The Ministry of Encouragement

I have had several people in my life who have been encouragers. I am thankful to be married to one of them. We could all use encouragement. Some of us need a lot of it.

When you think of encouragement, who comes to mind? Who is an encourager in your life? What does encouragement look like for you? Is it mainly through words or actions?

Encouragement can be as simple as a smile and nod of agreement as you share something from your heart—a kind word, a sincere gesture of affection, or a timely prayer. I have also found that true encouragers are trustworthy. Barnabas, introduced to us in the Book of Acts, is a great example.

Barnabas: Son of Encouragement

Barnabas is one person in the Bible, other than Jesus, who was a living example of encouragement. His real name was Joseph, but he was called Barnabas, which means Son of Encouragement. He lived up to his name.

He is introduced to us as the early followers of Jesus formed into a church community. He is an example of the nature of this early community of believers. The apostles—early church leaders—gave Joseph the nickname Barnabas. Those who knew him saw that his life reflected his nature as an encourager (Acts 4:34-37). Barnabas was a follower of Jesus and showed it in the way he lived.

Barnabas the Mentor

The early church was torn apart by a zealous Jewish leader named Saul, later known as the Apostle Paul. After Paul became a follower of Jesus the Messiah, other believers were afraid of him. This included the leaders. They at first did not trust Saul and would not accept him as one of them. Barnabas stepped in. He came alongside this new convert, who proved himself in Damascus where he became a believer. Barnabas stood up for Paul. He vouched for him. Because people trusted Barnabas, they accepted Paul. Barnabas saw the grace of God in paul and stood up for this new believer, his brother in the faith. [see Acts 9:26-30]

The Nature of Encouragement

Barnabas knew Paul was special, with unique gifts as a teacher and leader and a special calling and purpose in life. When Barnabas was sent to Antioch in response to a great spiritual awakening, he remembered Paul, who had returned to his home town of Tarsus.

Encouragers see the best in people. Barnabas knew Paul’s gifts of leadership were valuable and needed in Antioch, so he sought him out (Acts 11:19-26). The revival begun by the work of God’s Spirit in Antioch was grounded in the truth of the Scriptures through the gift and calling of Paul.

Barnabas’ calling of Paul to Antioch resulted in a strong church established and developed under their leadership as an extension of the home church in Jerusalem. Later, this church sent out the first cross-cultural missionaries. Barnabas and Paul, two of the primary leaders of the church in Antioch, were sent out to preach the gospel, make disciples, and plant churches (Acts 13:1-3).

This was the original model for sending out cross-cultural missionaries. The primary leaders of the Church were humble enough to submit to the Holy Spirit’s leading and leave the ministry they established at first. Encouragers are humble and see the best in others. Encouragement is an important element of leadership.

This partnership of Paul and Barnabas produced a great harvest of new believers and churches. It faced resistance and even opposition to the grace of God. Both the growth and opposition resulted in a need to define what we call the Christian Faith today. The beginning of New Testament theology goes back to the council of elders gathered in Jerusalem, as seen in Acts Chap 15.

Although this partnership continued to have a great impact on the strong church body in Antioch, it did not last. A dispute broke out between Paul and Barnabas and their partnership appears to have come to an end. The controversy stemmed from Barnabas’ desire to give a young man named John Mark a second chance (Acts 15:36-41). Encouragers are messengers of God’s grace to others.

Barnabas is never mentioned in the Book of Acts after this incident. Much has been made of this, with some concluding Barnabas was wrong in standing up to Paul. Was he? In later years, Paul realized the great value John Mark was to the church. While imprisoned in Rome and writing to the church in Colosse, he says as much, “… Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him)” (Col 4:10).

Later, as Paul sees his life coming to an end during his second imprisonment in Rome, he makes a request. He asks for John Mark to come to him. He told his friend Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Tim 4:11).

Barnabas, who had stood up for Paul and brought him to Antioch, did the same for John Mark. Had he not done so, what would John Mark’s usefulness in ministry be? Would the Gospel of Mark be written? Encouragers see beyond themselves for the sake of others.

Encouragement isn’t just shown in pleasant words or helpful actions. Encouragement is valuable and useful. It can include risking our reputation for the benefit of someone else. Barnabas exemplifies the nature of encouragement. Although Jesus is our ultimate example, Barnabas gives us an example that is reachable for most of us.

If you want a real-life example of encouragement, consider Joseph—the man called Barnabas—the Son of Encouragement. What was Barnabas’ secret? It’s no secret at all. He was a true follower of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit—the Comforter and Advocate given to believers by Jesus. Encouragers reflect the nature of Jesus.

Encouragement is intended to be the fruit of the nature of Jesus in all who follow Him. [see Acts 11:24; also John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-14] If you want encouragement, give it away to others. Look for someone who needs encouragement today and encourage them.

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