If we are honest, we all like kind words and sometimes that is enough – a little encouragement can lift someone up and make a difference, even change their day for the better. But there are also times when words alone are not enough to encourage or make a difference, there is a need for practical help and we may be just the one who is able to give it!
Barnabas, son of encouragement
In the early church the apostles recognised the gift of encouragement in Joseph of Cyprus. He was a Levite who had converted to be a follower of Jesus Christ, who was living in Jerusalem and a member of the early church. This man was such an example of someone with the gift of encouragement that the apostles changed his name, I suppose we would say they gave him a ‘nickname’, a name that they felt described him perfectly – Barnabas which means ‘son of encouragement’.
At this time in the early church, we are told that no-one was in need as ‘the believers shared all that they had.’ There was such unity among them that those who had land or property sold what they had and brought the money to the apostles to be shared out to those in need. Barnabas sold a field that he owned and brought all the money to the apostles laying it at their feet. This was a symbolic act of reverence, showing his respect for their authority and his trust in them, to act fairly and to care for those in need.
His gift was also a declaration of faith and trust in God to provide for all his needs in the future. The field may well have been his financial security, set aside for his old age as his pension pot! He showed his full commitment to God by what he did. His love and trust in God were greater than his love of money and possessions.
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”Hebrews 13:5
Characteristics of Barnabas
This wholehearted giving and trust in God, is something to reflect on. To keep our lives free of ‘the love of money’ may be more of a challenge today as society has become so much more materialistic. And the balance of being a good steward with planning and preparing, when the future is becoming more uncertain means that many are having to make difficult adjustments. God, however, does not change, He is still the One who provides for all our needs!
Whether we have a natural gifting as an encourager or not, we can all be challenged to develop the gift of encouragement. This story of Barnabas’ generosity in Acts 4, is a testimony about the gift of giving and giving generously, but it is also our introduction to the character of Barnabas. I do not think it is coincidental that the one who is held up as an example of being a great encourager, by his actions, teaches us about giving!
- True encouragement is a practical action, which always has a cost.
- True encouragement overflows, into all the other gifts – prophecy, service, teaching, giving, leading, and even mercy.
- True encouragement is all about giving generously. In fact –
True encouragement flows with generosity!Tweet
Barnabas responded to a need that he saw right in front of him, and revealed what was in his heart – obedience, generosity and trust in God. Today, because of the media, we are often bombarded with ‘need’ and the danger is that we can become hardhearted, and we can switch off to responding. But God may touch our hearts and test us in that way, to give to a local cause, a need that develops in our own community, or even further afield. It might not be a grand gesture that is needed, just a regular commitment, to stretch ourselves and give over and above what we might feel is required of us, so that we bless and encourage someone else’s ministry….
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Matthew 6:19-21
God will not ask us to give what we have not got, only what we already have in our hand, and as we prove faithful in small ways He will open further opportunities for us.
Three ways how Barnabas’ act of generosity was also a practical act of encouragement:
- Barnabas encouraged the apostles by his obedience to their teaching.
- His generous giving encouraged those who were in need.
- The practical outworking of God’s love encouraged the unity among all the believers – “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)
Barnabas did not start out as an evangelist or a missionary – but that was what he became! He started with a servant heart, willing to respond to the immediate need before him. And he went on from strength to strength, at each step trusting in the Lord and encouraging others. God blessed him and multiplied his ministry.
“Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.”Ecclesiastes 11:1
To hold onto the things of this world lightly and trust in God for our future is a challenge for us all. Are we willing to really encourage, to help, assist, and lift others up, even if it is at great cost, risk, or inconvenience to ourselves?
Lord, may Your grace give hope for the future, encouraging and strengthening in every good deed and word – all for God’s praise and glory! Amen.