July 26

Barnabas: The Power of Encouragement

Acts 15:31 And when they had read [the letter], they rejoiced because of its encouragement.

Barnabas is a relatively minor character in the New Testament. The apostle Paul towers over the books following the gospels, and every other character can seem small by comparison. Certainly, Barnabas, who separated from Paul over the issue of taking John Mark, tends to fade out after Acts 15.

But like most encouragers, Barnabas didn’t focus on himself, and seems content to have served a role of cheering on and reinforcing others. As mentioned yesterday, Barnabas was the one who paved the way for the feared Paul to come into the Christian community in Jerusalem. Who knows how many years of delay might have occurred if Barnabas hadn’t taken the lead in knocking down barriers to Paul’s ministry?

When the word of the Lord began to spread from the Hebrew-speaking Jews to the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews), it was Barnabas who was sent to speak and preach to them. The result? “…he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord” (Acts 11:23b-25). What a great contribution to the early, growing church—and what a significant development for the spread of the gospel!

When the new converts in Antioch and the region around that city were being taught falsehoods, Barnabas was sent with Paul to deliver a letter of correction. The response? Acts 15:31: “And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.” Not its doctrinal accuracy (which was important), but “its encouragement.”

It was after this time that Paul and Barnabas split up. But Barnabas’ gift for encouragement seems to have continued unabated. He took John Mark with him on his missionary journey. Yes, he was related to him, and there might have been a family connection that won out. Maybe he was being indulgent, or perhaps reacting to Paul’s rejection of John Mark.

But maybe Barnabas’s tendency toward encouragement helped him to read John Mark’s character better than Paul could. Perhaps he had more confidence that whatever happened before wouldn’t happen again. Perhaps Barnabas saw the state of his cousin’s soul, not wanting to discourage him and have the kingdom of God lose a great servant because of failure. Whatever his motivations, it worked. John Mark became a powerful minister, proving useful to Paul and to everyone who reads the gospel named after him.

Are you an encourager, or a critic? Critics and encouragers see the same things. But encouragers are concerned with others and connected to people and want to help them. Critics are motivated by pride, and they stand alone. If you’re tempted to criticize, let God have what you see, and find a way in Him to become a Barnabas.

Prayer: Lord, I want to be an encourager. Help me to see things the way Barnabas did, and use me as You did him. Help me not to back off in judgment when I see things, but help me to continue to remain connected with people and find Your way of encouraging them.

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