Christianity today is quite mainstream. As the most followed religion, where over 1/3rd of humanity proudly claim faith in Christ. Yet this was not always the case in history.
The church in its infancy was struggling to find it’s footing, after all their leader Christ had been publicly humiliated, dying the most despicable death, hanging naked and impaled on a Roman cross. This sordid genesis of the faith, cast a negative light on the perception by the larger society on the first Christians, such that it was not popular to be a believer.
The early Christians in the 1st century faced adverse difficulty. They were harassed periodically by government forces, marginalized by society in general, and mocked by neighbors, to name a few. The first few chapters of Acts portray some of these trials that the early church faced. These indeed were discouraging times for the new faith.
Acts 7-9, features a character known as Saul who was a radical persecutor of the Christian faith. He consented to the death of Stephen, masterminded the eviction and arrests of countless others, and even traveled “out of state” to capture defectors.
Yet as Christians despaired, God was working out a plan to bring encouragement to the saints. It’s amazing in my own life, as I look back in retrospect at difficult times, I see the hand of God where he was beginning to work out a solution, providing an oasis of respite, even in life’s darkest hour. God’s plan for these early Christians unfolded on the road to Damascus where he foiled Saul’s plan to harm the disciples. Upon appearing to Saul in a blinding flash of light, Saul falls to the ground, and right there on the road to Damascus, repents and accepts Christ as savior.
Saul, who later became Paul, was Gods master plan to build his church, and encourage them in these trying times. But Paul himself would need encouragement. See the saints, all too cautious were unsure of the legitimacy of Paul’s conversion. Further Paul was unknown in the inner circles of leadership. Who would be the catalyst behind Paul’s rise to ministry and authority in the early church? This person was none other than Barnabas the apostle. Whose name meant the son of encouragement.
Earlier in Chapter 4 we are introduced to a disciple called Joseph from Cyprus who was affectionately called Barnabas by the disciples. Barnabas in his first appearance is seen to sacrificially sell property and disburse the proceeds to meet the needs of struggling Christians. Isn’t it amazing that the very first picture we see of Barnabas suits his name? Indeed he is an encourager.
Thus fitting with his name, Barnabas is the one who persuades the Jerusalem church that Paul was a changed man. It seems as if Barnabas took Paul under his wing and purposed to open doors of ministry for him. As we read through Acts we discover that Barnabas not only opened doors for him in Jerusalem, but also in Antioch, where he appointed him to ministry at the very first Gentile revival. Later on we see Barnabas in Chapters 13-14 of Acts travelling with Paul to Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) side by side, doing the work of God together. Paul was God’s master plan to expand the church, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the intimate encouragement of Barnabas.
Has God put your in a place of leadership? Whether you are an official leader in the church, or a person in authority over others, such as a respected member of the congregation, a parent, a coach, etc, then
like Barnabas, you are called to seek those who need to be encouraged. Your very presence at Church could be an encouragement to a potential “apostle Paul”. Do not discount the importance of your seemingly trivial efforts at reaching out to those God has placed around you.
It could very well be the difference maker. A smile or a handshake in an unfamiliar setting, an offer to take a younger person under your wing in mentorship, a focused season of prayer over the life of an individual – all these are fruits of an encouraging person.
As Christians we need encouragement. So often we deal with pressures from work, family, finances, relationships and so forth. The Bible tells us to encourage each other daily. Let us be like Barnabas and become the personification of encouragement for it is God’s desire.
And friends, I believe as you position yourself to be encouraging, you will also find encouragement in your times of difficulty, for whatever you sow, you will reap.
– Pastor Olu Jegede