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2nd August 2015
Have you ever had a nickname? Some nicknames are just a fun play on our actual names; others have a meaning – they are connected to how we behave and what we do. Barnabas had a nickname with a meaning.
When the church in Antioch was just getting started, the apostles in Jerusalem sent Barnabas. When they were looking at who to send, they picked an ordinary member of the Jerusalem church and sent him.
There are three reasons for this. Firstly, Barnabas was an encourager. It was so much who he was, that it had become his name. His actual name was Joseph, but it was changed to ‘Barnabas, son of encouragement’.
Encouragement is seeing the good in someone and building them up, helping them to grow through our words. It’s really counter-cultural, so we need to be really proactive about doing it. We don’t quickly build up with our words – we pull people down, complain and criticise. So we need to become encouragers behind closed doors, firstly, so that pulling out the positives and speaking well of people becomes how we are publicly too.
Do people feel built up when they’ve been with you, or do they go away feeling torn down?
The way Barnabas encouraged people was to point them to Jesus. When we encourage someone by pointing them to Jesus, we are helping them to be courageous. If our hearts’ desire was to help people to stick with Jesus and look to Him, our church would mature at an incredible rate.
The second reason Barnabas was chosen to go to Antioch was that he had a good heart. God is far more concerned about our character than about our gifts. Barnabas is the only person in the book of Acts to be described as “good”. Does goodness characterise you?
Barnabas was also filled with the Holy Spirit. This is vital to being who God has created us to be. We need to cultivate a habit of being filled with the Holy Spirit and being dependent upon Him. Barnabas was full of faith too. Faith is about trust and it is based on the character and promises of God. We don’t muster it up or manufacture it by effort – it comes by meditating on the Word of God.
Thirdly, Barnabas understood what it means to forgive others. It was Barnabas who brought Saul (later called Paul) into the church, even though he had approved Stephen’s execution. Barnabas understood God’s forgiveness – he knew that God had sent Jesus so that we could be forgiven, and he knew that he himself had been forgiven.
Sometimes we struggle to forgive because we’ve misunderstood what it is: forgiveness is choosing not to hold something against someone, even though it still hurts. Ultimately it’s saying that God’s the judge, He’ll work out justice, and I’ll leave it to Him. Forgiveness isn’t a one-off thing; it’s a choice we sometimes have to make over and over again.
What happens in a church when someone like Barnabas is sent? It thrives and it plays its part in God’s mission. The church in Antioch became known for their love of Jesus – these were the first people called Christians. It was a negative nickname, but it was based on the fact that they were characterised by their love for Jesus.
It also became a church that heard from God and acted in response, foretelling a famine and deciding to send money to help those affected.
The Antioch church understood God’s heart: that’s why they sent money to people they didn’t know, cutting across geographical and ethical boundaries. Just as Barnabas had demonstrated through accepting Saul and bringing him to Antioch, so the church showed their understanding that God’s forgiveness brings equality.
We need lots of people like Barnabas. We need lots of sons and daughters of encouragement so that our church will thrive and play its part in God’s mission.
Are you a Barnabas? If someone was giving you a nickname, would ‘Barnabas’ fit? Do you encourage people by pointing them to Jesus? Are you focusing on your character, being full of the Holy Spirit and faith? Do you understand God’s forgiveness so it leads you to forgive others?
How can you be a Barnabas this week?
Posted by Andrew Bunt