Son of Encouragement
1Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. 4But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; 5for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 7For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 8But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
- I Thessalonians 5:1-11
So Paul the Apostle wrote two letters actually to this congregation in Thessalonica. Mainly to provide teaching about the return of Jesus and how they should conduct themselves while they waited for this event to take place.
Now part of that instruction included the very hands-on task of encouraging one another to faithful and holy living in the meantime. This evening, I'd like to examine the life and the character of one of the great encouragers in the Bible.
Barnabas, they called him the son of encouragement. So before we do that, let's look at some definitions, I'm going to be talking about encouragement.
There are several different words that are used to convey the idea of encouragement in the Bible, Nâcham - Hebrew word. Meant to breathe strongly or to sigh. In a positive sense it meant to have pity on or to have sympathy with someone. For example
1"Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God.
2"Speak kindly to Jerusalem;
And call out to her, that her warfare has ended,
That her iniquity has been removed,
That she has received of the Lord's hand
Double for all her sins."
- Isaiah 40:1-2
So here Isaiah is expressing his pity and sympathy on the people and blessing them.
Another word Châzaq - to fasten upon, to give strength. In Deuteronomy chapter three verse 28, God tells Moses to tell Joshua the following.
But charge Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him, for he shall go across at the head of this people and he will give them an inheritance, the land which you shall see.
And so, God is telling to Moses that he needs to encourage. This idea of encouragement to Joshua for the task at hand as he will be taking over the leading of the people. And so we go to the New Testament and in the New Testament the word para meant to be near or to be beside.
And then Parakaleo was a variation of this word and it meant to call someone near or to invite someone. And so this New Testament word was translated into the English word using a variety of English words such as to comfort, or to exhort, or to encourage, or to console. For example:
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
- John 14:26
that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine.
- Romans 1:12
So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness.
- II Corinthians 9:5
All these words mean the same type of thing. So if it's something that we do then the idea of encouragement is to come near someone else with the purpose of supporting them. If it's something that we receive then it sustains and builds us up and it helps us to carry the load that we are carrying because of our faith alright. Or because of certain circumstances that are taking place in our lives.
So in a Christian context, encouragement is a word that involves giving and receiving between two people. Whether it is God and man, or one person with another. The result being that we are motivated to carry on in our walk of faith. This is usually the end goal of encouragement. Sure we say you know, if someone's sick, you know we tell them well, we encourage them, we encourage them that they would be well, we pray for them. But in the end, you know among Christians what are we trying to do? We're trying to encourage each other to remain faithful, to hang in there.
Of course to be helped with your disease and we hope the operation goes well and so on and so forth. But really what I'm trying to say to you if you're ill is I'm saying to you, don't let the illness discourage you. Don't let it you know, burden you so much that you'll give up, or you'll give up your faith. Or don't let the circumstances in your life at the moment that may be difficult, that may be challenging you, don't let those things defeat you.
I'm going to encourage you, always to the same thing. I'm encouraging you to be faithful to God. And so Barnabas, you know, a great example of encouragement. Anyone who's been in the church you know, for any length of time knows that without encouragement, a congregation or an individual can easily grow weary.
It's very easy to become discouraged as a Christian. A lot of things discourage us as Christians. Sin, I mean talk about discouragement. You know, when you see the sin in yourself, in our class this morning I was saying, all of us at some point or another, we see our better selves. You know, we see what the better self looks like. But somehow we never quite achieve that better self. I know the person I want to be, but boy it sure is hard to get there. Nevermind what God wants me to be.
That's even higher and so I need encouragement because my own sin sometimes discourage me. Or perhaps a whole congregation is not growing. How many churches have I preached at, smaller churches, they're not growing.
Perhaps they've you know, they have more elderly people, don't have a lot of young families. Perhaps the you know, their group has moved out of the neighborhood and so on and so forth. And they're discouraged, the entire congregation is discouraged because of the problems that they're facing or sometimes conflict in the church.
You know, or they quit the faith because of the sin of someone else. You know, someone has disappointed them. Perhaps an elder has acted improperly. Or the preacher, someone they look up to in the church has not acted in a, in a Christian way and it has kind of deflated. I think that that's the best word I can use. You're kind of full of faith and then something happened and kind of deflates your faith and encouragement is when someone comes back and you know, kind of builds that faith, build that faith back up. So encouragement is the antidote to a sagging spirit. A tired faith and a troubled heart. Again, one of the most important people in the church is not always the person who gives a lot of money although that's very helpful. Or the preachers, or those who do the teaching and so on and so forth but sometimes the most important person in the church is the individual that is constantly encouraging other people to remain faithful and to hang in there, not to lose courage. Those people are extremely important in the church. And so, because of this, as I said before I'd like to look at one of the great encouragers in the early church. Barnabas, a marvelous example of someone who was almost a full-time, that was his ministry.
The ministry of encouragement and I've kind of gone through many Scriptures that talk about him and kind of distilled all this down. Seven ways that he encouraged people okay. Perhaps we can learn from him some of the things that you know, we need to encourage in the church and the kind of character we need to develop in order to be the kind of person that provides encouragement. You know, who do you want to be? Do you want to be the encourager or do you want to be the discourager? I don't know about you but I want to be the encourager. So Barnabas is a great, great example of that.
Barnabas – An Example of Encouragement
So let's take a look at Barnabas. Seven ways that he encouraged. Seven things he encouraged.
#1 - He encouraged generosity
36Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), 37and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.
So he was a wealthy Jewish leader who provided support for a young church during an explosive start.
I mean 3,000 people are baptized in one day. The church is that large. Could you imagine if in Choctaw 3,000 people were baptized in one day? I mean Tommy would be busy with the baptistry and he'd have to be you know, recycling it several times in the same day to do all the baptisms but think about it for a second.
Imagine 3,000, just think. Next Sunday we have to prepare for 3,000 communion, to serve communion to 3,000 people. The building isn't big enough so that means we'd have to kind of offer four or five different services to accommodate all these new people and new people bring problems and needs so that means the elders are really going to be busy and the deacons have all kinds of new things that they have to do and so on.
More parking, more this. Maybe we have to sell all this and get a bigger place. You see what I'm saying? Growth brings needs. And so you've got this young church you know, blow, grows with an explosive beginning.
All the problems that takes place. So they were growing quickly. They had tremendous needs to fulfill and so Barnabas provides encouragement to go ahead with the work by providing his own resources to keep the momentum going, that's the point.
The growth of the church just didn't sink back on itself. You know, crush itself because it grew too quickly. Barnabas provided resources so that they could keep that momentum going. His liberality provided encouragement for the poor and an encouraging example for the rich.
Because the ones who were rich in the congregation, oh that's how it's done. Oh this is what's necessary. Oh well if he can do it, I can do it. That type of encouragement. And so he encouraged generosity.
#2 - He encouraged ministry
When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.
But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the Apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road and that he had talked him and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.
So Barnabas encourages ministry. Paul the Apostle has a dramatic conversion and begins to evangelize immediately and he bears fruit. I mean his disciples you know, help him escape in Damascus. He then risks his life for his new faith and he goes to Jerusalem to be with the brethren but instead of joyfully accepting him, they reject him out of fear.
Now think for a moment. Paul could have quit at that moment. He could've said well, if they don't want you know. If they don't want me you know, I'll just go back to Judaism. You know these guys, you know I'm as good as these guys.
I saw the Lord. It would've been very easy for a human being with just you know, the weakness of pride. All of a sudden be deflated. Imagine, it's one thing being rejected by one of the people in the church but to be rejected by the leaders of the church.
Pretty terrible thing but Barnabas steps in to vouch for him. In other words, he gives him the benefit of his hame in order to establish his own reputation. There's another example of this, I won't read it in Acts chapter 11.
We see Barnabas going to Antioch to begin working with the church there and soon he recognizes an opportunity for Saul and what does he do? He recruits him to come and work with the church there. Now we notice in this passage that Barnabas was succeeding in his ministry but he wasn't selfish or looking for personal glory, he brought Saul in to share the ministry and establish him as a teacher and a leader in the church. He encouraged ministry. Not his ministry, he encouraged other people's ministry. Very important.
#3 - He encouraged brotherly love
Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.
And one of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world and this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea.
And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders. Another passage in chapter 12 verse 25 it says, and Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John who was also called Mark.
So here once again, Barnabas is used as an agent for encouragement but this time for a church that's in trouble. Not just an individual who's in trouble. Famine threatened to bring chaos to the young church and Barnabas fulfills his role as emissary in collecting funds to stabilize the situation as well as training and introducing Saul throughout the brotherhood.
He had a chance to you know, he saw the potential in this brother and he took every opportunity to put him before other brethren in order to find acceptability for this man. His intervention steadied a brotherhood that could have fallen victim to fear and disillusionment because of a natural catastrophe but instead, we're motivated to love each other through his encouragement and you don't realize how much a natural catastrophe hurts.
In Montreal many years ago you know, the building that we owned there, the Verdun church building. We had bought it and fixed it and renovated it and you know, did all kinds of things with it and so on and so forth and then one day, a little boy, young guy in the alley set fire. It was arson, he set fire to trash cans and the trash cans caught the you know, the building on fire and it burned to the ground. It was absolutely totally destroyed and I remember, I wasn't in Montreal but Roger was there, my partner in the work and they interviewed him on TV and he was very quick on his feet because the you know, the interviewer said to him, so what are you going to do now, the church is destroyed and he answered and said, no no no.
He said, "The building is destroyed "but the church lives on." And yeah, we say amen but here's the thing. Now you have a young church, relatively young church with no building. They had to meet in a storefront. They you know, they lost half their members. Many of them just left because they were just so discouraged to start all over again. Some of them just said hey, I don't feel like sitting on a metal chair and actually it was a plumbing supply place. It was the only thing they could find in that area. I don't feel like sitting on a metal chair. No classrooms for the kids so they just went to other churches. That catastrophe nearly destroyed the church. Yes, some were brave but they lost half the, they lost half the church.
During Hurricane Katrina, Lisa and I traveled down to New Orleans to work with a church there that had been like a hub. You know, a distribution point for all the people that you know, were just, their homes were destroyed because of the hurricane and that church building was brand spanking new. The hurricane hit one day before their inaugural opening of their church building. Brand new church. And so they became the hub for a distribution of goods, well they tore walls down, they had forklifts driving in the auditorium you know, to lift stuff. They got rid of all the pews. I remember one wall was totally knocked down so they could set up a communications thing and for six months they did nothing but food distribution. You know, emergency and everybody was saying oh that is so great.
You guys you know this is big, you're God's people. Yeah God's people alright but after six months that church was vanquished. Why, because a lot of people said, well this is all nice and good you know to do benevolence but there's no Sunday School, there's no youth group, there's no seniors, there's no you know, golden oldies potlucks going on, all we're doing is distributing food. People got discouraged, they quit, they went to other churches. Elders resigned, the preacher resigned. Eventually he was just burnt, he was toast, he was fried, six months, 15 hours a day. That church still exists but it's just a shadow of its former self.
I'm telling you these real life stories that you can relate to to explain that the famine coming through could've done the very same thing to this young church but Barnabas stepped into the breach. And he was ready to help. He was ready to give an actual example of brotherly love in action during a time of crisis. And so, he encouraged brotherly love.
#4 - He encouraged evangelism
Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
Now I want you to note that Barnabas is named first among the prophets and teachers and Saul is named last. Again, he is named first when they set out with Saul. Now one could surmise different things about this. First of all, perhaps he was the senior man and that the vision for foreign missions was his and originally he set out with Saul as his companion. Or, it could mean he as a good mentor, recognized Paul's potential and calling and was consciously leading him towards his eventual ministry among the Gentiles. Either way, Barnabas was a guiding light and encourager of the effort to evangelize the Gentiles.
We see his willingness to strengthen and to serve and to build going beyond his people, going beyond his culture towards others who were yet without faith, yet without hope and even when he was no longer the leader.
Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.
- Acts 13:43
So even when he is no longer the leader and Paul is taking charge, he nevertheless remains enthusiastic for the work and the mission. You know a lot of times people in the church, if they're in charge, man they're all for it.
You know, if they're the chief yeah I you know. Sometimes they like better being the chief then actually doing the job. But Barnabas wasn't like that, he didn't seem that was the chief anymore. He was more the follower now, he was the assistant and yet, his enthusiasm for the Gospel, his enthusiasm for evangelism was still, was still the same.
He was ready to encourage evangelism even if he was not the chief honcho. He loved the lost and he promoted the Gospel, no matter what position he was in in that task. Number, forget which one this is.
#5 - He encouraged unity
1Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." 2And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.
- Acts 15:1-2
Now after their return from mission work among the Gentiles there was much debate whether or not the Gentiles should be included in the church. Since you know, they were not of the Jewish culture and of course we know the first Christians were Jews and many of those Jews thought that that's how it ought to be all the time.
That the Gospel was only for the Jews and if a Gentile wanted to be a Christian he had to become you know, a proselyte, a Jewish proselyte first. We see Paul and Barnabas defending the cause of Gentile inclusion in order to maintain a common brotherhood with both groups.
This took great vision. So in chapter 15 we see Barnabas fervently defending and supporting the Gentile Christians before the Jewish church.
All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
- Acts 15:12
Why Barnabas and Paul? Because now Barnabas is speaking and who do you think he's speaking about? He's speaking about Paul. He's lauding the work that God is doing through Paul. His contribution to the argument must have been persuasive because James drafts a letter confirming the Apostles and elders teaching to maintain unity within the church between Gentiles and Jews without undue restrictions on the Gentiles.
And so Barnabas was a voice for unity at a time when it would've been very easy to separate. Very easy to separate.
#6 - He encouraged reconciliation
In Acts 13:13 we read that John Mark and we know that he is Barnabas' cousin, we read about that in Colossians 4:10. John Mark abandons the mission work with Paul and Barnabas in order to return to Jerusalem. We don't know why, was he afraid? Was he sick? Well who know, all we know is that he abandoned the work and went home.
After their return and the report to the church and the settling of matters concerning the Gentile question in Antioch, Paul wants to leave once again and go with Barnabas.
36After some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are." 37Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also.
- Acts 15:36-37
But we realize that Paul doesn't want this. Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark but Paul refused and so they split up with Paul taking Silas and Barnabas leaving to go back to his home town in Cyprus with John Mark. Now John Mark's story would have been a sad one.
You know, let's think about this for a second. He's disgraced by his failure to follow through with Paul. Like I say, if a member of the church you know, is not happy with you that's one thing, but if one of the Apostles is unhappy with you, if one of the the Apostles publicly refuses to work with you, that's kind of a burden on your shoulder.
That's a terrible thing, that's public knowledge. But Barnabas, ever the encourager takes this young man and works with him to rebuild his confidence and to rebuild his faith. This we can only surmise because all we know is the beginning where he leaves with Barnabas and then we know the end where Paul writes concerning Mark in Colossians 4:10,
Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas's cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him)
What does that tell you? He has been reunited with Paul in the work and he is commended for his faithful service. So somewhere along the line Mark managed to reestablish his credibility with Paul and with the brethren and from our knowledge of Barnabas, we can be assured that he had much to do in helping this reconciliation to take place.
#7 - He encouraged imitation
be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
- I Corinthians 11:1
But Paul had his first mentor in Barnabas who encouraged his ministry in the beginning and provided his earliest example of Christ-like living with regards to generosity and love and evangelism and unity of the brethren and forgiveness. Where does Paul learn this? You know, Paul does not have only a theological education, but he has a practical education on how to get along and who do you think gives him that education? Well Barnabas gives him that education.
So our lesson this evening is further testimony to the fact that 2000 years later Barnabas is still a subject of imitation for us who wish to understand what encouragement among the brethren, what is that like? What must you do? How do you do that? Now, we've looked at Barnabas and what he did to gain the name, the encourager and we'd do well to imitate him but it's not enough just to imitate the actions. We also need to imitate his character. Because action springs from character and not vice versa. Your action come from who you are okay? So Barnabas' three characteristics that motivated him to be an encourager.
So I talked about what he did in context of the history of the church. Now I want to spend just a few more minutes talking about who he was, his character. Well what was he? Well first of all, he was generous right? I mean, every time you see him, he is giving something away.
- His land and money in Acts 4
- His reputation in Acts 9
- He was giving his time in Acts 11
- He was giving his ministry in Acts 11
So encouragers are such because they give themselves away and that spirit is so uncommon, so unlike the rest of the world that we are strengthened not only by receiving what they give but also by watching their generosity in action and by being motivated to do the same. If he can do it, I can do it.
You know you see the mom that comes in here with three or four little kids you know and she manages to get 'em all together and get 'em into Sunday School Sunday after Sunday after Sunday and another mom looks at that and says you know I mean, if she does it you know, surely I can do it. She's not superwoman, she's like me. Motivated because you see it in someone else. So he was a generous, a generous man. He was also a visionary. Barnabas, he was big picture kind of a guy. You know, he wanted to see the big picture.
He was able to keep his eye on the greater plan of world evangelism which allowed him to overlook cultural differences and petty quarrels. He saw the importance of maintaining unity and strength throughout the entire brotherhood if the cause of Christ was to survive. This is why he was involved in benevolence as well as evangelism. He did both. Encouragers usually see the goals more clearly than others. That's why they are motivated to encourage those who are discouraged or confused because they've lost sight of the end. They don't see the big picture anymore. Most of the time, all they see is themselves. And what's wrong with me? And why am I not getting my way? And so and so didn't tell me I did a great job and blah blah blah blah.
Encouragers always see the big picture and how things fit into the. It's not a sin, not to see that but I've noticed those those who are able to motivate and encourage others are able to do that because they see the long view. They see what's coming. They don't let the day to day, the small stuff, they don't allow that stuff to derail the train and of course I mean, we could go through Barnabas and list a lot of great qualities but I've picked the ones that really stand out.
Generosity, visionary and he was courageous. I mean, it took a lot of courage to give up your land for a religion that is based on someone who is despised by your peers. Lots of courage to do that. It takes a lot of courage to travel among those who have traditionally hated you in order to convert them to your faith.
That takes courage. It takes a lot of courage to stand up for unpopular people like Paul or like Mark or to stand up for unpopular positions like the entry of the Gentiles into the church without extra rules but Barnabas had courage because it says he was a good man and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith in Acts 11:24.
His faith gave him vision and his vision motivated his goodness and generosity and because love does cast out fear, 1 John 4:18, he was not afraid to do what was right regardless of the situation. You know, I believe that being here for example for services throughout the week suggests that these same characteristics are alive in you.
It takes a generous spirit to volunteer time and effort in service to the church throughout the year as I have seen many do in this congregation. Whether it be for teaching children or adults, for maintaining the you know, the building, the grounds or greeting.
You know there's 1000 jobs here and people do those jobs quietly and well. It takes a certain amount of courage to do that. It takes a certain amount of vision to see the necessity of building up the kingdom within self and others and be trained in it. You've got to be able to see the big picture. It takes courage to go against the grain of materialism and worldliness and personal comfort and devote yourselves completely to spiritual exercises while the rest of the world you know, kind of gets ahead.
You ever calculate if you didn't give any money to the church, you might be able to pay off your mortgage a whole lot faster. And all the time that you spend adoring God in worship or serving him in some way or other, preparing lessons or whatever it is, if you could have all that time to yourself, how far ahead could you be.
In getting your to-do list done. So it takes vision and it takes courage to be able to do those things and so I commend you for your dedication to Christ. I commend you for your love of the church and I am encouraged by your example and I pray that everyone here will receive the encouragement that they need and be a source of encouragement for one another as we all wait for the coming of the Lord because that's what we're doing right? We're waiting for the coming of the Lord.
So brothers and sisters, I you know, let's not take each other for granted. Barnabas saw the value of every soul. Every soul, he saw the value and he interposed himself between the soul and the world.
Whether it was famine or prejudiced or whatever it was. He put himself between those things. Why, because he saw the value of each soul. He did not take his brother or sister for granted and I encourage us to have that same spirit.
Let's not take each other for granted. In Acts chapter two verse 40, Peter encourages those listening to his sermon on the day of Pentecost to respond to the Gospel by repenting of their sins and being baptized.
And this encouragement continues even to this day. As Marty did this morning and as I do this evening, I offer it now to all those who need the comfort, the encouragement of forgiveness. And so, I encourage you to repent and be baptized if you have not done this and I encourage you to be restored if you need restoration and I encourage you to ask for prayer if you have specific needs for prayer and I encourage you to make the decision to do that while we sing the song of? - Encouragement.
Encouragement, every time it's a song of encouragement. And so let's stand and let's sing that song of encouragement now as we decide whether we have a need for ministry at this time.