Sometimes what appears to be the most simple commitments are the most complex commitments. It is easier to condemn than it is to encourage. It is easier to see the error in others than it is to see the worthwhile in others. There is always something wrong with all of us. "My" flaws are glaring to "you." However, what is commendable in "me" or "you" tends to be "ho-hum" to each of us. For many of us, it would be demanding (if not impossible) to commend actual strength for one week than it would be to criticize flaws for one week.
We have been trained by our society to criticize everything--the President, the Congress, business, the media, parents, kids, husbands, wives, non-spiritual programs, spiritual programs, the elders, the preacher, organized religion, etc. Nothing in our society is respected so much that it is beyond "the arms of criticism." In virtually everything we first look for the flaws, and we second criticize the imperfect. The first question usually is, "What is wrong with this?"
Please see in Barnabas how unusual it was for him to a be an encourager who looked for and saw the good, the possibility. The apostles named him the encourager or the exhorter. His given name was Joseph. He was a Levite who came from Cyprus. Evidently he owned some land near Jerusalem which he sold and gave the money to the apostles because he wished to help struggling Jewish Christians.
Who did this man encourage? Struggling Jewish Christians, Paul (Saul) who encouraged the deaths of Jewish Christians in the Jerusalem area, gentiles in Antioch who believed in Jesus Christ, Jews and gentiles on his and Paul's (Saul's) first missionary journey, and John Mark received his encouragement That is a strange mix! It was not characteristic of the mindset of Palestinian Jews of the first century! Barnabas (as well as Paul, Silas, and Timothy) did not represent the typical Jewish mindset. Barnabas saw good where it existed, even when it existed in unusual people.
Consider three examples. When Paul, the converted persecutor of Christians, appeared in Jerusalem sometime after his conversion, the Jerusalem Christians were afraid of him. They did not believe Paul followed Jesus Christ. Who could blame them? He was the man who had dragged men and women from their homes in Jerusalem to put them in prison (Acts 8:1-3). Some of those Christians likely lost family members as a result of Paul's (Saul's) hatred of Jewish Christians prior to his conversion to Jesus Christ. He had been a dangerous man in Jerusalem! Why should they believe in his conversion in Damascus (another country)? Perhaps this was just a trick! Perhaps he just wanted to get into the Jerusalem Christian community to do more damage!
It was in this atmosphere of distrust in the Jerusalem Christian community that Barnabas had the courage personally to bring Paul (Saul) to the apostles, to vouch for the genuineness of his conversion to Jesus Christ, and to declare the boldness with which Paul spoke for Jesus Christ in other places. The result? Barnabas provided Paul the right to move freely in the Christian community and in Jerusalem, the right to speak boldly for Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, and the right to confront the Hellenistic Jews (who were formerly his allies).
When the Hellenistic Jews plotted Paul's death, the Jerusalem Christian community escorted him (for his own protection) to the coast and sent him home to Tarsus. What an astounding declaration and display of Christian fellowship! The man who brought arrest and death to many Christians in Jerusalem was provided safety (likely at their own expense) by the congregation he formerly hurt prior to his conversion. Jesus Christ taught them to do good, and they did good to the Christian Paul.
Things to note: (a) Barnabas took Saul to the apostles. (b) In an atmosphere of distrust, Barnabas vouched for Saul's genuineness. (c) Saul could do what he did in Jerusalem because Barnabas saw Saul's potential. (d) It took great courage to see what other Christians could not see!
Second, Barnabas did the same thing in Antioch of Syria in the first known gentile congregation. The church in Jerusalem sent him to Antioch. When Barnabas saw what was happening among the gentiles, he "rejoiced" and "encouraged then all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord." Do you realize how unusual it was for a Jew from Jerusalem to rejoice at anything happening among gentiles? Why did he do it? He was a good man filled with the Holy Spirit and faith (that Jesus was the Christ).
Third, to be an encourager is dangerous! The encourager saw potential in John Mark like he saw in Saul. Barnabas saw potential; Paul saw a quitter. The result: Paul and Barnabas argued, Paul and Barnabas split (best friends split!), and two mission teams formed. 2 Timothy 4:11 would indicate the potential Barnabas saw was real.
For Thought and Discussion
Link to Teacher's Guide
previous lesson |table of contents | next lesson