August 12, 2018


"Be an Encourager" - Acts 4:36-37

 - many of you will recognize the name Barnabas from the Bible; you will recall him as being someone we're told about in the book of Acts; we're introduced to him in Acts 4:36-37 (read); for a time, he was a missionary companion of Paul's; but Barnabas wasn't his real name or his given name; his real name was Joses or Joseph; & Joseph was a fine Hebrew name - nothing wrong with it; it would've been considered honorable to have the same name as Jacob's son - the OT Joseph - the one who stayed true to God in spite of his brothers' betrayal - in spite of being sold into slavery & being falsely accused & thrown into prison; Joseph was the one who became a high ruler in Egypt & whom God used to save his family from being wiped out by the famine - saving the ones who would become the people of Israel; so Joseph was a good name to have; but the apostles gave Joseph a nickname; they called him Barnabas; why? Because Barnabas meant "son of encouragement"; & that was a good description of this man; he was an encourager

- what kind of nickname might the people who know us tend to give to us? son or daughter of what - based on our character & attitude? Something to think about; would it be something good & positive, or would it tend to be something more negative - something we might even be embarrassed to be known as? There might even be some who could be better described as the opposite of a Barnabas - the son of discouragement - the daughter with a sharp tongue - or something else along those lines

- would we be or are we known as an encourager? Some may argue that being an encourager isn't all that important, or at least not as important as some other characteristics we could be known by; maybe you prefer being known as a son of truth - or a daughter who tells it like it is - or a son with a prophetic voice - or a daughter who admonishes & corrects others; but I don't believe being an encourager excludes us from standing for truth or offering correction or rebuke when needed; we shouldn't think of an encourager as someone who ignores reality or truth & is constantly giving a pep talk or pointing out the positive side of things, while ignoring the reality of the negative side; we're not talking about being like the mom who encourages her daughter to keep singing even though she has no talent or ability & who tells her daughter that the experts who just rejected her from that TV reality show have no idea what they're talking about; we're not talking about the folks who ignore success & achievement, who don't keep score & give out trophies for participation, declaring everyone to be winners; we're talking about encouraging others based on truth - it might include thanking them or praising them for who they are or what they've done, but it might also include recognizing their shortcomings & correcting them & encouraging them to do better

- an encourager doesn't just criticize & tear down; an encourager builds up; the world is full of critics today; no matter what you say or do, someone out there will find something wrong with it; social media is full of critical people - people who will find something negative to say about whoever happens to be in the public eye at the moment; a person can do something good & charitable, & there are those who will find something wrong with it; someone gets into the spotlight for some good reason, but then there are those who search for & bring out comments that person posted or "liked" back when they were teens & rakes them over the coals for it; some people's mission & purpose in life seems to be to tear people down or to be critical of everything & everybody

- & we need to be careful of falling into that pattern as a follower of Christ; there's much to be critical about in our world today; there's much that needs correcting; there's falsehood & deception that needs to be exposed; but we still need encouragers too; in living in today's world, we need to be careful that we don't allow ourselves to become harsh & critical, & lose the qualities of love & being an encourager

- our daughter, Shannon, sent us a video this week of her working with our grandson, Bennett, trying to get him to crawl; he's getting close now; she would help him get up on his hands & knees, & he'd start rocking & almost scooting himself at times; but the whole time his mom was behind him, encouraging him, telling him he was doing a good job, sometimes saying, "Go, baby, go", & in other ways spurring him on; & when he'd flop down, she'd help him get back up to try again; Shannon was the picture of being an encourager to her little boy; & he would look back at her for her approval & give her a big smile as she praised him (which might be another message I'll write about in my newspaper column for this week); Shannon didn't scold him for not crawling yet; she didn't yell at him or spank him when he plopped down; she just patiently kept encouraging him; an encourager

- if you look thru Paul's letters to the churches, they're full of encouragement; yes, there are rebukes too - & issues that Paul needed to deal with & correct; but there are prayers of thankfulness, commendations, & assurances that Paul was praying for them & other words of encouragement scattered throughout those letters too; & go back & look at Jesus' life & words as well; He wasn't afraid to call someone a snake or to rebuke a hypocrite; but He also was an encourager - to the woman caught in adultery, to ones who came for healing, to the multitudes who were like sheep without a shepherd, & to His own disciples

- the Bible, especially in Proverbs & James, talks about the power of the tongue & of our words; it can be a powerful weapon to wreak destruction; but it can also be a powerful tool for good - for building up rather than destroying; it all depends on how we use it; yet the Bible also talks about how difficult it can be to tame the tongue or keep it under control; that's why we need to yield it to God; the Bible talks about our need to yield the members or different parts of our bodies to the Lord - to surrender them to His will & place them under His control; that song we sing - Take my life & let it be consecrated Lord to Thee - goes through & spells out some of those; it says "take my hands & let them move at the impulse of Thy love...take my feet & let them be swift & beautiful for Thee"; but it also says, "take my voice & take my lips" - to "sing always, only for my King" & to be "filled with messages from Thee"; but consecrating our tongues to God isn't just about singing Christian songs or preaching a message from a pulpit; it can be about refraining from cutting down people or saying hurtful words; & on the positive side, it can be about letting God use our mouths & words to lift up others & to encourage them

- we may have a hard time controlling our tongues; but God can do it, if we'll surrender that issue to Him; but at the same time, we need to look beyond just changing what we say or how we say it; we need to realize that what comes out of our mouths reflects what's in our hearts; Jesus pointed that out - He said in Matthew 15:18 - that those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart; when we're having problems with our tongue, we need look at doing more than changing what we say or how we say it; we need to look deeper inside & ask God to change our hearts - because that's where those words are coming from; if impure things are coming out of the mouth, it indicates an impurity in the heart; if harsh, unloving things are coming out of our mouth, it suggests some bitterness or wrong attitude in the heart that needs to be addressed; & so in order to be more of an encourager, we may need to pray for God to change our heart, not just our pattern of speech; we may need Him to fill our hearts with more love & compassion - or with more grace & patience toward others - or with more concern for their spiritual wellbeing; we may need Him to cleanse us of some negative attitudes; let's not just seek to say better & more encouraging things, but let's ask the Lord to work in our hearts to make us encouragers - to give us more of that spirit & attitude; as we change inwardly - as our attitude changes - the words will change & become more encouraging too

- but being an encourager isn't just about what we say; that's a big part of it; but we can encourage others through our actions as well as our words; let's look a little more closely at Barnabas; we don't see Barnabas giving a lot of pep talks; but what we do see is how he encouraged others through his actions

- after Saul or Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus & became a believer, he eventually went to Jerusalem & tried to join in with the other disciples there; but they knew Paul was the one who had been so enthusiastically persecuting the Christians; so they were afraid of him & they didn't believe he had really become a follower of Jesus; maybe they thought he was just using this as a means to infiltrate their group & find out who all the believers were so he could have them arrested; but then along came Barnabas; it says in Acts 9:27, "But Barnabas took him & brought him to the apostles"; & then Paul was able to tell them about his conversion experience & they were more ready to accept him; if it had not been for Barnabas the encourager - someone who was willing to stand up & help out this guy others were suspicious of & looked down on - we might not have had Paul & his subsequent ministry; Paul might have just slipped off into the background if not for an encourager standing by him & helping him out

- after Paul's life was threatened, he was sent back home to Tarsus, about 300 miles away; again it would have been easy for him to have been forgotten; but after some time it tells us in Acts 11:25 that Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul; & when he found him, he brought him to Antioch where they ministered together for the next year; Barnabas went looking for Saul; he didn't forget about him; he didn't let Saul slip thru the cracks & be lost; maybe there are some people around whom we need to seek out - some people others have forgotten about - some people easy to neglect & ignore; but maybe God wants us to be an encourager who will reach out to those people & let them know that they're not forgotten & they have a place in God's kingdom & in His service

- another incident in which we see Barnabas' character as an encourager comes out is when he & Paul got into a squabble about taking John Mark with them on their missionary journey; for some reason Mark had bailed out on them in the middle of their last trip; so Paul didn't think he was reliable enough to take with them again; however Barnabas once again stood up for the one being looked down on & insisted that they give him another chance; & you may remember it ended up with Barnabas & Paul going separate ways, Barnabas taking Mark with him & Paul teaming up with Silas

- I don't know that we can say who was right or wrong in that debate; Paul was more concerned about the work & that it not be compromised or hindered; but Barnabas the encourager was more concerned about this individual; he wasn't ready to cast him aside; & in the long run Mark proved himself again, even to Paul; later in a couple of his letters, Paul refers to Mark in a positive way & even says that he's useful to him in the ministry; so Mark redeemed himself, but only because an encourager gave him a chance

- there are people around us who need someone to stand up for them, to give them a chance even though they may have messed up in the past; I'm not suggesting that we be na´ve or foolish or reckless in whom we trust; there are times when people have proven their inability to be trusted more than once & we need to learn from it; but there are also times when we need to give people an opportunity in spite of their past failings; sometimes they need someone to stand up for them, to believe in them, to just give them a chance; they need an encourager - they need a Barnabas

- how might God want you to be more of an encourager? For some us that isn't our natural tendency; we may tend to keep to ourselves or to keep quiet; others may tend to be vocal but to be critical; but God can change us from the inside out & help us to be better in this area of encouraging others; let's pray for God to change our hearts - to give us the concern & love we need to have for others - to show us what we can say & do to encourage & build up those around us who need it - to show us people who need someone to stand with them or to give them another chance - people whom others may have rejected or neglected; what can you do to be an encourager? who needs you to be their Barnabas today? is there a Saul or Mark who needs you to stand up for them & support them?