Like Saul, each of us can be certain that, in God’s good time and in God’s good way, we will receive the help we need to find and pursue the purposes that God has for our lives—the help that we need to establish the work of our hands so that we can bless other people in the Promised Land. Often, God’s times and God’s ways are revealed through the life of a “Son or Daughter of Encouragement” such as Barnabas.
This blog is based on the chapter “Barnabas Encourages and Trains Paul”, first published in 2004 in my book Lighting the World.
A critical step in anyone’s career is finding a mentor to help them along. Saul’s mentor was Barnabas.
After Saul’s dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, Saul “[a]t once . . . began to preach in the synagogues [in Damascus] that Jesus is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). Indeed, Saul spoke so well that those against him “conspired to kill him” (Acts 9:23). Since his enemies “kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him” (Acts 9:24), Saul’s “followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall” (Acts 9:25).
Nevertheless, Saul was not welcomed at first by the church in Jerusalem. “When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple” (Acts 9:26).
The believers in Jerusalem remembered all too well that Saul had approved of stoning Stephen to death and that Saul had tried “to destroy the church [by] [g]oing from house to house [and dragging] off men and women and put[ting] them in prison” (Acts 8:1-3).
Fortunately, a believer named Barnabas was willing to give Saul a chance despite his past sins. The believers in Jerusalem were willing to trust Barnabas and listen to him because they already knew of his faithfulness and sincerity. For example, Barnabas had “sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:37).
Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus. His original name was Joseph. However, the apostles called him “Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement)” (Acts 4:36).
True to his “nickname,” Barnabas encouraged Saul. “Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles” (Acts 9:27). He vouched for Saul’s faithfulness and sincerity:
He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.
Again demonstrating the truth of his “nickname”—Son of Encouragement—Barnabas gave Saul’s career another big boost when he asked him to join with him in leading the church at Antioch.
The church at Antioch began when “those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch” (Acts 11:19).
The church at Antioch was unique at this time because it was the only church where many non-Jews became believers. In other places where those scattered by the persecution traveled, the believers were “telling the message only to Jews” (Acts 11:19). However, some “men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20).
The church at Antioch got off to a good start. “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21).
When “[n]ews of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, . . . they sent Barnabas to Antioch” (Acts 11:22).
We are not told why they chose Barnabas to go to Antioch.
Perhaps Barnabas was known to some of the leaders at the church in Antioch because he was from Cyprus and so were some of those who first told the Greeks in Antioch about Jesus. (Acts 4:36 & Acts 11:20).
Perhaps it was because the church at Jerusalem knew that this Son of Encouragement had exactly the right personality to encourage this new church at Antioch.
Whatever the reasons for his selection, Barnabas was certainly a good choice. “When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (Acts 11:23).
Barnabas lit the lives of others because his life was lit with integrity. We are told that “[h]e was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:24).
Perhaps because Barnabas felt he needed help to minister to the great number of people who were becoming believers, he “went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch” (Acts 11:25-26).
Barnabas encouraged Saul to develop the gifts God had given him.
“[F]or a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people” (Acts 11:26). I can’t help thinking that Saul took special joy in helping a church that was founded by people who fled Jerusalem because of the martyrdom of Stephen—a righteous man stoned to death with Saul’s approval and assistance.
Barnabas also encouraged Saul by giving him tasks of increasing responsibility and visibility.
For example, the church at Antioch decided to help the churches in Judea during a famine. They sent a “gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:30).
I can’t help thinking that Barnabas saw that this was the perfect way to heal any lingering distrust or dislike that the believers in Judea had for their former persecutor, Saul.
In God’s good time and in God’s good way, Saul was being trained by Barnabas to become a successful missionary to non-Jewish people.
“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26). In this church with believers from both Jewish and non-Jewish backgrounds, Saul must have learned much that helped him reach out so successfully to non-Jews for the rest of his life.
Like Saul, each of us can be certain that, in God’s good time and in God’s good way, we will receive the help we need to find and to pursue the purposes that God has for our lives—the help that we need to establish the work of our hands so that we can bless other people in the Promised Land.
Often, God’s times and God’s ways are revealed through the life of a “Son or Daughter of Encouragement” such as Barnabas.
Someone who recognizes the best place for us to minister to others.
Someone who lights our lives by their own integrity and example.
Someone who recognizes our gifts and encourages us to develop them.
Someone who wisely gives us tasks of increasing responsibility and visibility.
Someone who helps us overcome any lingering distrust or dislike that people may have for us because of our past sins.
Furthermore, each of us can be certain that, in God’s good time and in God’s good way, he will give us opportunities to help other people find and pursue the purposes that God has for their lives—to bless other people by helping them to establish the work of their hands in the Promised Land.
So always be looking for ways to help others by encouraging them and training them.
Always light other people’s lives by your own example of integrity and service.
Always be a Son or Daughter of Encouragement—a Barnabas.
QUESTIONS TO THINK ABOUT
Who has helped you find and pursue the purposes that God has for your life? How?
When have you helped others to find and pursue the purposes that God has for their life? How?
Who has lit your life through their integrity and example? How?
When have you lit someone else’s life through your integrity and example? How?
For related ideas, please read my blogs “Hesed Establishes the Work of Moses’s Hands—Mount Nebo”, “Timothy: A Good Teacher”, “Timothy: A Good Team Player”, “The Webb Space Telescope: Fashioning Each Mirror”, and “Forgetting, So We Can Press On!”.
I remember that a speaker during Spiritual Emphasis Week at Houghton College when I was a student spoke a series of sermons based on the life of Barnabas. The sermons described how well Barnabas encouraged others. And we were encouraged to become like him. (Spiritual Emphasis Week was a week of special revival meetings that was held early each semester at Houghton, featuring an invited speaker who spoke each night and in each chapel, and in a variety of small settings throughout the week.) These ideas from Spiritual Emphasis Week still encourage me to encourage others and to give them a helping hand as they find and pursue God’s purposes for their lives. And these ideas from those sermons that I heard about 50 years ago undergird my writings about Barnabas in my blogs and in my book Lighting the World.