His name was Joseph. Yet everyone called him Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement”. That name became such a part of his identity that today few people remember that his given name was Joseph and we refer to him only as Barnabas. So how did Joseph become Barnabas for the rest of history? There are two events in the Bible that stand out. The first comes in Acts Chapter 4:32-37. In the early church Barnabas is noted as one of the people who gave a large sum of money in order to insure that the poor were feed and had their needs met. That act of sacrifice was a huge encouragement to the first generation of Christians.
Later in Acts 11:19-26 we find Barnabas seeking out a young convert to Christianity and including him in the leadership of the new church at Antioch. That convert was the Pharisee named Saul, who we come to know as The Apostle Paul. In an incredible irony, that is only possible in a faith in which love and forgiveness are core values, Paul ends up leading a church that was begun by refugees who fled the persecution that he instigated before he came to faith in Christ. Imagine the kind of person Barnabas had to be that he insisted on reaching out and including the very guy who started the persecution that resulted in torture and even death for some followers of Jesus. Paul had already been rejected by the leaders in Jerusalem after his conversion. They didn’t trust him. They basically said, “great to know you are not killing us any more. We will call if we need anything”. So Paul ends up hundreds of miles away doing next to nothing for the expansion of Christianity, until Barnabas, The Son of Encouragement” takes a journey to find him and include him in the leadership of the Church at Antioch.
So what can we learn about being an encourager when we look at Barnabas? For one, he was willing to sacrifice for the sake of others so that they would be built up, strengthened, encouraged. He was willing to sacrifice financial resources so that people in need could have hope. He was willing to sacrifice his reputation when he brought in Paul for leadership. In both cases Barnabas thought more about the needs of someone else than he did about his own. But it wasn’t only the needs of the one he encouraged that he thought about. In bringing Paul into a leadership role, Barnabas was also thinking about the people Paul would impact with his ministry. He saw a gifting in Paul that needed to be encouraged to the surface in order to help others.
An encourager sees the positive impact another person does make, and can make, and comes alongside them to help it happen. What Barnabas did was come along side people to empower them, when nobody else would. That is what an encourager does. Far too many people are willing to point out the negative, where people are lacking, what can go wrong. Barnabas looked for what could go right and did what he could to make that happen.
Encouragers don’t care if someone else gets the limelight and credit. I think one reason why we don’t encourage one another more is that we are self-centered and worry that there is only so much credit and encouragement to go around. So in order to rise up above other people, we put them down or at the very least, withhold encouragement that might give them the strength they need to succeed. We see the opposite in Barnabas. He didn’t care if someone else received recognition and credit. In fact he seems to have been very happy when the one he encouraged had success. Very quickly in his relationship with Paul, he takes second place. Paul moves to the forefront as spokesman and leader. Lesser people would have been jealous, not Barnabas. An encourager does not worry about that. In fact an encourager finds delight in the success of those they encourage.
I have got to believe that over time, Barnabas rubbed off on Paul. Paul who was so encouraged by Barnabas, eventually became committed to a ministry of encouragement. Just one example comes from First Thessalonians 5:11-14 where Paul writes;
11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
How different might your life be if you had someone who encouraged you instead of discouraged you, built you up instead of tore you down, respected you instead of denigrated you? We all need people like that in our life. But we also need to be that person to others. If you are around people who are encouragers, it will rub off on you like it did with Paul. I learned this from a wonderful guy I meet as part of the coaching staff at North Allegheny High School in Pittsburgh. His name was John Ross. John was the quarterback coach on that team and he was the consumate encourager. He always had positive feedback for players and friends. That does not mean he didn’t correct errors. Any coach has to do that. But he did it in a way that you knew he was on your side. John was quick to point out to other people how great someone was. I remember the first time one of my young sons met John. One of the first things he did was tell my son how lucky he was to have such a great dad. That is an encourager. What did it do for me? For one thing it motivated me to be an even better dad. Far from making people rest on their laurels, encouragement does the opposite. It gives people the motivation to live up to the words of encouragement and do even better.
Here is another thing I have learned about encouragers. When you give out encouragement to others it has a funny way of coming back to you. If you are always negative, the attitude that comes back to you will be negative. But if you encourage others, come along side them and build them up, you quickly find yourself in an environment of encouragement and others will encourage you. You will be paid back in kind. Dish out negativity and you will be paid back in negativity. Hand out praise and encouragement and you will find yourself rich in encouragement.
A very practical first step is this, look for someone who could use some praise, some encouragement, some positive reinforcement and give it to them. It could be as simple as telling someone how much their friendship means to you. It could be telling someone at work what a great job they did on a project, or what a wonderful idea they had. Find a character trait in someone that you admire and let them know you wish you could be as good at that as they are. The point is, build up people, encourage them. When you do that consistently, you will find that your life becomes filled with people who act as Barnabas in your life and encourage you.