• Acts 11:19-30
We all know at least one of them—those individuals who seem to always be able to immediately see the bright side of any situation. Not only do they seem to be continually optimistic, but they also have the ability to spread that feeling to everyone they come in contact with. They are natural encouragers who seem to have been given a gift for raising anyone’s spirit.
Because everyone knows someone like this, many excuse their own lack of encouraging by claiming they do not have that gift. Yet throughout the Bible, anyone who claims to be a follower of God is called on to be an encouragement to others. While there are those who have a special gift of encouragement, no one is exempt from encouraging.
The book of Acts tells us about someone who clearly was a gifted encourager. His name is Barnabas, and he was known as the “son of encouragement.” My dad always said that with a reputation like that, Barnabas is easily the most underrated and underappreciated person in the Bible. As we study his story, we can learn a lot about the meaning and method of being an encouragement in the life of someone else.
Approach new Christians (Acts 11:19-22)
In the early days of the church, there was a significant debate over how the gospel should be presented to those who were not Jewish. Some within the church, especially those from Jerusalem and Judea, simply would not preach the Good News to Gentiles.
Yet as the message spread beyond the borders of Israel, many Greeks became believers. Jewish believers from those Gentile areas such as Cyprus and Cyrene began to tell their neighbors about Jesus. Perhaps it was because they were more comfortable around Greeks, having lived among them.
Whatever the reason, suspicion arose among the church leaders in Jerusalem concerning these Gentile converts, and they sent Barnabas to assess the situation. While their exact motives may be unknown, it seems significant that they chose to send one who was especially known as an encourager. Certainly these new believers would need encouraging. They had believed a message which called on them to have a distinctively different lifestyle than they had lived before. Such a change may well draw scrutiny or criticism from friends and family.
The same is true for many today. New believers often are uncertain about aspects of the Christian life. They often find it difficult to break away from old habits. They need more mature believers to come and support and encourage them and calm their uncertainties. God calls on each of his followers to be ready to encourage new Christians.
Affirm all Christians (Acts 11:23-24)
New believers are not the only ones who need encouragement. Verse 23 states Barnabas exhorted all who were there to remain faithful. Perhaps Barnabas could foresee there would be those who would come to call into question the salvation of the Greeks or would criticize the Jews’ method of sharing the gospel with Gentiles. Whatever his motive, Barnabas clearly understood there are times when even mature believers need to be affirmed. Later, in Acts 15:37-39, Barnabas would again demonstrate this by taking Mark with him even when it created a rift between him and Paul.
Believers today certainly need affirmation and encouragement. Remaining faithful in following God can be difficult with so many other voices seeking to draw us onto a different path toward happiness and fulfillment in life. Sometimes something as simple as a pat on the back or an unexpected phone call or even just a smile is all it takes to “spur one another on to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).
Help Christians serve (Acts 11:25-26)
Barnabas also knew these new believers needed more than his encouragement. They needed to be taught by someone who understood them. His first thought was Saul. It was Barnabas who had first taken Saul to the disciples in Jerusalem following Saul’s conversion (Acts 9:27). He knew Saul was a true believer and a gifted teacher. He also knew that even though Saul had been trained in strict Judaism, he knew how to “speak the language” of the Greeks. Finally, he knew that bringing Saul would not only encourage the new believers, but would be an encouragement to Saul as it gave him a place to serve.
Churches all across the world have believers who simply do not know where or how to serve. They may be unsure about their gifts and abilities and how those fit into the church. They may be unaware of opportunities to use their gifts. One of the greatest ways to encourage a fellow Christian is to help him or her plug into a specific ministry in which he or she can use their gifts in service. Doing so not only allows that person to grow through the experience, but encourages all those who are served through their service.
Show concern for Christians (Acts 11:27-30)
All Christian believers are part of a much larger family than most can even imagine. As such, we have the opportunity to be an encouragement not only to those we see daily, but also those we may never see.
When these new believers heard there would be a need among the believers in Judea, they immediately contributed to meeting the need. They gathered money and sent Barnabas to deliver it. They recognized that Barnabas was not only an encourager, but was also generous with his own resources (Acts 4:36-37). They knew that in addition to delivering the offering, he would also be a blessing to those in need through his words of support and concern.
Today, whenever there is any type of disaster anywhere in the world, hundreds of individual Christians and churches join to send people and materials in order to help. Jesus told us the world will know we are his disciples as we love one another (John 13:35). The most apparent demonstration of this is when we encourage others simply by showing concern for them.