Barnabas: gospel encourager

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”…and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord” (Acts 11:22b-24)

Before we unpack those verses, let’s backup and gather what Acts says about Barnabas and in turn what we will gather is an blue print of a gospel encourager. Interestingly, in Acts 4:36, Barnabas didn’t enter the world with that name. His Levite parents gave him the name Joseph. It was later the apostles nicknamed him “Barnabas” or literally “son of encouragement,” which was a name he earned and owned. So what makes Barnabas or anyone a gospel encourager?

gospel encouragers are generous givers (Acts 4:32-37)

Luke’s first reference to Barnabas is an illustration of his generosity. He is so transformed by the gospel that he take action to spread it to others. He, among others, sell property and give the money to the church. Now in his day, property was ones greatest asset and retirement plan. For Barnabas, selling his property was not wasting his future, but investing in the gospel so that others might have a future with Christ. He lived in a way that showed he was free from money or things. Why? God trumped stuff. Barnabas was generous because his God was generous.

Are you someone who is free from money or things? Are you characterized as being generous? You probably know someone like Barnabas, a “son or daughter of encouragement”. Like you, Sarah and I have seen God provide for our family via Barnabases who have “sold their land” so we could go to the nations. We are so blessed to have many generous partners in the gospel (cf. Philippians 1:5).

gospel encouragers gravitate towards outsiders (Acts 9:26-30)

In Acts 9, Saul, becomes one of the most unlikely Jesus follower. After his conversion, he travels to Jerusalem to meet other followers. However, the whole church freaks out. It is Barnabas who helps the former terrorist of the church take his first steps into the church. Barnabas is the kind of guy you want in your church greeters ministry because he proactively encourages and engages with outsiders.

Don’t forget that your journey began as an outsider and “enemy” too (Romans 5:10). It is only through the gospel that you became an insider and friend with God. And it is by the gospel that you can find the greatest encouragement in life, both now and for all eternity. And top it off God uses people to be vehicles of His encouragement.

Who was your Barnabas? Who brought your inside the church? Mine were Mike Huseby and John Miller. They were the first men who encouraged me as a young Jesus follower. They showered me with love and Christ-like affection. They discipled me in the Word and encouraged me by creating opportunities to serve with them in the local church. I am eternally grateful they befriend me as a broken and messed up middle schooler!

Jesus was a great example of one who made friends with people on the fringe. He was a magnet to broken and needy outsiders. He lovingly gravitated towards outsiders. And you and I become more like Him when we see people as He sees them. Don’t underestimate the power of the gospel to transform outsiders. Who knows who the He might want you to befriend? Who knows who the Lord might use to build His church?

gospel encouragers see no boundaries to the gospel (Acts 11:19-23)

For the first time, in Acts 11, the gospel reaches the big city (vs.19-20). Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Think of it like Chicago compared to NYC and LA. It was nearly 10 to 20 times the size of Jerusalem and also more urban, pluralistic, and multicultural. A perfect place for the gospel to flourish.

History and perspective shows us that this was a wonderful thing, as you and I are the byproducts of the gospel spreading beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem and Judaism. Acts says that the church at Antioch was experiencing exponential growth. In fact, it saw the greatest expansion to the church since Pentecost. Therefore, the mother church in Jerusalem, decided to send a representative to Antioch. Not to see if their reports were embellished, not to see if their theology was orthodox, not to gain new church growth strategies, but to encourage the church, like a mother encourages her children.

Who does the church call? Who else, but Barnabas, the one-man-encouragement-committee (vs.21-22). Barnabas was an excellent choice to bridge the Greek and Hebrew members of the church. Having come from Cyprus, he was not a typical “Jerusalemite” Jew, and he already established a solid reputation for generosity and encouragement and, after all, what do new converts need more than encouragement?

When you need a word of encouragement who in the church do you call? Who is your Barnabas? Moreover to whom are you a Barnabas?  Ben has been my friend and Barnabas since middle school youth group days. What I still love about Ben is that he encourages me not in a way that strokes my ego, but in a way that challenges me, sharpens me, and points me to Jesus.

God created you for one another-ness and to encourage one another. Yet some Christians think that since they don’t have the “gift of encouragement” it gives them an excuse from being encouraging (Romans 12:8). Some Christians think a “critical spirit” is another gift of the Spirit, but the Christian army has a dreadful history of shooting down it’s own.

Are you someone who tends to be critical of the church? Do you crave the encouragement that another Christian is getting? Do you regard the ministry of others with envy or jealousy? Do you struggle with skepticism towards testimonies of God’s work around the world? Let it be known, almost all so-called constructive criticism towards the church is destructive criticism. There is such a thing as constructive criticism, but it is always saturated in a spirit of encouragement. That is what is to love about Barnabas. He arrives in Antioch, he sees the grace of God, rejoices, and cheers them on towards faithfulness (v. 23).

gospel encouragers mimic Jesus, the True Barnabas (Acts 11:24ff)

Luke’s living eulogy of Barnabas in verse 24 is moving and theologically pregnant. It should not be a surprise that the marks of a son of encouragement mimic the Son of God, the True Barnabas.

First, a son of encouragement is praiseworthy (“he was a good man”). Luke used this phrase only of Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50). It’s not a phrase stroking Barnabas’ ego, as in saying, “Good job, Barnabas. He da man!.” Not that those compliments are wrong, but this phrase speaks to a greater goodness. Paul later writes that goodness is a fruit of Spirit (Galatians 5:22). And Jesus said that you can tell the type of tree by looking at its fruit (Matthew 7:16). What is hanging from Barnabas’ branches are good fruit produced by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Second, a son of encouragement is powered by the Holy Spirit and proven faith (“full of the Holy Spirit and faith”).6 The fullness of the Holy Spirit and faith is the root of Barnabas’ goodness. You don’t get the Holy Spirit because you are good, rather when the Holy Spirit takes over your life He infuses you with His goodness. Galatians 3:2 asks: “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” The assumed answer is “faith”. Then Paul asks, “does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (3:5) And again the assumed answer is “faith”. Barnabas’ faith is from and through the Holy Spirit.

Third, a son of encouragement is productive in bringing people to Jesus Christ (“and a great many people were added to the Lord.”). Gospel encouragers full of the Spirit and faith usher people to Jesus.

Why was Barnabas so encouraging? He knew the “Father of mercies and the God of all encouragement” (2 Corinthians 1:3). He knew the All-Sufficient Encourager and it was His Spirit that changed Barnabas into a “son of encouragement”. Like Father, like son. Let us aim to be sons and daughters of encouragement too.

It was at that point that Barnabas likely thought to himself, “These people need to grow deep and wide. I know just the guy. I’ll go get him.” Thus, “Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul” (v. 25). The verb “to seek” used here indicates that Barnabas was going on a difficult hunt; nobody had a GPS read on Saul’s exact whereabouts. The last Barnabas had heard about Saul was that he was somewhere in and around Tarsus. So Barnabas went to seek Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.

The church and mission field need people who can take the ministry forward, but it also needs humble people who can spot the very people that God is calling. That isn’t always easy. Barnabas does a selfless thing. He didn’t decide to feather his nest. He didn’t desire to build an empire or church bearing his name. He didn’t become a celebrity disciple, pastor, or missionary. What he did was to give Saul a job.

“So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (v. 26). Up until this point in church history, Jesus followers had been called “people of the Way”. They were not known as Christians because the term was derogatory and mockery, but those in Antioch welcomed it as their identity. For the gospel has the power to bring together diverse people and erase biases or boundaries.

Being Barnabases is not about encouraging with warm and fuzzies. Gospel encouragement brings hope to the suffering and hurting (vs.27-30). Barnabases actively live out the gospel by helping people see how their situation fits into the bigger picture that God is painting.

It is your joyful commission to be a gospel encourager. How? By being a generous giver, giving abundantly, cheerfully, and sacrificially for the sake of the gospel. Second, gravitate towards outsiders, hospitable to the broken and needy. Third, see no boundary to the gospel because the gospel transcends culture or ethnicity. Fourth, mimic Jesus: good, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and bringing people to the Lord. Being a messenger of hope, never doing ministry alone, and humbly equipping others to serve the local church. How will you be a gospel encourager to someone this week?

How does gospel encouragement and communion mesh? One of the ways we encourage each other as Christians is gathering together. Like two burning hot coals, together they are encouraged, but separated they burn out quickly. In other words, to stay apart or to not relate with fellow Christians has the opposite affect to encouragement. It leads to discouragement.

”And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Communion as its name signifies is a community meal for mutual encouragement until Jesus returns (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). No matter if you are rich or poor, new to the faith or established clergy, we are all equals.  Communion is not about me and Jesus it’s about “we” and Jesus. That’s gospel encouragement.

from beggar to worshiper

While visiting the market in North Africa, especially in bigger towns, it does not take long before children come to you begging for money. It is hard to withhold helping them when they are so dirty, skinny and needy. However, to give them money is to give the mosque money. These boy and girl beggars are employees of the Imam. Therefore, we give them bananas or a drink of clean water. And what they really need money cannot buy; they need the riches of Jesus Christ.

As we arrive in Acts 3, we arrive to a church that is newborn. Peter has just preached his heart out, the Holy Spirit is at work, and thousands were added to the church. The infant church was booming with excitement. The day after Pentecost, Peter and John head to the temple for mid-afternoon prayer. On their way they pass by the local beggar. He’s in need of a turning point.

1. Everyday expect there to be unexpected opportunities to freely give out the gospel by introducing beggars to Jesus [Acts 3:1-10]

Doctor Luke gives careful details that this beggars been crippled since birth. He’s never walked. He probably slept near the gate and carried him up lots of stairs to his post at the gate each day where he hoped for a handout. He’s been doing this for 40 years. Isn’t it ironic that the beggar is by the beautiful gate? Can you see the contrast? The gate was a modern marvel and a symbol of wealth. It was an ordinary dirty bronze gate, but it was overlaid with silver and gold. In the light it glistened. And beggar sitting next to it as a stinky, dirty, and pitiful eyesore.

The two apostles make eye contact with the beggar. Have you ever made eye contact with a beggar? There is an unspoken vagabond code that says: ignore the beggar and he won’t bother you, but if you make eye contact expect to dish out. I have been around beggars. I am guilty of taking the long way around or looking the other way pretending to be fixed on something important. It is like being in class and your teacher asks a question that you do not know the answer therefore you dare not make eye contact lest you be chosen. Strangely Peter and John call the beggar to look at them.

Peter and John have literally sold everything they owned to serve Christ [2:44-47]. They do not have what the beggar wants, but they do have what he needs, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” [3:6] I am sure the man was disappointed or felt shortchanged at first, but Peter took his hand and helped him to his feet. The man not only began walking but also began jumping [Isaiah 35:6]. It’s something he’s never done before, even as a child. And like a child he’s not shy to show his joy in what God has done. He has just become a living, breathing, walking, and talking commercial of Jesus’ power and provision. I am sure he was an undignified spectacle within the temple.

I love the excitement of the beggar. He worships God and cares less what the crowd thinks. All the while the religious around him are thinking, “Settle down rookie. Your zeal will fade in time.” The religious are usually the most cantankerous. God detests the religious and their man-made rules and regulations. Long gone are the days their passion for God and joy in the transforming power of the gospel.

A similar event occurs in Luke 5:17-26. A crowd had gathered to see Jesus. A paralyzed man was lower through the roof of the packed house. Jesus healed the man. He got up from his mat, and walked home glorifying God. Imagine the reaction from his mother when he walked through the door that day! Not only was he healed, but also he forgiven by the Son of Man. The religious grumbled, but the crowd was amazed at what they saw and said; “We have seen extraordinary things today.”[1]

This story gives illustration to some biblical truths common to all. First, we are all beggars before we become Jesus worshipers. We are born beggars. We beg God to accept our good, which really is dirt and dung. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” [Isaiah 64:6] There is no good bone or blood in us. But those who humble themselves to Christ whose bones were crushed and blood was spilt for their sin will be healed. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:3]

Second, the way to Jesus is through a narrow gate, but the most beautiful gate. I used to have a poster that depicted this scene. “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” [Matthew 7:13-14; cf. Luke 13:24; John 14:6]

Third, the riches of Christ are infinitely greater than the wealth of this world.[2] Salvation in Christ is the greatest rags to riches story of the universe. How amazing it is that God can rescue a soul signed to an unending lease within hell and pay his sin debt and freely offer him an opulent room and inheritance within His kingdom.[3]

When theologian Thomas Aquinas visited Rome he met with Pope Innocent II. Aquinas was amazed by the opulence of the Vatican in that day. And this was prior to the building of St. Peter’s, but even then it was a glorious headquarters for the Catholic church, filled with riches, and the pope was somewhat proud of the riches, and he said to Aquinas, “No longer do we say, ‘Silver and gold have we none.’” Thomas looked at the pope and said, “Maybe that is why we can no longer say, ‘Rise up and walk.’” Now the church’s riches were not why the church lost its power to heal people. The reason is that the power evidenced in the early days of the church was given by Christ to His Apostles to establish the church. Aquinas knew that, but I guess he did not want to miss the opportunity to jab the pope.[4]

Today the church has great wealth. Little of that wealth goes to global gospel ministry. In fact, 95% of the churches money, people, and resources go to Christians. All the while unreached worldwide remain heavily unreached.

Fourth, everyday you are surrounded by beggars who are unaware of their real need of Christ. As a Christ follower you have all they really need. Stop taking the long way around and quit looking the other way pretending to do something more important. Invite them to look into your eyes and say, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” [3:6]

I was confronted by this truth just this week. I attended a pastor’s conference with nearly 2000 pastors and missionaries. At the conference I met, Tyrone, an employee at the conference center. I watched as he opened doors for servants of God, but not one person acknowledged he existed. He was a beggar in our midst. You have beggars in your midst too.

2. Don’t neglect to share the transforming power of the gospel is faith in the name of Jesus and no other [Acts 3:11-16; 4:1-12]

Miracles make news travel fast. Soon a crowd gathers to see the healed man. He’s clinging to the apostles like a shadow. And the people are staring at Peter and John awaiting their next trick as if they were Penn and Teller. Since Peter’s got a crowd, why not preach? Peter is quick to deflect the attention, “Don’t look at me, look at Jesus!”

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, The God of our Fathers who has glorified His servant Jesus” [3:13]. Just in case there was any doubt that Jesus is the focus of Peter’s message, the name of Jesus is named 9 times in chapters 3-4.[5] Peter lists five absolute exaltations of Jesus—that’s the essence of this sermon—to magnify Jesus. He is:

  1. the long-awaited servant of the Lord; [cf. Isaiah 52:13, suffering servant]
  2. glorified by God; [as He sits at the right hand of His Father]
  3. the Holy and Righteous One; [He’s not a criminal or blasphemer]
  4. the Author of Life; and [co-creator and Savior]
  5. raised by God from the dead. [the apostles saw Him with their own eyes]

The sermon was also a scorching indictment of all who gathered. It’s as if Peter points a finger in their faces saying (with three pointed back at him), “You are the very people who betrayed Christ, who delivered Him, screamed for His blood, and are guilty of His murder. By the power of that same Jesus, this man was made whole. It wasn’t me, but Jesus.”  Peter also a former denier acknowledges their ignorance [3:17], but they are no longer, so the only solution is to repent and turn to Jesus. Jesus on the cross, cried out, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they do” [Luke 23:34].

Doing ministry in name of Jesus is what got the apostles into trouble. Jesus and His growing group of followers were a sore subject for the Jews [4:2, 17; cf. Luke 20:27-40]. They thought Jesus was a joke, a fake, a blasphemer, and the same went for His followers. Earlier crowds convicted Jesus of a crime, which led to His death. Now the religious leaders threw the apostles in jail hoping they might think a bit. But the next day, they were brought out before the religious big wigs they did not back down from making Jesus known.

Jesus is the focus of the apostle’s ministry. So should yours. It’s not about the numbers in the crowd [cf. 4:4], coolness of the program, effectiveness of the event, or pat on the back for your faithful years of service. It’s about lifting high the majestic name of Jesus. This might not make you the most popular person, but it gives credit where credit is due. Peters words cut to the core of the issue: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” [4:12] These are not politically correct, tolerant, or sensitive words, but true words nonetheless. Christianity is exclusive: Jesus is the only way to God. But it is also inclusive: for all who would believe on Him.

There is even more here that you need to see. Sometimes people will say, “Yes, Jesus is the only source of salvation, but you don’t have to know Him in order to benefit from the salvation He offers.” In other words, “If you are a faithful Muslim or Hindu or Jew or animist, Jesus will save you. There is salvation in no one else, but you don’t have to believe on Him in order to be saved by Him.” That is modern day universalism. It’s heresy!

Is that what Peter said or meant? Peter focused on the name of Jesus, “There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” He did not say there are some other names by which you can be saved and Jesus is one of them. “There is no other name,” and Jesus’ name is your only entrance into fellowship with God. Peter says in Acts 10:43, “Every one who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” The name of Jesus is the focus of faith and repentance. In order to believe on Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, you must believe on His name. That is, you must have heard of Him, know of His saving work on the cross, and understand He rose from the dead.

Paul echoes in Romans 10:13–15: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed and how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” There is salvation in no one else—and that means there must be missionaries, who make Him known by name so that people can believe and call on His name for salvation. “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, apart from Him no one comes to the Father” [John 14:6].

Jesus is absolutely unique. He is absolutely supreme among all the gods and lords of the world religions. Knowing Him and believing on His name is absolutely necessary for salvation. Peter’s sermon is calling us to Christ.

It calls you to clarity.  It calls you to understand your faith. If all sincere roads lead to an afterlife, then understanding the road you are on to make sure it is the right one is not very important. If there are not many ways to God, but only one way, then the highest priority in life is to understand Jesus and follow Him. The supremacy of Christ as the only way to God calls for clarity. This is important in a world of universalism. Make the message of Jesus clear!

It calls for courage. There is no point in dying for your faith if another way will lead you to God. What gets you killed is to believe Jesus is the only way. Around the world Christians are being martyred, I met some former Muslims who became Christian in North Africa. In the early days they were beaten, threatened, kick out of their families, fired from their jobs, and ostracized from their communities. Living for the name of Christ is difficult. It takes courage. It takes courage to speak to the beggars. Are you courageous?

It calls for humility. Humble yourself to the name of Christ. What is the use of making your name great when in a few generations it will be forgotten? The name that will last forever is the name of Jesus. Fan the flame of His fame. Humble yourself and give the credit for the good in your ministry to Jesus. You cannot pack your credentials in your coffin when you die. Work hard to deflect attention off you onto Christ.

It calls for joy. Let us stand to our feet and leap for joy at the transforming work of Jesus Christ. Peter could have said to the people, “Why aren’t you in the temple jumping, leaping, and praising God like the healed beggar? It is your God, the God of your fathers, the God of your heritage, who is glorifying His Son.”

This is the response of a beggar turned worshiper. Today can be your turning point!


[1] Cf. Luke 4:36; 5:9, 26; 7:16

[2] 2 Corinthians 8:9; Ephesians 2:7; 3:8; Philippians 4:19; Colossians 1:27; Titus 3:6;  2 Peter 1:11

[3] Romans 8:17; Galatians 4:7; Ephesians 1:18; 3:6; Titus 3:7; James 2:5; 1 Peter 1:4;

[4] Sproul, R. C. (2010-11-03). Acts: St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (pp. 76-78). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

[5] Cf. 3:6, 16, 4:7, 8, 12, 17, 18, 30