Encouragers. Hopefully, you’re blessed to have one in your life.
I’m not talking about the incurable optimist for whom life must always be served sunny-side-up. Nor do I mean the person who seems compelled to douse every negative emotion with a bucket of cheer. I’m talking about people who know how to bring out the best in people, the ones who energize a room just by walking into it.
Joseph, it seems, was that kind of person. He was a follower of Jesus, a Levite born on the island of Cyprus. When he came to Jerusalem, he earned a reputation for having a gift for encouraging others. So they gave him a nickname: Barnabas, “son of encouragement.”
The name stuck. It’s a heck of a lot better than being known as Gloomy Gus.
As we’ve seen in previous posts, the spontaneous spread of the gospel among the Gentiles caught Jewish believers by surprise, especially in Jerusalem. When they heard what happened with Peter in Caesarea, they called him to account for his actions. For the time being, they accepted the conversion of Cornelius and the giving of the Holy Spirit as the will of God, but readers of Acts know that the issue will come up again and again.
Similarly, when the Jewish believers in Jerusalem received reports of a major outbreak of Gentile converts in the metropolis of Antioch, they had to send someone to investigate:
When the church in Jerusalem heard about this, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw evidence of God’s grace, he was overjoyed and encouraged everyone to remain fully committed to the Lord. Barnabas responded in this way because he was a good man, whom the Holy Spirit had endowed with exceptional faith. A considerable number of people were added to the Lord. (Acts 11:22-24, CEB)
The unnamed believers who started the evangelistic movement in Antioch had come from Cyprus and Cyrene. Barnabas, a Cypriot by birth, was therefore the logical choice to go. He may even have volunteered for the job.
Barnabas, Luke tells us, was a “good man” — the only person in the book of Acts to be described that way. Like other believers before him, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and a man of great faith. But Luke also seems to single him out for his reaction to the situation in Antioch. In contrast to those who seemed wary of these new developments, Barnabas saw the conversion of the Gentiles as an act of divine grace, and rejoiced. He threw himself into the work of encouragement, and the number of converts grew.
Barnabas, apparently, was also a wise and humble man, who knew when he needed to recruit someone to help with the burgeoning new church. As we’ll see, he decided to go find his friend, Saul of Tarsus.
For the moment, however, think of those who have been an encouragement to you in your faith. What could you do to encourage them in return?