Very soon, Barnabas’ encouragement finds another outlet, another opportunity. We see, in Acts 11, that Barnabas begins to encourage a baby church. A few people don’t wait for the apostles to send them or tell them what to do, they run because of persecution and when they arrive in Antioch they begin to share the Gospel. They don’t wait for headquarters to instruct them, they get on with it. Then, in verse 22 the apostles hear of what’s been happening, people are becoming Christians and a church is beginning to form:
“The reports 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. He exhorted them to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose. . .” (That’s the definition of encouragement) ” . . .for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.” (Acts 11:22-24.)
Barnabas here still has no job title, no position; but he is described as a trustworthy man. He also happens to be of the same nature, the same birth as this new group of believers. So the Jerusalem Apostles sent him to be their representative and to encourage this new church. Notice how he is described here: He is not full of himself like some people are, but he’s full of the Spirit and the Faith. Are you full of yourself, or are you full of Jesus?
What can we learn from this whole story, this whole episode? Well, first of all, we can learn not to always rely on our leaders to take the initiative. Sometimes people say “The church should be doing this”; “The church should be doing that”. But actually the Spirit guided these people through circumstances, and they just gossiped the gospel. People became Christians.
But here’s another thing, don’t assume that just because God’s hand is on you -Maybe God has begun to bless you, maybe a few people are becoming Christians – or some sort of fruit is happening in your ministry, don’t therefore assume that you’ve got it all sorted, that you don’t need any help. Seek out the help and advice of leaders.
When Barnabas came he added something into the mix. Barnabas came into this church and more blessing came. It said that many people came to know Jesus as a result. And that wasn’t just because Barnabas came and preached, it was because Barnabas encouraged that new church. Just one person with the gift of encouragement can dramatically change a whole church. What do these people do- these encouragers? They look for the evidence of the grace of God and they blow on it. When he saw the grace of God, he wasn’t jealous, he wasn’t a killjoy, he just blew on it. He inspired them to be faithful to the Lord. That’s what we need, isn’t it? We each need that, actually. And the truth is this: You and I need encouragement, but we can also give encouragement.
In the very next verse, what do we see? We see that Barnabas realizes there is an opportunity to encourage somebody else. And what does he do? It says he went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. And for a whole year they met with the church and taught to a great many people. What does he do? He encourages an emerging leader. Why does he get Paul? For two reasons: One, because he wants to develop Paul, he can see the gift in him, he sees that he needs an opportunity to learn how to serve but also because Barnabas recognizes he needs some help. He can’t do this on his own. He doesn’t think, “Oh great, this is my opportunity, I’ve got my own church now.” He thinks, “I need some help.”
If we believe Barnabas was a prophet, and I think he was, we now see that prophets help release other leaders. And if you have a role in church, maybe I’m speaking to some small group leaders here, you should be looking for someone who can fill that role. So perhaps you can do something else so that more ministry can happen. Or maybe your role is to encourage someone who will be able to do something that you never will be able to do. John Piper said “Barnabas was a maker of leaders.” You may never be a great leader. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could encourage someone who perhaps will do more than you ever will.
Barnabas will in fact from now on in his life, from this time on, will forever be defined by his relationship with Paul. And we can learn a lot from this relationship. It’s a remarkable relationship. Many so-called prophetic people are proud of being loners. They don’t connect with anyone. They feel “I’m an oddball; I don’t fit in.”. Not this one. Barnabas was not a loner. And I would ask you this morning, if you’re listening, who do you relate to? Who are you getting help from? Dare I say it, who are you offering help to? I would urge you, get involved in small groups. Don’t just sit here on a Sunday morning, week in, week out, and receive all this teaching, and enjoy the worship. No, get stuck into your small group life. Get stuck into the mid-week services, come for the prayer meetings. Learn how to be encouraged and how to encourage others.
To be continued