Please turn with me in your Bibles to Acts chapter 4. We’re going to look at two verses there. In fact, we’re going to look at several passages in the book of Acts this morning, so you might want to keep your Bible open to the book of Acts, because I want to speak to you this morning on what we need to learn to be encouragers – being an encourager in this world and I will state my reasons why I think it necessary to speak to you on that this morning shortly. But let’s read Acts 4:36-37.
“Thus Joseph, who was also called by the Apostles Barnabas, which means son of encouragement, a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the Apostle’s feet.”
I don’t know how many of you people have heard the word ‘dis’ – to ‘dis’ somebody – ’dissing’. It’s a slang, so you see it’s mostly young hands going up. Well, the word ‘dis’ is slang and it means to treat with disrespect or contempt. It means to insult – it means to disregard – to discard – to ignore – to just treat with disrespect or contempt. And there’s so much of that going on in this world. Have you seen that? You watch the news channels and you see the political parties are always ‘dissing’ each other. That’s what you’re seeing. You see it in this country as well among the political parties. People are always ‘dissing’ each other. We live in a world where people show disrespect and contempt and it has this as a result: people are discouraged. That means to have your courage taken away, because to live in this world you need courage. I think every one of you knows that – you need that virtue that we call fortitude. That means the ability to show virtue in the midst of adversity and difficult circumstances. You need courage – you won’t get through this world without courage. You can have stuff, you can have wealth, you can have success – you can have everything in this world, but if you do not have courage you’re not going to make it. We were made to withstand certain really great difficulties – we’re made that way. And you need the courage to face the difficulties that come your way and you know that that’s a whole array of things. There are many things that come your way every day that you have to face that make you know that you need to eagle up, rise up above the turkeys and face what is ahead of you. Discouragement is rife in our society. Incidentally, I discovered this little fact yesterday. In Greek mythology do you know what they call the god of the underworld? ‘DIS!’ Now that’s the Greek Devil himself!
Now what is encouragement? What does that mean as opposed to discouragement? Encouragement is the expression of approval and support. You affirm a person – you make that person feel better about themselves in this world. I’m not saying you making them feel good in their sin. I’m saying you’re making them feel better about themselves in dealing with the things of this world. You let their courage rise up – you put courage inside of them – you make them feel like ‘yes, this is a giant that I need to slay, but I have some pebbles that I know how to swing!’ That’s what you do – that’s encouragement. And one of the great tragedies of our time is that there are so few kind people around. O, we have sweet and nice people around – very sweet and nice, but we have few truly kind people around. Have you noticed? And it’s a great tragedy. There are plenty of mean-spirited, hateful people. We’ve got plenty of the Dark Triad that they talk about in Psychology: Psychopaths, Narcissists and Machiavellians – the Dark Triad that give you 10 personality disorders the psychologists tell us and I love to read them when they speak, because it so confuses them. They can see the evil, but they cannot know what to do with it, and when they talk about it, it has less relevance than a bunch of nuns knitting. You need to go to the Word to find out what we do with all these mean-spirited people around us – hateful people! But there are few people who just take the time to be kind as a lifestyle. And I believe that this is how every child of God ought to be. Let your gentleness be known to all. We need to be kind people. If you and I are honest, we know that many people are opinionated, they’re self-centred, they are rude and sometimes just plain mean in their dealings with others. And that includes me. That should not be so – especially not among the Lord’s people.
So in these verses that I read in your hearing we are introduced to a man named Joseph, but he’s better known by this name: Barnabas. And when he appeared on the scene in the early days of the church, he stepped out of obscurity doing good and when he stepped out a few years later, he exited doing good as well. He was a kind man and we learn encouragement from Barnabas – that s the very meaning of his name – the son of consolation – the son who could console, who could tell people ‘I know you are having a tough time. I know you feel small. Here’s the reason: you are small, but you have a big God. I know you’re facing a big world that is much bigger than you are and you feel like it’s going to overwhelm you, but if you just look to God – if you just take one thing at a time – you can do this!’ It’s the kind of man Barnabas was. It’s the kind of men and women we ought to be. And I would like to take a quick look at the life of Barnabas and share with you why he earned the name ‘son of consolation’ or ‘son of encouragement’. Do you know that the word consolation comes from the same word that’s translated Comforter, which refers to the Holy Spirit? Is that interesting? It’s significant! It refers to one who comes alongside other people to give help and encouragement. His name was Joseph, but apparently he earned the reputation among the Disciples of Christ as one who was a helper and encourager of others, so they started calling him Barnabas – son of encouragement. We need sons and daughters of encouragement. So what do we learn from Barnabas? How did he express his encouragement? I want you to notice first of all with me that Barnabas was a man who always reached out – always looked beyond himself and always reached out. That was Barnabas: other people were more important to him than he was to himself. He always cared about others and you and I must also learn to reach out if we‘re going to be encouragers.
- Learn to Reach Out
We need to stop hiding away in our own little corners and start being concerned about other people. When I was a young boy, they had a song in Afrikaans: ‘Laat ons skyn vir Jesus soos ‘n helder glans, skitter soos die sterre aan die hemel trans. Is die wêreld donker, skyn dan, skyn!’ And I loved it that far, but this part I don’t like: ‘Jy in jou klein hoekie, en ek in myn.’ No, it’s not you in your little corner and I in mine – it’s all of us together, taking risks, placing ourselves in the face of jeopardy for the sake of the Lord’s people. And for the sake of a dying world. We need to come out of our nooks and crannies – the cracks that we’ve crawled into, grow a backbone, stand up and embolden the people of God in a world that’s fast going to hell! We need to do that – you and I – like Barnabas did! Stop fearing the world and its things more than you fear God! Rise up! Barnabas did. He put himself in harm’s way several times to get to those who were suffering greater adversity than he was. He learned to reach out.
a. He Encouraged the Desperate
Look how he encouraged the desperate in reaching out. Acts 9:26-27: ‘And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples and they were all afraid of him for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the Apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the Name of Jesus.’ He’s talking about Paul here. Paul had a reputation of persecuting the Lord’s people and now he got saved, he came to Jerusalem and he wanted to join the disciples. They were all afraid of him. They didn’t believe that he was a disciple. And look at Barnabas’ encouragement. Barnabas took him and brought him to the Apostles. Get the picture! Here’s a man – here is a brutal murderer – Saul of Tarsus – a brutal murderer – a mass murderer! And the Lord knocks him off his horse, the Lord saves him. Can you imagine what must have gone through his mind: the faces of those whose lives he’s taken – the faces of the children whom he had orphaned! And then he realizes ‘I was wrong! I was wrong! I can’t take that back! I can’t step back over those lines that I crossed and I’m in the face of Almighty God. And He sent His Son Jesus Christ who died for me on a cross! And now He’s called me! How do I even face His people?’ And when he came to Jerusalem, the disciples were afraid of him. They didn’t believe that he was a disciple. And I can imagine Paul walking away all dejected and thinking ‘Well, I deserve that – I worked hard for that. I can’t blame them. Maybe this is all a mistake.’ I don’t know what went through Paul’s mind, I’m just speculating. But knowing humanity, I know a little bit what I think would have gone through his mind. I know what would have gone through mine. I would not have been able to live with myself! And I can imagine him sitting somewhere and Barnabas coming to him and saying ‘Paul, come with me, come with me.’ And taking him to the Apostles and saying to them: ‘You know what? He saw the Lord – the Lord spoke to him. You know what happened afterwards? You should have heard this man speak the Name of Jesus! He’s a new man!’ I can imagine Paul just standing there and letting Barnabas speak for him – as though Paul ever had anybody necessary to speak for him – he did at that time! That’s what you do – you speak for people who can’t speak for themselves. When they need grace, you reach out like Barnabas reached out to Paul – you reach out – you encourage the desperate – and Paul was desperate!
b. He Encouraged the Disciples
Acts 11:19-24: ‘Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Steven travelled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose…’ You encourage the disciples – you’re glad when you see the grace of God. And what do you do when you’re glad to see the grace of God among God’s people? You tell them ‘you need to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose’. He did that for ‘…he was a good man full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.’
We need to encourage each other more too. We need to be glad when we see the grace of God among us. We need to sometimes more say to one another, ‘you know, I can see how the Lord is working in your life. I can see that you’re overcoming that depression, that desperation. I can see that you’re getting a hold of your anger. I can see that you subduing passions in you that ought not to be there. And that’s the work of the Spirit. Be steadfast in the work of the Lord. You’re walking along fine my brother, my sister. The Lord is at work in you. You hang in there.’ That’s how we need to encourage the disciples. So as one who reached out, he encouraged the desperate (Paul). He encouraged the disciples and he also encouraged the discouraged.
c. He Encouraged the Discouraged
Acts 15:36-40: ‘And after some days Paul said Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement,’ – must have been Baptists – ‘so they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.’
Now what we see is Paul, Barnabas and John Mark were together on a missionary journey, and for some reason John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. And now Paul and Barnabas are ready to go out again and Barnabas wants to take John Mark with them and give him a second chance. Paul disagrees and he and Barnabas, they part company, and Paul takes Silas and goes out with him, while Barnabas takes John Mark with him. He takes the discouraged one with him. That’s the one he takes, and he disappears from the biblical record. We don’t hear about him again. He takes the discouraged one with him. Who knows how famous Barnabas would have been had he rather just abandoned John Mark and said: ‘Yeah well you know, you dropped us – you let us down. I’m going with Paul and Silas.’ No ‘Paul, you take Silas there. Fine, great Apostle, take Silas with you. Hey John Mark, come with me brother – you and I.’ It’s what we need – you and I – to encourage the discouraged. We must learn to reach out.
- Learn to Reach Up
Acts 11:24a: ‘He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit.’ He did not only reach out, he reached up. He has an upward ministry. He doesn’t merely reach out to those around him, he also reaches up as he carries out the work of God that God has given him in this life. I want to show you a few things what he did. Barnabas furthered the work of God. He used his spiritual gifts and love for the Lord and the Lord’s people to see that the work of the Lord is carried out in this world. And he did several things in that.
a. He Promoted the Work of God
Acts 4:36: ‘Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas, a Levite, a native of Cypress, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the Apostles feet.’ You see how he promoted the work of God – he sold his field and took the money to the Apostles.
b. He Took Pleasure in the Work of God (Acts 11)
Remember when he saw the grace of God among these people, he was glad. He took pleasure in the work of God.
c. He Participated in the Work of God
An encourager is not just a talker, he’s a doer – he gets in there. He promotes the work of God. He takes pleasure and participates in the work of God. That’s what he went and did at Antioch. The lesson for us is obvious.
d. He Persevered in the Work of God
An encourager perseveres in the work of God – he never gives up. Paul and Barnabas fulfilled their ministry. Acts 13:1-3 tells us they stayed with the work until the work was finished. They persevered.
So we see these two things so far about Barnabas as an encourager. We see first of all that he reaches out, that he reaches up and we also see lastly that he reaches in – he looks inwardly as well.
- Learn to Reach In
There’s a ministry to self if you’re going to be an encourager to others. You cannot encourage others if you do not know how to encourage yourself or to be encouraged by God, because in the first and final analysis it’s not you who are doing the encouraging – it’s God by the Holy Spirit. You’re just a vessel, but if you’re not being encouraged by the Spirit, you cannot encourage others by the Spirit. Now, I want to tell you two things about how Barnabas reached inside of himself. He demonstrated Christ by his life and he displayed courage in his life.
a. He Demonstrated Christ
Acts 11:24: ‘He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.’ What makes you a good man – a good woman – to be full of the Holy Spirit and of faith? That’s what makes you a good person – to be full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. What happens then? ‘And a great many people were added to the Lord.’ This verse tells us that Barnabas was a genuine man of God. He had all the characteristics that marked him as being sold out and on fire for the Lord and his life served as an encouragement to holiness by being holy and blameless himself. Our lives should stand as an encouragement to lead others deeper into their walk with the Lord. We do that by getting ourselves as close to God as we possibly can, by His grace. When others see the Lord working in and through our lives they will be challenged and encouraged to seek the Lord for themselves and to become more like Him.
b. He Displayed Courage
Acts 13:49-52: ‘And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.’ Barnabas along with Paul – they were preaching the word of God and as a result persecution came against them and they were forced to leave town. And instead of being discouraged and quitting his many others would have done, they shook the dust from their feet and went on their way rejoicing elsewhere where God was taking them. And that stands as an encouragement to others who are going through battles in life. If the Lord closes one door to you He’s not closed life to you, He’s just closed the path to you. He’ll open another one for you. You have the duty to find it and with courage to walk it. Don’t give up when life smacks you in the face with whatever.
So what have we seen? There’s a lot of discouragement in this world. We need people who will be encouragers. In order to do that, you must learn to reach out – encourage those who are desperate, encourage the Disciples and encourage the discouraged. You must learn to reach up, further the work of God. That means you promote it, take pleasure in it, participate in it and persevere in it. And you must learn to reach in. You must demonstrate Christ by your life and display courage in this life. I looked at a little clip the other day from Jordan Peterson whom I respect in many ways, although we cannot take him to be a Christian. You know that this man, who must have an IQ of about 150 became addicted to benzodiazepines. He described that addiction as worse than death. And he nearly died. His daughter said to see this strong and brilliant man stumble around the house like a lost little cripple was the most horrific thing to see in her life – to see her dad like that. He came through it and spoke and said to people, ‘You know, we live in a world that is so discouraging. People need very little encouragement.’ We always think people need a lot of encouragement. Oh, you need to send them to a seminar or you need a send them on a course and send them to a counselor. They really need intense encouragement. He says, ‘listen to me, people need very little encouragement just a little bit – much less than you are able to give.’ ‘Hey man, it’s good to see you, you’re doing great. It’s great to worship the Lord with you. Hang in there. It’s going to be okay – things are going to pan out well. Don’t be too worried. Hey, come on man, just focus on today. Don’t be afraid of tomorrow – build with the bright of the present. Don’t break with the dark of the future. Hang in there, come on man. You know you’ve been there before and you got out of it. You will again. Come on, you want to have a cup of coffee? You know, the Lord loves you, the Lord loves me. I love you.’ How’s that for encouraging words? I love you, my brother! We need very little encouragement. You and I have come through times now – we need to pick each other up a little bit more. Take some time to notice – not just rush past each other and exchange niceties and platitudes. We must just look somebody in the eye. Just say what do I see? Maybe just say ‘hey, what’s wrong? You’re okay? Come on, man. It’s going to be okay. Come on my sister, it’s going to be okay.’ And you know what? When it comes to encouragers – when this thing is over, we’re bringing the hugs back. Amen? It takes very little to encourage someone. May the Lord make us in these days true encouragers!