My Dear Shepherds,
We generally dispense encouragement in ordinary ways and in modest portions. One sub-point in sermon might do it. A 20-minute hospital visit. A true and heartfelt compliment for a weary worker. A timely prayer drawn on Jesus’ name. All of them so simple and ordinary we’re likely to forget them but they produce miniature miracles of grace. It’s what pastors do.
That’s why Barnabas, a.k.a. “son of encouragement,” is becoming my favorite Bible pastor. Pastors are born and blessed to encourage. If pastors have a patron saint, Barnabas could be the one. Maybe we should get little plastic Barnabases to stick on our dashboards.
When the Apostles in Jerusalem heard about the dramatic spread of the gospel in Antioch they sent Pastor Barnabas.
When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted [encouraged] 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 11:23–24 ESV)
A pastor’s heart is on display there. What made him so effective was this: “for he was a good man ….” Pause there.
Barnabas was a “good man” in the most Christian sense of the word. He wasn’t just honest, kind, and positive. His gift wasn’t inspirational verses and hearty laughs. He was deeply devoted to the Lord and his church. Barnabas sacrificed for them, and he had a gift for seeing the grace of God at work where others didn’t—from Saul to John Mark. He was a good man because he came alongside others with the multifaceted presence of God. That’s what you and I do, too.
What made Barnabas good in the fullest sense of the word were two particular qualities: he was “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”
‘Full of the Holy Spirit’
Good pastors, like all good Christians, continually make more and more room for the expansive life of the Holy Spirit. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Parakletos; our Helper, Advocate, Comforter, Exhorter. That’s what fills us. Barnabas was called Son of Paraklesis. When we are filled with the Spirit we embody the encouraging qualities of Christ’s presence among his people. It’s our Barnabas genes.
‘Full … of Faith’
We are each saved by mustard-seed-sized faith, but it takes a good long while for most of us to become full of faith. Our faith is nourished with countless meals of Scripture and the deep breathing of prayer. We work out our trust in God. Our faith grows slowly, often in fits and starts. I doubt most of us would ever say we’re full of faith, but our people depend on us, nonetheless.
Believers must believe; they must live by faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” But our people don’t come by faith easily. They need us to come alongside, constantly fortifying them with gospel. They need to hear us pray and watch us take steps into dark waters, confident that they will part. We help their faith find footing on the paths of righteousness and courage when darkness looms ahead of them. Our faith, as faltering as it often seems to us, tightens their grip on God’s own hand and the clears their vision to see hope shining up ahead.
That, dear friends, is what we do. We are descendants of Barnabas.
Be ye glad!