts, we can quickly become discouraged, which then paralyzes us in our fight with sin, monopolizes our thoughts of ourselves in harmful ways, and handcuffs any ability to lift others up. On the other hand, if we listen to the Word and let the Word inform our thoughts and feelings, we will be encouraged and be at the ready for those around us who need to be built up.
A well-known figure of encouragement in the Scriptures was a man called Barnabas, who is a great example for us of a Christ-centered life. We observe the following from him:
Courage is given by the Holy Spirit. “Barnabas” was a nickname. Joseph was known by the apostles as Barnabas apparently because of his tremendous ability to encourage others (Acts 4:36). His encouraging demeanor wasn’t cultivated from his own personality, however. He didn’t just drum it up on his own. Instead, it came from the Holy Spirit, who filled him up full (Acts 11:24). In the same way, the Holy Spirit is our only hope of being encouraged.
We use that courage to help shape people and situations for good. Barnabas allowed the Holy Spirit to have such control of his life that he naturally funneled his courage to others. He trusted God with his possessions in such a way that he helped others (Acts 4:36-37), he built bridges for Paul and advocated for his preaching of the gospel (Acts 9:26-27), and he exhorted the church to remain faithful in a time of intense persecution (Acts 11:19, 22-24). As a result, each time the people of God were encouraged and strengthened.
Encouragement is necessary for the mission. When Barnabas went to bat for Paul in Acts 9, and Paul preached boldly in the name of the Lord (v. 28), the church was at peace, being built up, and multiplying (v. 31). Later on, when Barnabas came to Antioch to encourage the believers, “a great many people were added to the Lord” (Acts 11:24), and then he and Paul spent a year teaching that same group (Acts 11:26). The courage that had spread throughout the body bore tangible fruit of new and growing disciples.
As the people of God, we only have reasons to be encouraged, and not one reason to be discouraged. Our sin is taken away (Psalm 103:12), Jesus is alive (Matthew 28:6), our enemies have been disarmed and defeated (Colossians 2:15), God is calling to Himself people from all the nations (Revelation 5:9-10), and Jesus is preparing to return and establish His kingdom for all eternity (Revelation 22:20). Take courage! And then use that courage to encourage others. B&R — Washburn is pastor of First Baptist Church, Greenbrier.