Paul & Barnabas: Encouragement
Topic: New Testament Passage: Acts 11:19–11:24
Introduction – Series
Read Acts 11:19-24
Good morning! We’ve wrapped up a 17 week series on the book of Colossians. The last two sermons ended the series with a strong call to evangelism and mission. This has been timely in the life of our church after a fall of recovering from the birth of Communion Church we are now into a new year, a new season, with the same mission to make disciples of all nations starting with our own communities. To better understand our mission it’s important to be reminded who we are and what we strive to be as a church. Rather than going through our Core values of Gospel Truth, Gospel Community, and Gospel Living, we’re going to focus on the life of Paul and his relationships with different people. This series is going to follow Paul’s life chronologically from his conversion, to his first Biblical letter written, through his gospel treatise, and ending with his final letter to Timothy. This week we’re going to look at Paul’s relationship with a guy named Joseph, who was nicknamed Barnabus, and how their relationships shows us how we should encourage each other in community, fight our sin, grow in maturity, and carry out the mission of the Gospel.
Who is Paul?
The story of Saul/Paul, is the story we’ve chosen to identify our church with. Saul was a young, smart zealous Jewish religious leader. He was also a Roman citizen which put him in the unique position of having status in both the Jewish and Roman worlds. To the early church in Jerusalem he was a religious terrorist who was so zealously opposed to the spread of Christianity and the Gospel of Jesus that he actively arranged and presided over the public execution of Stephen, a prominent chruch leader. In fear, and God’s providence, many Christians fled Jerusalem to other cities, including Damascus and Antioch. As the Christians scattered, preaching the Gospel, Saul was determined to hunt them down and either imprison or kill them. As Saul led a crew towards Damascus He had an encounter with Jesus that changed his life, and the life of the church, forever. Meeting Jesus he was changed so dramatically, so comprehensively, he went from going to Damascus to meet with the leaders of the synagogues to persecute Christians, and instead engaged with the synagogues preaching Jesus as the Christ and Son of God. On one road trip Saul went from Al-Qaida cell leader to Christian preacher and debater. While the Christians in Damascus were relieved that they weren’t going to haul back to Jerusalem and killed, the Jewish leaders were not big fans of Saul as a preacher and after a few years they plotted to kill him. Saul/Paul gets out of Damascus and goes to back to Jerusalem.
Read Acts 9:26-30
3 years after leaving Jerusalem to kill Christians, Paul’s back in his old stomping grounds. Problem is he can’t go back to his old gang since they’re still set on persecuting the church and the disciples are not exactly welcoming him with open arms because the last time the saw him he was presiding over the execution of their friend and deacon Stephen. Enter Barnabas.
Who is Barnabas?
We first meet Barnabas back in Acts 4. His real name is Joseph, one of early church’s first members, and he sold all his property and gave the money to the church so the apostles called him Barnabas which means Son of encouragement. For a young set of pastors, who were now leading a church of a few thousand people they must have been pretty encouraged to have a guy sell everything to support the work of the Gospel. We know from 1Cor 9 that Barnabas was unmarried. Encouragement, particular seeing value in people where others do not, would define Barnabas life and ministry. Here in Acts 9, when Paul is undoubtedly ostracized from his former religious group and the church is fearful to embrace him it’s Barnabas that takes the risk to reach out to Paul and bring him before the apostles. I can only imagine the apostles, who loved Barnabas had a little “Oh no, here goes Barnabas bring in a stray pitbul.” From Paul’s perspective he had to be hesitant to engage with people who only knew him from his past. Sometimes those who know us best or have known us the longest are the least to believe in any real changes that may have occurred in our lives particularly if there is a history of sin.
Because of sin there is separation that makes it harder to trust and harder to encourage people we have issues with. It’s easy to encourage people you like or have an affinity for, anyone can do that, it takes both grace and risk to encourage those who have sin against you or sinned against others. In verse 27 Barnabas appeals not to Paul’s goodness but to the work Jesus has done to Paul and through Paul. He doesn’t affirm Saul’s past lifestyle of sin and tell the disciples to be tolerant and embrace him while unrepentant.
Encouragement and affirmation are different; our world is constantly seeking affirmation to be told that whatever brokenness, sin, or perversion we are engaged with is ok. We want our sin tolerated and once tolerated we continue to seek for our sin to be full embraced and even celebrated. Gospel Encouragement comes from understating of Romans 5:8 that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That there is actually something wrong with our current state, but if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; be hold the new has come. 2 Cor 5:17 Gospel Encouragement doesn’t encourage the old-self it embraces the new self. Gospel encouragement also knows when you meet and surrender to Jesus the fight against God should come to an end but there is a new battle, a battle against your sinfulness and for the mission of the kingdom of God. Fighting battles takes courage and risk. Barnabas takes a risk
Encouragement is Risky because you’re believing something about someone that hasn’t always been true or isn’t true about them yet. As a gracious and encouraging church we should be a community that is quick to recognize when someone has met Jesus and is transformed, quick to encourage people to distance themselves from past sins, and quick to encourage new(er) and old(er) believers to come together as a Gospel Community. This is what Barnabas is doing bring Paul and the apostles together.
Paul begins preaching in Jerusalem and debating the Greek Jews. Sure enough the Hellenists decide, much like the Jews in Damascus, that they need to kill Paul. Again, Paul is sent out of a major city running for his life. This time he goes into the witness protection program and goes home to Tarsus for 4-5 years to hide from people trying to kill him and run a preaching ministry out of his parent’s basement.
While Paul is in Tarsus, Christians and church planters came to Antioch, the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Quickly the church in Antioch is blowing up as the Gospel is being preached to the Jews, Hellenist, and Gentiles. We read in Acts 11, Barnabas is sent up from Jerusalem to help support/encourage the church. He gets there, the first thing he sees the evidence of God’s grace it the life of the church. I am sure this isn’t a perfect church but he starts from a place of seeing the areas that God has blessed the church. I am sure there were doctrinal errors, sin, brokenness within the church but Barnabas doesn’t start with a critique of everything they need to improve, fix, or throw out. As a result they’re encouraged to continue the work of the Gospel and the church continues to grow. He leads with encouragement!
This is convicting to me because my baseline is highly critical. If you come to me with an idea, my gut reaction is to immediately start finding all the holes, issues, and problems with it. While my diagnosis at times may be accurate and realistic it rarely serves to add courage, it usually takes courage away.
As the church grows Barnabas immediately begins to think about who else could benefit from this experience. At time and place he could have easily set himself up for a lengthy and comfortable ministry he takes a risk again, thinks beyond himself, and goes to find Paul. Barnabas had to stick his neck out for Paul with the other elders in Antioch. It’s a tough sell to add a guy to the team who used to kill Christians and last ministry experiences lead to him fleeing for his life. In bringing on Paul, he was encouraging Paul to pursue ministry in an area he had already “failed” in. The church in Antioch had a large Hellenist population, the last time Paul tried to minister to Hellenist was in Jerusalem and they end up wanting to kill him. Where others would have seen Paul’s early ministry as a failure, Barnabus sees it as a shaping experience and encourages Paul to get back up and charge again.
Encouragement isn’t blind the challenges/failures of the past, but sees them as opportunities for growth. This isn’t natural for us. We are a culture that says “Past performance is the greatest indicator of future success” and “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me” We’re one strike you’re out. This doesn’t mean we throw out all discernment when we encourage one another, but it might mean looking deeper into someone’s life experience to see if underneath a dark or messy surface, God was working and preparing someone through failure that wouldn’t have happened with easy or early success.
By including Paul, Barnabas was admitting that there was more work than could be handled by himself, and the current elders, alone. He knew that to sustain and grow what God had planned for Antioch would require more leaders and more people on mission. The result of Barnabas’ encouragement, to Antioch and to Paul, was a year of highly fruitful ministry and an experience that had to be encouraging and renewing for Paul and for the church. Things looked different in Antioch a year later than they did the year before. He wasn’t content with what had been accomplished; he was constantly encouraging others to advance the Gospel. Complacent people don’t encourage others to strive and grow because they assume, as a group or as individuals that they’ve arrived. Complacency kills the process of maturity. Are you complacent?
Order of names in the Bible matters. Being listed first, Baranabas is likely the lead pastor at the church in Antioch, but it is also clear he is part of a team of pastors/teachers that included Saul. Barnabas takes Saul with him to launch out on this new mission work beyond Antioch. This is new relatively new territory for Barnabas as well as Paul. Barnabas has gone from the first church in Jerusalem to an established growing church in Antioch and will now be taking the Gospel of Jesus to places it hasn’t previously been. Because he’s spent time and energy encouraging the church and leaders in Antioch, he knows he can leave and the church will continue to thrive. The church isn’t dependent on one guy. Lead by the Holy Spirit Barnabas takes Paul with him, in part because he is wise enough to know it’s better to charge the hill with someone you know and trust, someone who you’ve encouraged who can now be an encouragement to you as you pursue something risky and unknown.
While this missionary journey starts out being led by Barnabas, his name being first, by the end of this chapter we see Paul is listed first, Paul is preaching to the big crowds, Paul is leading in challenging false teachers and debating critics. It’s no longer Barnabas and Paul, now it’s Paul and Barnabas.
Encouragement takes humility. It is easy to encourage people who haven’t achieved what you have, aren’t as mature as you are, or aren’t as far down whatever path you’re on. Something dark can happen when those we’re encouraging seem to “pass” us. We are all prideful and see ourselves more highly than we ought and so when someone achieves something we’ve desired or starts to lead in capacities that we’ve previously led, we have to fight against jealousy and fight for humility. We’re called actually strive for Joy in what God has done in their lives, continue to encourage and support them, at the expense of our own pride and our own sense of identity. You have to ask yourself; do you actually want others to succeed, grow, accomplish, or lead more than you have? This is a challenge often within marriages, families, and in churches. In marriages where husbands have not be leading as they should and the brides have had to carry a greater leadership burden, at the time men begin to loving lead their families/brides often the bride can become bitter or struggle to encourage her husband in leading even if she’s desired it for many years. In families there are times when the children become adults and they can outgrow the maturity, skill sets, or gifting of their parents. The children need to show humility how they encourage their parents and elders, and the parents/elders need to have the humility to realize they can learn/grow and be encouraged by a generation who’s diapers they changed. As a church we need to be leaders who encourage and grow other leaders that we hope actually accomplish more that we have. We need to be people humble enough to follow and recognize God’s grace in what he’s doing through others.
Barnabas did not get to finish his ministry with Paul, they parted ways as people often do because of a disagreement over practical matters. Imperfect people can see the same circumstances differently and have different opinions on how to move forward. Paul and Barnabas chose “to the grace of the Lord” to go separate ways. This seems unfortunate and even disappointing but later writings by Paul in 1Corintians, Colossians show Barnabas in a positive light and that Paul held John Mark in high regard suggesting they had reconciled there difference while still continuing on their separate missions. This is the last we hear of Barnabas, church history says he was ultimately martyred, but we don’t really know how his ministry ended. We know that Paul continued in successful missionary work and Barnabas had an opportunity to encourage younger leaders like John Mark as he had done with Paul. Barnabas didn’t get to write most of the New Testament, like Paul did. Barnabas’ life and ministry didn’t get the attention or credit that Paul’s did and yet his was still integral in the spread of Gospel, and highly influential and life giving to those whom he encouraged. As Christians it’s profitable to look at the examples of those who have followed Christ before us but our mission as a church isn’t to make disciple of Barnabas it’s to make disciples of Jesus.
We encourage others because we’ve been given courage by Jesus who leads us to humility and grace. We realize we’re all Saul’s, hostile to the Gospel on a path of destruction. But Jesus meets us on our road in all of our sin, brokenness, and rebellion and says “I want you, follow me, and take the Gospel deeper and farther.” He gives encouragement through the Holy Spirit reminding us that He is with us always to the end of the age so that we have the assurance we can complete the mission for our Joy and His Glory.
Benediction Romans 15:1-7