we need to make a conscious effort to encourage others. For plants to grow they need to be watered. New believers also need to be nurtured and one of the ways that this is done is through encouragement.
(John Lathrop)

One of my favorite people in the New Testament is Barnabas. He is mentioned in a number of places: Acts, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Colossians. We learn the most about him from the book of Acts. He first appears in Acts 4:36, the last mention of him is in Acts 15:36-40 where he parts company with the apostle Paul.

Barnabas was a Jew from the island of Cyprus, he was also a part of the Jerusalem church (Acts 4:36-37). He helped Paul to be accepted by the church when no one believed that he truly was a Christian (Acts 9:26-28) and later served with him on the first missionary journey which began in Acts 13.

In this article I would like to call your attention to Barnabas’ activities in Acts 11. In Acts 11:23 we learn that he was sent by the church in Jerusalem to check out the new work that had begun in Antioch. People there were coming to Christ.

This was not anything new. Up to this point in Acts wherever the gospel went it bore fruit. There was fruit in Jerusalem, in Samaria, and in the house of Cornelius (Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1,7; 8:4-8,14; 10:44-48). The situation in Antioch was similar to what had taken place in the house of Cornelius in that some of those who had come to faith in Christ were Gentiles.

When Barnabas arrived in Antioch we are told what his reaction was. He saw evidence of the grace of God and he was glad (Acts 11:23). He recognized that what was happening there was a work of God, and he rejoiced in it. Now think about it for a minute.

Barnabas was a Jew and some of those who had come to Christ in Antioch were Gentiles. They were different than he was but he was happy about what God was doing among them. They were different from him in at least two ways.

First, they were ethnically different than he was. As Christians we need to be accepting of people who are not exactly like we are. They may have a different ethnic background, live in a different area, and perhaps also have different customs. As believers we need to rejoice with them when they come to Jesus.

Second, the new believers in Antioch were very likely different than Barnabas with regard to their spiritual maturity. He had been a believer longer than they had and yet but he welcomed them and rejoiced at what God had done (and was doing) in their lives.

Barnabas’ behavior corresponds exactly with a biblical directive. James, in his epistle, tells us that as Christians we are not to be partial, we are not to show favoritism (Jas. 2:1). The apostle Paul also tells us we are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). The things that might normally divide us in culture or society are done away with in Christ.

Barnabas, however, went further than being glad for them. He did not just see that they had come to Christ and say “good.” We are told he “encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (Acts 11:23 NIV).

What he did is in keeping with the meaning of his name (see Acts 4:36). Encouragement is something that all believers are to participate in (1 Thess. 4:18; Heb. 10:25). For some of us this may not come naturally, if that is the case then we need to be intentional about it.

That is, we need to make a conscious effort to encourage others. For plants to grow they need to be watered. New believers also need to be nurtured and one of the ways that this is done is through encouragement.

The importance of encouraging new believers cannot be overemphasized. When people come to Jesus they are now involved in additional conflicts. They are in conflict with evil spirits and with an unbelieving world.

The Lord will encourage them but He sometimes sends His encouragement through other believers. The spiritual gift of prophecy is one example of the way that He does it (1 Cor. 14:3), but He can also work through the prayers, kind words, and helpful instructions of other believers. Barnabas truly was “a good man who was full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11:24).

He was sent by the Jerusalem church to see what was happening in Antioch. He investigated and encouraged, but he went even further, he invested in these new believers. Verse 25 tells us that he went to Tarsus to find Saul (Paul) and the two of them stayed in Antioch for a year and instructed the new believers.

As good as things were in Antioch Barnabas knew that the new believers there were in need of additional instruction; they needed to be discipled. Making disciples is what Jesus commanded (Matt 28:19).

Barnabas took steps to ensure that the believers in Antioch would be, as Paul would later write, “rooted and built up” in their new faith (Col. 2:6 NIV). Barnabas is a positive example of how to do discipleship.

May God help all of us to participate in the strengthening of His church. May He cause us to affirm, encourage, and instruct others who are new to the faith, in order that they may reach their full potential and may, in turn, become disciplers of the next generation. The Lord desires that this be an ongoing practice in the body of Christ until He returns.

 


John P. Lathrop - United States

John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Western Connecticut State University, Zion Bible Institute, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME). He is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies and has twenty years of pastoral experience.

 

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