Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Barnabas, the Encourager

Saul of Tarsus lived purposeful, devoting himself to God, heart, soul, mind and body. As a student of Gamaliel, he drank deeply from his Master teacher’s wisdom. Pleasing God became his pearl of great price. Passionate pursuit  eventually won him acclaim as a “Pharisee of Pharisees.”

Saul’s choleric temperament drove him to drink deeply, while others merely sipped from life‘s cup. Quenching his insatiable thirst finally launched him on a crusade of defending God and defining honest monotheism. Self-sufficient, impetuous, and hot-tempered, Saul cut and slashed with quick wit and cruel sarcasm--until encountering Jesus en route to Damascus.

Convinced that Jesus’ followers distorted, diluted, and diminished Jewish faith, Saul became a crusader. The very idea of Jesus usurping God’s glory whipped his righteous indignation into a raging wildfire. His attempts at mending the torn fabric of Hebrew faith quickly led the followers of Jesus avoiding him wherever possible. Thus, Saul became the Tarsus terrorist, persecuting Christians with the zeal of a suicide bomber.

But every Saul needs a Barnabas. Beneath Saul’s threats and terrorist actions, was the intentional focus on Godly perfection, and God always has use for a passionate, but honest, Pharisee.  The encounter between God and Saul en route to Damascus reshaped the contours of Saul’s life. When he sufficiently recovered from that experience, call it what you will, Saul attached himself to the believers in Damascus and began convincing so many people of the resurrection of Jesus, that people began questioning, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests” (Acts 9:22 NJKV).

Saul stirred up so much success proving Jesus as Messiah that he had to flee at the midnight hour, going over the city wall hidden in a basket. Consequently, he tried to join the church in Jerusalem, but the Christians there knew better than to accept a terrorist from Tarsus. They disbelieved him, being in fear of him.

Yet Barnabas took Saul to the Apostles so they could hear his testimony. What was Barnabas thinking? How do you treat new believers who don’t yet speak church lingo? I could cite numerous examples of new Christians getting a crash course of proper behavior from well-meaning  but-older tried and true Christians; you know. . .?

That worked for a while, but again opposition to Saul arose and some sought to kill him. When the Grecian Jews tried to kill him, the brothers sent Saul off in exile to Caesarea bringing a time of cooling down from persecution (Acts 9:29-31).

Interesting man: Barnabas; first known as Joseph, a Jewish member of the Tribe of Levi, one of the twelve original tribes of Israel and described as being from Cyprus. He had earlier found the resurrection of Jesus so compelling he joined the Jerusalem fellowship and as a ”followers of The Way” Joseph got so deeply involved that when a special need arose in the fellowship, he sold some private property and helped those needy and suffering members.

He obviously attracted the attention of the Apostles and their company. How could they miss his generosity! Moreover, his brand of practical generosity brought a contagious spirit.  As people came to know him, they saw his potential for leadership and soon his friends began greeting him with a new name--Barnabas, “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36-37 NKJV)).

Later, word got back to Jerusalem about some great success in Antioch, so they sent Barnabas to check it out. He saw it, got all excited and the first thing he did was go back to Tarsus and get the controversial Saul, whom he had already helped out a couple of times … and together they ministered a “whole year” and taught “great numbers of people” and the Christians there were the first to be called “Christians” (Acts 11:22-26). Wow! They made history there.

Saul became Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, but not without the help of this generous man who could see deeper than Saul’s reputation and would introduce him to the Apostles, and would assist and encourage him when others would reject him. Then they end up working together, with Paul eventually becoming the spokesman of the two rather than the steady homesteader. Finally, in Acts thirteen, the church sent Paul and Barnabas as the first Christian missionaries, going to Cyprus, as seemed good to the Holy Spirit.

Yes, we badly need Apostles like Paul today. And along some lonely Damascus Road, God does His work in the hearts of such as Saul of Tarsus (Paul). But those uniquely talented leaders come at a price. Somewhere along the way there is a generous hearted encourager, who will give sacrificially to empower another. Or, they will stand in the gap and protect a new believer who has yet to find his or her empowerment. Or, they will exalt a gifted person of exceptional skills and happily serve as the accompanist or play second fiddle to the main act.

Yes, we need people of Paul’s caliber today! But perhaps even more; we need people like Barnabas: “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:24 NIV).

From Warner’s World, May more of us seek the gift of encourager and learn to be as brave and generous as Barnabas. The picture above is one of my many encouragers, sidelined but still loved. This is walkingwithwarner.blogspot.com


Mary Nichols said...

Great blog, Wayne. Glad to have stumbled onto it via Facebook.

Wayne said...

Thanks Mary.
Been too busy to blog of late but miss it when I don't. It is so refreshing to meet bright youngs like yourself that remind me that it is still worth while to keep plugging away and to a degree, try to stay abreast...