Focal Passage: Acts 9:26-28, 11:21-26
Like a lot of folks, the name by which I am called is not my real name. From birth, my parents referred to me by the nickname “Jay.” Few people would recognize me by my legal name. Today’s Bible lesson is about a man whose formal name was “Joseph.” But he is much better known by his nickname “Barnabas.” In fact, of the 30 times he is mentioned in the New Testament, only once is he not called “Barnabas.”
Sometimes a nickname does not match the person it references. “Slim” may be a real heavyweight or “Curly” might be bald. However, the name “Barnabas” means “Son of Encouragement.” This title is a good fit. To “encourage” literally means “to put courage into” another person. Whenever Barnabas appears in Scripture, we see him investing in the spiritual strength of others. His example shows how we can do this too.
Encourage acceptance: Read Acts 9:26-28 NIV. After encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus, Saul was initially shunned by the disciples. They had good reason not to trust Saul since they knew of his zeal in persecuting believers. They did not believe his heart was truly changed. It must have been very discouraging to Saul to not be accepted.
But this changed when Barnabas spoke on Saul’s behalf. Barnabas went “out on a limb” for Saul, risking his own reputation in order to grant credibility to Saul. His endorsement was enough to tip the scales of evidence in Saul’s favor to the point where he was received and trusted by the disciples.
Would Saul have ever become the “Apostle Paul” without this initial encouragement from Barnabas? It is doubtful.
Dwight Moody was a shoe salesman when his Sunday School teacher, Hank Kimball, led him to Christ. Few have heard of Kimball, but thousands were saved under the ministry of Moody. What a tragedy it would have been if Kimball had not taken Moody into his life.
Encourage spiritual growth in others. Read Acts 11:20-24 NIV. With Barnabas’ encouraging presence, Antioch moved from a mission field into a thriving church that sent missionaries to share Christ with the world. I Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Encourage one another and build each other up.” With the steady practice of encouragement, churches become places where Christians mature and hold each other together. Without encouragement, they easily decline into gatherings where we pick each other apart.
Encourage others to serve. Read where the disciples were first called Christians, Acts 11:25-26. Barnabas was clearly an encourager who saw possibilities in individuals around him. When Barnabas recruited Saul (Paul) to come to Antioch he introduced him into what became the great ministry of his life.
Sometimes people negatively influence us by bringing out our worst, nudging us to do or say something we should not. But Biblical encouragers help us to do the right and best things. The most effective discipleship tools are the ones that enable others to do ministry. Leading believers to help in Vacation Bible School, go on a missions trip, chaperone the students at summer camp, visit the homebound, and perform other “hands on” ministries result in great benefits. Not only do these servants deepen their devotion, they also testify of their faith. Note that in Antioch believers were first called “Christians.” Today this is the most common term used to identify followers of Jesus. But “Christians” is used relatively few times in the entire New Testament. Originally believers did not refer to one another as “Christians” (or “Little Christs”). Rather, it was a name given to them by unbelievers who saw something in their lives that looked like the way Jesus would talk and act.
We are all blessed by folks who encouraged us. But the greater question is, “Who are you encouraging?” Resolve now to write a note, make a telephone call, offer a helping hand, or share a hug. In doing so you will “put courage into others.”
— McCluskey is pastor, North Cleveland Baptist Church, Cleveland.