The Great Encourager
An article by Ryan Pratt.
One man was a murderer. Another a man of peace. The one persecuted those who were different. The other man sought to convert them. Both men were equally necessary in God’s plan. Saul, still threatening the church of the Lord, was chosen of God to spread His Word (Acts 9:15). A Levite named Joseph so encouraged the brethren he was given the name Barnabas, or son of encouragement. Without him, the account we read of in Acts 9:26-27 might have been different. If Barnabas had not intervened on Saul’s behalf, things might have been harder for the apostle. In another account, Barnabas comes to the defense of another brother named John Mark. The disagreement between him and Paul becomes so sharp they parted ways (Acts 15:36-39). However, when Paul wrote to Timothy he instructed him to send for the very man he had disagreed about; Mark himself (2 Timothy 4:11)! One wonders if John Mark would have been useful to Paul had not Barnabas taken him under his wing.
Encouragement is a very important part of a Christian’s daily life. One of the miraculous gifts (that of prophecy) was given to encourage brethren (1Corinthians 14:3). Those who are stronger in the faith are to encourage those who are weak (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Our ultimate example of encouragement is of course in Christ. When speaking to His apostles after the Passover, Christ is giving them His final words and commands before He is betrayed and arrested. After giving them His promises of an eternal home (John 14:1-4), His promise of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-17), and commanding them to abide in Him and bear fruit (John 15:1-8); He explains why He has told them these things. John 15:11 records “These things have I spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Christ is giving them His final words of encouragement so they can work and be productive in His kingdom. However, His most encouraging words appear a few verses later where He says “Greater love has no man than this, that someone lay down his life for His friends. You are my friends if you do what I have commanded you”(John 15:13-14). The greatest love possible, that of a man dying for those he loves, was shown to us in full on the cross. Christ has promised His friendship if we humble ourselves and obey Him. How encouraging is it to know that we can have the promise of friendship from the One who proved Himself the greatest friend that man could ever have!
In order to accomplish encouragement, we must follow the patterns set by Barnabas and Christ. Paul wrote, “ Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”(1 Corinthians 11:1). Since Paul’s words apply to us today, imitating Christ does as well. As Barnabas in the 1st century, we must encourage our fellow laborers in the kingdom.
Without encouragement, Saul might have faced even more opposition from within the church. Without encouragement, John Mark might have wandered completely from the faith. Our brethren depend on us in rough times and stormy weather. We must always be ready to say kind words, pray with a brother or sister, and be present in the midst of grief. However accomplished, encouragement is vital to our walk as Christians. The first century had one Barnabas; we can make our century have thousands!