We read in verses 23 and 24 of our passage today that “When he arrived [in Antioch] 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. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” That’s quite an impressive description of anyone, is it not? Who was it?
You might be forgiven for thinking that’s a description of the apostle Paul. After all, Paul did so much in the early days of the church to promote the gospel amongst the gentiles. Much of what Paul did is recorded in the book of Acts and we are studying it in this new sermon series. But it wasn’t Paul who earned that wonderful accolade I just read.
It was the man who played such an important part in Paul’s life. It was the man who for some time was Paul’s partner in ministry. It was the man who brought Paul to Antioch, the third largest city in the Roman Empire. It was the man who spent a whole year with Paul teaching the new Christians in Antioch. It was a man named Barnabas.
Actually, that wasn’t his real name. His real name was Joseph. But Joseph was such an encourager of the early Christians that they dubbed him ” Barnabas ” which means “Son of Encouragement.” Just imagine it. People saw Joseph coming and they said Here comes the encourager! That’s a nice thing to be called. Better than Here comes misery guts! What would they have called you or me? Hmmm…..
Barnabas was hugely helpful to the church not only by teaching, but by giving encouragement. He was drawn to Christians who needed support and the amazing thing was that wherever Barnabas encouraged Christians, non -Christians flocked to become believers! Barnabas was such an encourager we can actually thank him for much of the New Testament. Why? Because two men in particular were encouraged by Barnabas, one was Paul and the other was Mark. Barnabas spoke up for Paul when the early Christians were suspicious of him because of his past life. Barnabas remained loyal to Mark after others may have written him off. Barnabas then kept both men going at a time when they might have failed.
Barnabas himself never wrote a word of scripture but those two men he encouraged certainly did - Paul and Mark. Paul wrote thirteen New Testament letters and Mark wrote one of the gospels!
Listen - you may be a “nobody” in the eyes of many and even in your own eyes. You may not be very gifted. You may not have a public ministry. You may not be as young and active as you used to be. You may never be famous but…a few words of encouragement from you, a kind gesture that means something to someone, a token of support - all these things could impact on someone’s life and change the course of history.
Do you believe that? Albert McMakin is not exactly a household name but by being an encourager he has helped millions. Rev Nicky Gumbel tells his story: ‘Albert McMakin was a 24 year old farmer who had recently come to faith in Christ. He was so full of enthusiasm that he filled a truck with people and took them to a meeting to hear about Jesus. There was a good looking farmer’s son whom he was especially keen to get to a meeting, but this young man was hard to persuade – he was busy falling in and out of love with different girls and did not seem to be attracted to Christianity. Eventually Albert McMakin managed to persuade him to come by asking him to drive the truck. When they arrived, Albert’s guest decided to go in and was ‘spellbound’ and began to have thoughts he had never known before. He went back again and again until one night he went forward and gave his life to Jesus Christ. The year was 1934 and his name was Billy Graham. Since then Billy Graham has led thousands to faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot all be like Billy Graham but we can all be like Albert McMakin.’
You know it’s never too late to start encouraging people. Look back over your life. Can you think of someone who once gave you great encouragement? It might be a Sunday School teacher or past minister or just somebody in the congregation. If they are still around why not contact them and just say “Thanks”. Ministry is hard and sometimes we don’t see any result, so you might be amazed at their reaction.
Look around the church. Do you see people faithfully serving the Lord week in week out? Perhaps they do menial things behind the scenes and don’t get much recognition. When you next see them ask how they are and give them a word of encouragement. Look at your family, your partner, your children or grandchildren. When was the last time we said something encouraging to them as well? Those closest can most easily taken for granted.
William Arthur Ward, an American author said: “Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you……..Encourage me, and I will never forget you.” William Barclay, the Bible teacher wrote: “It is easy to laugh at men’s ideals; it is easy to discourage others. The world is full of discouragers. We have a Christian duty to encourage one another. Many a time a word of praise or thanks or appreciation or cheer has kept a man on his feet. Blessed is the man who speaks such a word.
In the New Testament the need for encouragement is mentioned over and over again. Paul himself wrote to Titus (Titus 2 v15) “Encourage and rebuke with all authority”. To Timothy (2 Timothy 4 v 2): “Preach the word, in season and out of season, correct rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction”. And to the Thessalonians he wrote (1 Thessalonians 5 v 11): “…encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.
All of us desperately need encouragement at times, do we not ? Fortunately for us God is an encouraging God. Listen to these verses :- “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2 v 16 & 17)
We sometimes hear these verses read as a blessing at the end of services.Notice how the word encourage appears twice? That’s how important encouragement is! God not only gives us such wonderful things as grace, mercy, hope, forgiveness etc. He also gives us, his children ENCOURAGEMENT. It’s his nature to encourage us. Perhaps right now he is trying to say to you and me: “My dear child. Come on! Don’t quit! Keep going! I’m with you in your troubles! I won’t let you down. I will never leave you or forsake you. Just keep looking to me, to my Son and to his cross…”
And if you want to hear something from scripture itself to encourage you this morning let me close with this promise of God in Isaiah: “But now, this is what the Lord says - he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you; O Israel; Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43 v 1 & 2)
Be encouraged! And let’s be encouragers in the mould of Barnabas!