“The Man of Encouragement”
By Rev. S.V. Nathan
“And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus,”( Acts 4: 36)
“As a child, Walter Scott was considered a dullard. His accustomed place in the school room was the ignominious dunce corner with the high pointed paper cap of shame on his head. Robert Burns the poet once visited Walter’s house. He noticed a picture under which a couplet was written. Burns found the couplet fascinating, and asked who its author was. No one knew. Timidly Walter crept up and quoted the rest of the poem. Laying his hand on the boy’s head, Burns exclaimed, “You will be a great man in Scotland someday.” Robert Burns’ encouraging words motivated Walter Scott to become one of the greatest poets in Scotland. (Dr G Francis Xavier, The world’s best Inspiring Stories for Successful Living, Vol One, page 43). Likewise, the words of encouragement or acts of encouragement can bring about immeasurable outcomes in one’s life.
Barnabas, the son of consolation or encouragement (Acts 4:36), made the greatest contribution to Christendom with his gift of encouragement for two great leaders in the history of Christianity. Though, both of them did not have a great past, Barnabas was instrumental in the early making of them, and they both later became great leaders and contributors to the body of Christ.
The first person was none other than Saul the persecutor of the church who became Paul. He wrote about thirteen epistles and planted many churches in Asia Minor. The second person is Mark, the gospel writer – John Mark who was considered by Paul as young, timid and unfit to the ministry. Let me highlight some of the past of Paul and John Mark from where and when Barnabas began to encourage and train them.
- 1. Encouragement requires taking bold step beyond risk:
“And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9:26-27)
Sometime after Saul’s conversion he came to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples. We remember he had previously persecuted Christians. Now here he is claiming to be a Christian convert. The disciples were terribly afraid of him, and not willing to accept him as a disciple (Acts 9:26). Is there anyone who will take a risk for Saul? Is there anyone who can see in him the making of a great leader? One man came forward. Only one man took risk out of everyone else who were afraid to give Saul a chance to prove himself. It was Barnabas, who took him, and brought him to the apostles, and he became his advocate and vouched for him (Verse 27). Hence, the disciples and church accepted him and his ministry which flourished in Jerusalem later. He also took Paul as his companion in his early mission trips.
This helps us to see that a good and faithful disciple is to able to identify and encourage others to serve Christ. At times, one must be even willing to take risks on behalf of potential disciples or leaders. All the other disciples were afraid. But Barnabas had the courage to give this remarkable young man, Saul, a chance.
I want everyone to ask this question: what would I have done in a case like Saul? Am I worried or afraid too much about their bad past record? Whom should I follow: Barnabas or the rest of the disciples? We must be thankful to God for Barnabas, who identified Paul. He went on to advocate for him and train him for the glorious ministry of God. Later Paul became a spiritual giant, who shines in the New Testament through his work and writings. Shall we follow Barnabas by taking risk for the sake of the gospel? As a result we may become modern Barnabas and instruments of making many Pauls today.
- 2. Encouragement requires seeing beyond shortcomings:
“And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;” (Acts 15:39)
There was a great contention between Barnabas and Paul because of John Mark; even it caused them to depart in different directions for their ministry. Paul thought it is not good to take Mark with them, and therefore he refused to take him (Acts 15:38), because he had behaved so cowardly, and had shown such a coldness and indifference to the work of the ministry, and had so shamefully left them. Nonetheless, on the other hand Barnabas insisting on it, that John Mark should go with them, though he knew that Mark was a young man, and could not be thought to have that courage, determination, steadiness, and toughness, as Paul. However this did not stop him from taking John Mark along (vs 39c). This is the foremost instance of Barnabas’ patience with Mark’s shortcomings. Since he was the son of encouragement (Acts 4:36), he wanted to give John Mark a second chance and he wanted to do it straightaway. Later Paul found the formerly useless Mark “useful,” as revealed in the apostle’s concluding epistle. “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.” (2 Tim. 4:11).
We must realise that we all are weak and unworthy children of God in many ways. Let us have the heart of Barnabas to give second chances to those who have fallen short in our sight. When I see myself serving God and His children, I feel unfit and unworthy in many ways. However, it is His mercy and grace that enabled me to continue to serve Him.
Today we may infer that it is God’s providential will that they should be used. We must admit that both Paul and John Mark were weak in their flesh, yet God did not despise them, God chose them to serve in the first place (1 Corinthians 1: 27-29). At this point, Barnabas has played his role by encouraging them by obeying and participating in God’s will. Shall we join hand with God to encourage many more to the service of the Lord in our short life? Finally, God can use anyone with any background for His glory.
“Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed,” (Robert H Schuller) Like this saying, we do not know who has what kind of potential, only God knows. Hence we must be an instrument in the process of God’s making we may be a God’s channel of blessing in someone’s life.
Every Children’s Day is a reminder to all, that children are God’s gift and His heritage in our life. We ought to appreciate and love them. They are the next generation leaders. Hence, never judge the book by its cover. Likewise we should not underestimate children and youngsters’ talents judging from their academic performance. The marks and grades obtained in schools and colleges are no indication whatever of their future growth and development. Also, any kind of genuine appreciation will be indelibly imprinted in the consciousness of the child and will greatly motivate him or her.
The words of encouragement are tonic and boost to all, especially for children and youngsters the most. I take this opportunity to exhort you to encourage one another like Barnabas. As we all like words of encouragement and the people who encourage us, why can’t we practice what we expect from others? Barnabas is the man of encouragement; who lived out his name to the fullest. Why can’t we too? May God bless you abundantly with His richest blessings.