There is something we need to do for each other that becomes more and more important the closer we come to the Lord’s return. What is it? In fact, many of you reading this are badly in need of it. Some of you have looked for it desperately and found it in short supply. Yet it is something we all can and should do for each other—offer encouragement. “We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things. Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord is getting closer” (Heb. 10:24,25 CEV).
We need to encourage one another because life in this sin-cursed, sin-tainted world tends toward discouragement. Negative people can pollute our outlooks. Negative circumstances can squelch our enthusiasm and hope. These can easily strangle our spiritual lives. We live in a world of hurt, of stress, of disappointment, of tragedies and turmoil and adversity. When the circumstances of life come down on you like a flyswatter on a housefly, you need someone to come alongside, someone to encourage you. You need a “Barnabas.” Luke tells us that “Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth was also called (nicknamed) Barnabas by the Apostles, (which translated means ‘Son of Encouragement’)” (Acts 4:36).
When Saul of Tarsus was converted on his way to Damascus to persecute believers, he went to Jerusalem and “was trying to associate with the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26). It was Barnabas that came alongside of Saul and convinced the disciples that he was genuinely changed (v.27). When many became believers in the large city of Antioch, capital of the Roman province of Syria, word reached Jerusalem (300 miles to the south), and guess who they sent up to help out? Barnabas! (Acts 11:22). It was a highly explosive situation. The church was barely off the ground and it could be split down the middle between Jews and Gentiles. Barnabas, the “encourager,” had an uncanny ability for “untying knots.” Barnabas went to Tarsus to get his disciple Saul to come and help him (Acts 11:23-25). The church at Antioch eventually sent Barnabas and Saul back to Jerusalem with a collection to help out the needy living in Judea (vv. 29,30).
After returning to Antioch, Barnabas and Saul were commissioned by the church there (directed by the Holy Spirit) to go out as missionaries (Acts 13:1-3). Accompanying them was Barnabas’ cousin, John Mark (Acts 12:25 cf Col. 4:10), who ended up bailing out on them and heading back to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Later, when Paul suggested to Barnabas that they go back and revisit the churches established on their first missionary journey, Barnabas desired to take John Mark with them again and Paul said, “No way!” They couldn’t settle their disagreement so Paul took Silas and Barnabas took John Mark and they headed out as two teams! (Acts 15:36-41). Barnabas’ influence on his cousin through his ability to encourage helped build into John Mark’s life such that later when Paul was in prison in Rome, facing possible death, Paul wrote to Timothy and specifically asked for John Mark, saying, “Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful for service” (II Tim. 4:11).
What a blessing Barnabas, the “Son of Encouragement,” was to the early church and to its missionary outreach. What an encouragement he must have been to his cousin, John Mark, who ended up writing the Gospel of Mark. What an important role for each of us to be a “Barnabas” to someone, to come alongside of them and help them to have courage to “keep on keeping on” in this crazy world of discouraging things and circumstances. We can give encouragement through our words. Solomon wrote: “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Pr. 16:24). When I was pastoring, I received a number of very timely written notes of encouragement. They meant a lot to me and often played a key role in my remaining steadfast and not giving up. We can also be of encouragement to those who are distressed just by offering our presence and our listening ear—someone to come alongside and just be there and listen. We can offer encouragement too just by physical touch to let someone know we care about them—the “hands on approach!” There are many ways we can offer encouragement. The important thing is that we do it. People need it, and as the time of Christ’s coming draws closer, it is more needed than ever.
In His autobiography, L.O. Dawson told about a minister who died. At his memorial service, the church was filled to overflowing. Various speakers praised the virtues of their deceased pastor and friend. When it was Mr. Dawson’s turn to address the congregation, he affirmed the truthfulness of the gracious words that had already been spoken. But then he told the audience that if as many of them had been in attendance at the regular services of the church as were there at the memorial service, their pastor would still be alive. Dawson then made this shocking observation to the grieving parishioners: “Empty pews broke your pastor’s heart. He did not know of your love. He died for lack of the things you have today so beautifully said and done.” The story in Dawson’s book concluded with this convicting remark: “More preachers die from broken hearts than from swelled heads!”
May it be said of us as it was of Job: “Your words have helped the tottering to stand, and you have strengthened feeble knees” (Job 4:4). Don’t wait until somebody dies to express your love and respect. Offer words of encouragement now. Be a Barnabas to someone today, and thank God for the Barnabases He has brought into your life.