"News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord." (Acts 11:22-24)
By BISHOP ROBERT HAYES JR.
God can take the very worst that humankind can offer and turn it into something far better than we could ever imagine. I am amazed to witness, time after time, when something or someone attempts to impede God’s will, God finds a way to accomplish His purposes. The right people emerge in the right places at the right time.
Such is the case in Acts 11, where we find people who were opposed to the teachings of Jesus. They believed that killing Stephen, one of the early leaders of the Christian movement, would destroy its progress. And so they stoned Stephen (Acts 7).
What was meant for harm God turned to good.
Instead of destroying the Christian movement, Stephen’s murderers accelerated it. The early disciples, in fear for their lives, scattered to faraway places.
Armed with the Good News of Jesus Christ, those dispersed followers of Jesus so changed the culture of those places that news of their accomplishments reached the ears of the believers back in Jerusalem, especially Barnabas.
Barnabas went to Antioch to see what was happening, and witnessed for himself transformed people who were totally committed to the Christian way. This pleased Barnabas so much, the Scriptures tell us, that he offered them words of encouragement to remain faithful.
The name Barnabas translates as son of encouragement.
For a description of what a Christian ought to be, look to the example of Barnabas. Here is how author F.J. Foakes Jackson describes him.
"Barnabas indeed is one of the most attractive characters in the New Testament.
"He possessed the rare gift of discerning merit in others. Barnabas may have been inferior in ability to Paul, but he was superior in Christian graces. He seemed to have been utterly without jealousy, eager to excuse the faults of others, quick to recognize merit, ready to compromise for the sake of peace. The Paul of history contributes to the progress of the world, (but) Barnabas and those like him make it endurable to live in. While we admit the greatness of Paul, we cannot forget that Barnabas was the real pioneer of a world embracing Christianity."
Everywhere we see Barnabas in the Scriptures, he seems to have his arm around someone, declaring: You can make it! Don’t give up! Believe and have faith!
Had it not been for Barnabas, Saul who later became Paul would not have been received by the early Christian movement.
If not for Barnabas, Paul might have stayed in Tarsus and thus have been lost for that great missionary ministry to the Gentiles.
If it had not been for Barnabas, the church that was dispersed to Antioch might not have survived.
One thing we so desperately need in the world in which we live is encouragement. When you consider the people who have made a difference in your life, chances are that you often will think of someone who offered you words of support, inspiration — of encouragement.
I believe that within each of us there is the Barnabas gift, the ability to give a word of comfort and cheer to someone who needs it. Use that gift; don’t fail to realize even someone near and dear to you longs to hear those words that lift fallen spirits.
Just as God put Barnabas in the right place at the right time, God has put you, too, in the right place to support those who need to be encouraged in the faith.
One of my very dear friends, who serves with me on the Council of Bishops, ends every conversation with the words "Be encouraged!" Those words mean so much to me. They are balm for my soul and spirit; they refresh me each time I hear them.
My prayer is that all of you will be "superior in Christian graces, without jealousy, eager to excuse the faults of others, quick to recognize merit, and ready to compromise for the sake of peace!" Be encouraged!