Friendships are formed when we are willing to give our time and attention to another person and encouragement is all about giving! It is a gift that we can develop to help build relationships, in our churches, workplace, and social groups. Are we prepared to reach out and make others welcome? What about those whom we don’t always agree with, or those who may have offended or hurt us in some way, or even those who are very different to us?
One definition of encourage, by the Cambridge English dictionary, is ‘to make someone more likely to do something, and to make something more likely to happen.’ Would you act as an intermediary, would you be willing to reach out and offer the hand of friendship to someone no-one else wanted to associate with? If it was someone who had very publicly been outspoken, with opposing views to your own?
Encouragement in action, bridges the gap, spans the divide and draws people together.
I love the fact that in the early church there is an example for us of a man who had a heart for encouragement and who was willing to take a risk to reach out and draw the outsider in – that man of course was Barnabas. The same person who in ‘Is encouragement more than just kind words’ demonstrated true generosity, through financial giving, in response to the needs of others!
A couple of years later, we can read an account in Acts 9:26-30 of Saul returning to Jerusalem, sometime after his conversion, when he had to flee for his life from Damascus. The believers in Jerusalem did not seem to be aware of his dramatic turnaround, from being a persecutor of Christians to a follower of Jesus, and they were wary and suspicious of him, understandably so! This was the same Saul who had tried to destroy the church, who had arrested Christians, forcibly dragged them from their homes and put them in prison.
Saul tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him.
Barnabas however brought Saul to the apostles. He acted as an intermediary, he did not have to, he chose to. Then he acted as a spokesman for Saul, he told his story so that he was accepted. Barnabas was generous this time in forgiveness and, more than that, in friendship. He was willing to take a risk and reach out to Saul.
He believed in Saul’s story, when everyone else was still afraid of him.
Barnabas gave freely of his time and risked his own reputation to champion Saul, a man who was disliked and feared. He made the introductions and a former enemy became accepted as a friend.
Three ways how Barnabas’ act of friendship was also a practical act of encouragement:
- To encourage Saul, that it would be possible to leave his past behind, that God’s love and forgiveness were real and evidenced within the church.
- To encourage unity in the church, even when it involves costly and sacrificial love.
- To encourage faith in the church and among the people of Jerusalem – what a witness and testimony of the forgiveness of God and reconciliation at work.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.Colossians 3:13-14
Remember at this time the church in Jerusalem was predominantly Jewish – the ministry of reconciliation that God was calling them to was only just beginning, there was a further work of welcoming the outsiders in, still to be accomplished – praise God!
Sometimes a situation needs an intermediary, someone to act and do something. Barnabas bridged the gap between the former persecutor of the church and the believers in Jerusalem. Fear was replaced with forgiveness and more than that, with friendship, with new bonds of unity, being one in Spirit, faith and purpose.
True encouragement forges bonds of friendship!Tw
Encouragement is an important part of any friendship, especially when it is demonstrated by our actions! By being willing to be the intermediary Barnabas became a true friend to Saul, which would become significant later.
We can all develop the gift of encouragement. We may have to be more creative in how we can encourage each other in these particular times but after all ‘meeting together’ doesn’t just happen in a church building… If we choose to make ourselves Available by being open to the prompting of the Spirit and we have the right Attitude in that we are willing to make it happen, there will be Access an opportunity to offer friendship – to share God’s love in a despairing and increasingly needy world.
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