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Acts 4:3637; 9:2629a; 11:1926; 13:1415, 4243comment (0)

May 21, 2009

By Thomas Fuller

Related Scripture: Acts 4:3637; 9:2629a; 11:1926; 13:1415, 4243

Bible Studies for Life
Director of Ministry Leadership Development, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

Acts 4:36–37; 9:26–29a; 11:19–26; 13:14–15, 42–43

Though lesser known than Peter and Paul, Barnabas played a key role in the gospel ministry of the early church: Barnabas regularly encouraged others. Such persons don’t often occupy the spotlight, but ask anyone who has been the recipient of their ministry and they will tell you what a difference encouragers make. Too often we engage in the “ministry” of discouragement, by our critical remarks and self-centered behavior. Barnabas himself did not suspend judgment on others’ actions but seized opportunities to encourage others. Living in keen awareness of God’s mercy and grace shown to us, we can continue Barnabas’ ministry today for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Be Generous (4:36-37)
His real name was Joses (Joseph). He was a Levite by birth, of the Jewish tribe that carried out the ritual duties in the temple in Jerusalem. Only he lived nowhere near Jerusalem, having come from Cyprus. This Joses earned a reputation among the first Christian disciples as an encourager and the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas, meaning “son of consolation” (encouragement).

In verses 32–35, we read about the sweet spirit that prevailed among the believers in Jerusalem. They shared freely with one another and gave sacrificially to meet one another’s needs. Barnabas is introduced (36–37) as a model of such generosity, selling a field he owned and giving the money to the apostles to use for the ministry of the church. Barnabas’ example reminds us that acts of generosity, in addition to words, can be a powerful means of encouraging others.

Take Risks by Reaching Out to Others (9:26–29a)

Barnabas’ ministry of encouragement took yet another unconventional form — He vouched for Saul (Paul) to the leaders in the Jerusalem church. It had been three years (Gal. 1:18) since Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus (9:1–25), but few could forget the image of Saul as a zealous persecutor of Christians. Barnabas took his first risk by reaching out to Saul himself. Then, to the suspicious apostles, Barnabas spoke on Saul’s behalf, testifying to Saul’s dramatic conversion experience and to Saul’s bold witness in Damascus. Encouragement, like all gospel ministry, often calls us to risk something for the sake of Christ. Of the many people who need our encouragement, new believers stand in particular need of someone to offer unconditional friendship and willing advocacy.

Disciple Believers (11:19–26)
Barnabas’ bridge-building ministry continued. Some 7–10 years after the events of chapter 9, the leaders of the Jerusalem church dispatched Barnabas to Antioch to be of service to the growing body of believers in that city. The martyrdom of Stephen was a tragic event, scattering fearful believers in many directions (8:2–4). But God used that scattering to seed a gospel witness in many far-flung places. Barnabas encouraged new believers in their faith and saw the Lord increase their numbers to the point that the term “Christian” was first used of the Antioch believers. Barnabas continued to encourage Saul (Paul) by calling on his assistance in the ministry at Antioch. There is no greater ministry of encouragement than to call others to faith, to nurture fellow believers and to call others to use their gifts in service to our Lord.

Help People Learn About Christ (13:14–15, 42–43)
The church at Antioch commissioned Saul (Paul) and Barnabas to take their ministries to other cities (13:1–3). In verse 14, they arrive in a different Antioch (in Pisidia) and go to the synagogue on the Sabbath. There they were offered the opportunity to speak to the assembly. Paul preached the gospel among them. Among those who believed the preached word and trusted Jesus, Paul and Barnabas encouraged them “to continue in the grace of God” (43). The ministry of encouragement available to us can take many forms but common to all of these is the admonition to continue and grow in God’s grace.

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