Kind words do not cost much. They never blister the tongue or lips. They make other people good-natured. They also produce their own image on men’s souls, and a beautiful image it is.
– Blaise Pascal
Every spoken word, every action we take, effects another person. We either affect somebody positively or we affect negatively. Even many neutral actions, since they don’t affect another in a positive way, can be considered negative. We label ourselves as either an optimist who sees the glass half full, or a pessimist who sees the glass half empty. Or as an engineer, who sees the glass as excessively sized for the application.
Some Christians look at the people around them and find fault with them. *They* gossip too much, they only hang around with their friends; they don’t serve like they should. Other believers seem to have a good word for everyone they meet. Which type of person do you like to be around? Which type of person are you?
If we’re critical of others, we make excuses for our behavior. I don’t feel good. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. It’s just the way I am. God made me this way. Or, they’re just out to get me. They deserve it. Or we hide our criticism behind the phrase, “bless their heart.” You can say the absolute meanest, despicable things about somebody as long as you add the phrase, “bless their heart” to it. “He’s just a blathering idiot, bless his heart.” “She’s a wicked gossip who smells bad and dresses like a vagrant, bless her heart.”
Why do we do this? Like many sins, this one, too, is based on pride. *We* are better than them. If they don’t know that, then we can drag them down and push ourselves up by criticizing them. We think so highly of ourselves that we don’t consider the other person’s feelings before we open our mouths.
That’s not God’s plan for us. God wants all His children to encourage and lift one another. Proverbs 10:10-11,
He who winks maliciously causes grief,
and a chattering fool comes to ruin.
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.
And Hebrews 3:13,
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
What day is it? That’s right, it’s Today. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. And 1 Thessalonians 5:11,
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
And Ephesians 4:29,
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Ok, so does God want us to encourage one another? Who can guess the answer to that question?
Today we’re going to study Acts 11 starting in verse 19 about a great encourager. This is a difficult time for the early church; the early Jews preaching the gospel were persecuted by Herod. Stephen had been stoned to death, and the early Christians were scattered. There was some confusion around this time about the good news of the gospel and who could receive it.
Then Peter has a vision. In Acts 11:1-3,
The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
Criticism is everywhere; here, early believers are criticizing Peter, one of the original 12 Apostles. I can imagine them saying, “Well! He may have traveled and listened to Jesus for 3 years, but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Why, just the other day, he was eating with so-and-so, you know, that ‘gentile’. He calls himself a follower of Christ but you sure can’t tell by the way he’s behaving.”
As a devout Jew, entering the house of an unclean gentile under Jewish Law would cause Peter to become unclean, a fact other Jews pointed out to him. But Peter has a vision, and in verse 4, Peter tells them about this vision. He repeats it “precisely” to them; he saw a sheet coming down from heaven, and inside were four-footed animals, and a voice from the Lord saying, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
Peter’s initial response indicated Jewish thinking; he cannot eat those animals because Jewish law forbids it. “Surely no, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth!” And the Lord responds, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
When we study God’s word, we often stop right there and think that God’s message is that it’s ok to eat pork. Or shellfish. Or… scorpions. Or whatever. And indeed, the scripture tells us this. When you couple this vision with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17), “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them,” we can also conclude that we are not bound by the Old Testament laws because Jesus completed them. We are free in Christ.
But for Peter, the vision he received also addresses the salvation of gentiles. Gentiles are also made by God. Gentiles are non-Jews, not part of God’s chosen people. Gentiles can also be made clean by God. The Holy Spirit came upon some gentiles in Acts 11:15-18,
“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”
When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”
In verse 19, after the stoning of Stephen, the early Christians scattered but continued to preach. Those that went to Phoenicia, Cypress and Antioch taught only to Jews. Other early Christians from Cyprus and Cyrene also went to Antioch, but began to teach the gentiles, the Greeks. The early church began to grow rapidly. Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the early church there began to hear of the conversion of gentiles in Antioch. Verse 22-24,
News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 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. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Barnabas is a great example of the Christian God wants us to be. In Acts 4:34-37, scripture introduces us to this man.
There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
His given name was Joseph, but the early church gave him the nickname “Barnabas”. A complete reading of the word “barnabas,” gives a more complete picture of his name. Barnabas means –
- Son of encouragement
- Son of prophecy
- Son of refreshment
- Son of comfort
- Son of consolation
- Son of preacher
In Hebrew names, the prefix “bar-” meant “son of.” For instance, in Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah.” It meant “Simon, son of Jonah.” If Jesus had said, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Smith & Wesson,” that could also mean “blessed are you Simon, you son of a gun.”
The selection of Barnabas by the early church was a wise decision. Barnabas is described in glowing terms in verse 24. He is the only man in Acts called “good.” He is “full of the Holy Spirit” and “full of faith.” And then Barnabas gives 3 examples of who we are to encourage. First, by going to Antioch to share the gospel with gentiles in verses 19-22, Barnabas encourages new Christians. These new Christians came not from Jewish backgrounds, but from pagan backgrounds. It is because of this encouragement that (verse 21) “the Lord’s hand was with them and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”
Why do new Christians need encouragement?
- May have zeal and happiness, but not knowledge of scripture
- May fall into old secular habits easily
- If not welcomed, may seek inclusion elsewhere
We can definitely encourage new Christians by assuring them that God is at work in their lives, that God loves them and gave His son for them. We can encourage new Christians, not by looking at what they are doing wrong, but by affirming the positive qualities they have and the positive actions they do. We must approach them in love, not criticism or condescension.
I look at these early Christians, the aggressive evangelism they do to spread the Word, and the persecution they endured, and compare it to the safety and comfort of our modern church. We’re coddled by Christianity, but it’s the suffering of the early Christians that produced the hope and character of zealous Christians. I once heard it said that they did so much with so little, while in our modern comfortable lives, we do so little with so much.
Another person Barnabas encouraged was Saul. Verse 25-27,
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
Saul wasn’t exactly a new Christian; Saul was an educated Pharisee, a very devout Jew who had persecuted the Christians until Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. When Saul converted to Christianity, there was a lot of suspicion about him. After all, Saul was a witness to the stoning of Stephen; how could this man be so changed after his encounter with Jesus?
Barnabus went specifically to search for Saul and bring him to Antioch and together they helped grow the early church there. This was not the first time Barnabus had encouraged Saul; in Acts 9, immediately after Saul’s conversion, the Jews conspired to kill him and Saul tried to join the early church. But the Christians there were afraid of him and distrusted him. Then Acts 9:27, “But Barnabas took Saul and brought him to the apostles.”
Saul became Paul and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit wrote most of the New Testament, including the letter to the Hebrews, verse 3:13, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today.” While we think of Paul has an incredible teacher, how much of Paul’s writing can be attributed to the encouragement and joy of Barnabas?
Why do established Christians need encouragement?
- Initial zeal of forgiveness fades, tempted by world
- The stronger the Christian, the more Satan steps up his attacks
- Like Paul, Christians we encourage may contribute to God’s work in ways we could never imagine
It says here in Acts 11:26 that the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. Here’s the rabbit trail for this week; up until this time, followers of Christ had sort of an identity crisis. For a while in Acts 1 through 4 they were called “believers”. In Acts 5, they referred to themselves as the church, and then in Acts 6 they called themselves disciples and then brothers. In Acts 9, they called themselves “The Way,” I assume because Jesus called himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. They also called themselves the Lord’s people in Acts 9, the Followers in Acts 17, and the Flock in Acts 20. But it was here in Acts 11 that followers of Christ were first called Christians.
So back to Barnabus; he’s encouraged new Christians, he’s encouraged experienced Christians, and now Acts 11:23 it says Barnabus encouraged all of them, the entire church of Antioch. So Barnabus has shown by his example we are to encourage new Christians, established Christians, both individually and in groups. Did we miss anybody?
Acts 11 ends on a note that a severe famine began to spread throughout the Roman worlds, and in verse 29-30,
“The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.”
Barnabus’ encouragement was not limited to words; he also encouraged them by his acts of service. There are many ways of providing encouragement; here’s a list called “8 Simple Ways to Encourage Others”
- Take an interest. I believe this is one of the most effective ways of encouraging others. Show that you’re interested in what they’re doing. Get them talking. People like to talk about themselves and once you get them talking, you fire up their enthusiasm.
- Acknowledge what’s important. When you acknowledge what’s important to another, you provide validation about who they are and what they’re doing. Whether we admit it or not, each of us craves acknowledgement. Affirmation fuels confidence and self-esteem.
- Acknowledge a job well done. Worthwhile accomplishments take time and effort. You can encourage by acknowledging someone’s effort. A simple “well done” or “thank you” can have a strong effect, which can make the difference between going on or giving up.
- Show your appreciation. It’s common courtesy. Thank someone when they do something for you. Thank your partner after they cook a nice meal. Thank a friend for lending you a book. A simple thank you lets others know what they have done is meaningful to you.
- Return the favour. If someone does something nice for you, show your appreciation by returning the favour. This should not be seen as an obligation, nor as a contest. You’re not trying to top the other’s contribution, but to express what their actions mean to you.
- Do something unexpected. This is a step beyond returning the favour. Respond with something unexpected: out of the blue. Such a response has a strong impact and can reach others at an emotional level.
- Ask for advice or confide in them. Haven’t you felt important when someone asked for your advice or confided in you about something important? Didn’t you find you were energised and eager to help. Taking someone into your confidence can motivate them to show your faith in them is well founded.
- Lend a hand. Waiting for someone to ask you for advice is passive. You can take the initiative by offering to lend a hand. If a person sees you are willing to commit your time and energy to their interests, they will be more committed to seeing it through and less likely to give up.
What about you? Are you an encourager? Do uplifting words come from you, or do words of condescension and criticism come from you? Are you a Barnabas? Or are you a barnacle?
Let’s keep in mind that all Christians need encouragement. For new Christians, simply going to them and offering help is encouraging. For maturing Christians, we can encourage them by affirming their good work and character and helping them apply their spiritual gifts in service to the Lord. For all Christians, just being concerned about them and helping them is encouraging.
Nicole Johnson, a Christian author and encourager herself, wrote
“Encouragement is to a friendship what confetti is to a party. It’s light, refreshing, and fun, and you always end up finding little pieces of it stuck to you later.”
Let’s go be encouraging confetti to someone today.
To God be the glory.