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Encourage One Another
Barnabas the Encourager
Acts 11:19-30; Luke 10:25-28; Hebrews 10:19-25
[©Eric Feustel, North Springfield Baptist Church, North Springfield, VT July 10, 2022]
Today's Bible Readings:
Acts 11:19:30 [New International Version]
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. 22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. 27 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29 The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
Luke 10:25-28 [New International Version]
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
Hebrews 10:19-25 [Common English Bible]
19 Brothers and sisters, we have confidence that we can enter the holiest place by means of Jesus’ blood, 20 through a new and living way that he opened up for us through the curtain, which is his body, 21 and we have a great high priest over God’s house. 22 Therefore, let’s draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water. 23 Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable. 24 And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. 25 Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.
What do Alexander the Great, John the Baptist, and Smokey the Bear all have in common? They have the same middle name! Speaking of Alexander the Great, there are a few people—a very few people—who make history, and Alexander would be one of them. However, everyone of us, well-known or unknown, is a part of history.
There are some famous people in the Bible who had much to say, and most of the ones we remember wrote something that we still have today. Moses gave us the Law of God; the prophets taught us about justice and righteousness—and I should add those two words are closely related—but that’s material for another time. The story of Jesus is central to Christianity: His life, his teachings, his death and resurrection, his ascension, and his promised return. The other New Testament writers give us our theology. Jesus embodied the gospel, and the Epistles mediate the gospel to us. Besides the biblical writers, many other Bible characters show us how the gospel was lived out among the first Christ-believers. Most of those people only make cameo appearances—a short anecdote, or maybe only a mention. We skip over those genealogies with their difficult names and otherwise seemingly pointless existence, but they were there: they were part of the story. Just like those gathered here this morning, we are part of what God is doing, we are part of God's story in this town.
The gospel is not a one-man show, or a two-man show. It’s not only about Jesus and Paul or about Peter and John. They, too, would be forgotten by history were it not for those who heard the gospel from them, who believed it, and gathered in groups probably smaller than this gathering. An apostle like Paul would come and preach the gospel, get them started, then leave and maybe write a letter back to them. Those faithful nameless believers became the church of which we are still a part. Most of them don’t even have a speaking part, they were simply there—they lived and died as faithful believers.
One of the significant biblical characters who never has a speaking part, and who left no verified writings, is Barnabas. He was second fiddle to Paul. Paul gets all the recognition, but Barnabas was right there beside Paul on his missionary journey. I think Barnabas deserves more attention and more credit than he normally gets. Our Bible reading this morning tells us quite a bit about Barnabas’ character. A few things are specifically listed in verse 24 of our Acts reading, and a few more are implied elsewhere in the passage.
Barnabas was a “good man.” We live in a day of extremes, of hyperbole. We’d like the passage to say he was marvelous, great, fantastic, and over-the-top wonderful. However, the passage simply says he was a “good” man. “Good” seems passé, understated, inglorious. I think we need more “good” people. Not great people, not dynamic leaders or polished speakers, we don’t need more celebrity Christians—we simply need good people. Often the great ones disappoint us. “Celebrity Christian” ought to be an oxymoron. Keep it simple and be good—just plain good. That is enough. I think you should be thankful you DON’T have a celebrity pastor! You don’t need someone to put on a good religion show, you simply need someone who knows you, loves you, and whose preaching draws you closer to God each week.
Barnabas was also “Full of the Holy Spirit.” God’s Holy Spirit has been working on you, and in you, since birth, maybe even before. The theological term is “Prevenient Grace.” Prevenient Grace is grace that comes pre-faith, that is, before faith. All along God has been reaching out to you, nudging you, urging you on in the right direction, calling to you, drawing you to Himself. After a while a person comes to a point where “the” faith becomes “my” faith. We call that conversion, being born again, or Salvation. For some it is a life-changing experience, for others, particularly those brought up in the faith, conversion is hardly noticeable, more like a seam in the road than a hard turn or a U-turn—we simply affirm what we’ve already come to believe. The filling of (or by) the Holy Spirit comes subsequent to our conversion. It is that moment when we yield ourselves fully to the Holy Spirit. It is when we can say of ourselves, “God has all of me. Nothing is held back. There is nothing in my life preventing God from using me.” The hymn we sang earlier, Channels Only, describes this experience. The Holy Spirit can then come into our lives without any obstacles, to use us for God’s purposes.
Barnabas was “Full of Faith.” Not merely faithful, but full of faith. Full to overflowing as I understand it. Being full of faith is not simply claiming what we want and expecting God to do it for us. It is not “name it and claim it,” it is not about getting God to do whatever we might want done; what some call “Health & Wealth” theology. No, It is not even about starting a ministry, if our approach is based on the reckless assumption that God will bless whatever we want to do. To the contrary, being full of the Holy Spirit, and being full of faith, may bring real opposition against you. Consider when Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit descended on him, Jesus didn’t suddenly have a magical ministry—rather he went into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil for 40 days. However, that did not dissuade Jesus from completing his ministry. Being full of faith is counting the cost and being willing to take calculated risks for God and God’s people. Really, I believe faith is as often not a matter of doing, but of being. Faith defines who we are as Christians. Being full of faith is the thoughtful affirmation of Hebrews 11:1 “The conviction of things not seen,” that is, spiritual realities. People who are full of faith are not impulsive, but they are people of deep spiritual integrity.
Those first three characteristics of Barnabas are the obvious ones taken from the list in verse 24. However, more characteristics are inferred if we read between the lines. In verse 30 we learn that Barnabas was trustworthy—he was trusted with money, probably a huge amount. No doubt he’d earned his reputation over time. He had already proven his generosity in Acts chapter 4 where he sold his land and gave it all to the Apostles. Who would fault him if he kept a little bit for his traveling expenses? But Barnabas was trustworthy. He was also a trustworthy messenger of what was happening in Antioch (verses 22-23): the gospel was being accepted by the gentiles. The first Jewish Christians may have wondered if this was good or if the gospel was being corrupted, and so Barnabas was sent to find out and report back. Can you be trusted? Not just with money, but with what you know about someone else? Can you keep a confidence? Can you tell the truth without bias? Can you keep to yourself what others tell you in private . . . without sharing it under the guise of a prayer request?
In verses 25-26 we learn that Barnabas saw potential in others. He went to meet with Saul whom we would later know as St. Paul. Saul had just become a Christian after previously persecuting the Christians, and even participated in the martyrdom of Stephen. Because Barnabas was ‘full of faith’ he was willing to take a risk on Saul. What if Paul was faking his conversion in order to infiltrate the Christian movement? Barnabas’ life could have been in danger. Only because of his faith and the direction of the Holy Spirit, could Barnabas reach out to a former enemy. Later in his career he would oppose Paul when he stuck up for John Mark (Acts 15). It even caused a painful separation between Paul and Barnabas, but later when Paul is discouraged, imprisoned, and despairing of his own life, he wants John Mark to come to him (2 Timothy 4:11). It’s not in the text, but I suspect that as Barnabas traveled with John Mark, some of Barnabas had rubbed off on John Mark such that he also became an encourager, and so Paul wanted John Mark to visit him. Do know someone with potential? I’m in ministry today because almost 20 years ago my pastor saw ministry potential in me.
Finally, and most important, verse 23 tells us Barnabas was an Encourager—that what his name means: son of encouragement. It’s not the name his mother gave him, it was his nickname. Being an encourager is how Barnabas is remembered—so well remembered that most of us don’t even know his real name. You can find his real name in Acts 4:36 (it was Joseph). Now we’re getting to what I want to leave you with. What is the reason that we come to church? Most of us will say “to worship God.” While there’s nothing wrong with worshiping God, nowhere in the New Testament are we told to assemble for worship! That famous verse that well-intentioned pastors quote to delinquent members from Hebrews 10:24-25 “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves” is not about worship. Let’s read the whole context. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” We gather to encourage each other to do good and loving things. That is the reason we are to meet together: encouragement!
Maybe you remember the old Firestone jingle, “The name that’s known is Firestone—where the rubber meets the road.” This part of the sermon is where the tire hits the pavement. I often remind my listeners of the four rubrics of Bible Study: 1) What does the passage teach me about God? 2) About myself? 3) About how God works in the world? and 4) What will I do differently because of what I’ve learned? Today we’ve seen that God works through people who encourage each other. So how can we be encouragers?
- Enthusiasm: Talk up your pastor and this church. What do you love about the people here? Share that with others in this community.
- Find something good to say about someone else. Don’t flatter someone; be sincere. If you can’t think of anything positive to say, ask God to show you something positive about that person. Norman Vincent Peale told how he brought two women in his congregation together in order to end a conflict in the church by finding something good one each had said about the other, and passing it on. Give God the credit for what you see in others.
- Tell others about your relationship with God. Share what you learned in your personal devotion time with someone else. It may be a vehicle to share your faith. “I was reading my Bible this morning and I learned <whatever> and I thought of you.
- Follow up on a prayer request. We have a list of prayer request in the bulletin. In a few minutes we will add to it. Ask someone how God is working in the situation they shared last week. I’ve had hundreds of people say they’ll pray for me, but precious few followed up a week later to see how God was answering their prayer.
These are some ways that we can tangibly encourage each other and build this church into a vibrant fellowship of people who truly care for each other.
Benediction: Take an index card and write down the name of someone who is not part of this fellowship, and consider how you might encourage them. That’s how the gospel can spread outside the walls of this church into this town. May you be an encourager, in the name of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.