Then when he (Barnabas) had come and witnessed the grace of God,
he rejoiced and began to encourage them all
with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.
Acts 11: 23
I’ve always been a little starry-eyed about the billing Barnabas gets in the Bible. Why not when his name means Son of Encouragement? Compared to James and John, known as the Sons of Thunder and Rahab, who is remembered as the Harlot, even though she quit that job and began a new life, Barnabas nabbed one sweet name.
Even better, he lived up to his moniker. In Acts 9:27, Barnabas sticks up for Paul, the new boy in town with a bad rep. In Acts 11:23, Barnabas travels to Antioch to encourage the new converts. Those accounts make me go all starry-eyed, and I wanna be just like Mr. Encouragement when I grow up.
But further reading of the adventures of Barnabas, usually in the company of Paul, can take the twinkle out of my starry eyes. Like when the dynamic duo visited the synagogue in Salamis, and “the rulers sent a message to them, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.’” (Acts 13:15) Then Paul, not always the soul of tact, encouraged them by relating the history of God’s mercy toward his stiff-necked and rebellious covenant children, also known as the Jews, and the fulfillment of his covenant through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.
How did the audience respond to the encouraging words Paul spoke and Barnabas seconded? At first, the leaders asked them to speak again and invited the entire town, Gentiles and Jews, to come for a dose of encouragement. At that second gig, Acts 13:48 says the Gentiles “began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” The Jews, on the other hand, incited a riot and drove Paul and Barnabas out of town.
Their reaction seemed a little drastic toward two guys trying to spread sunshine and good cheer. Until I compared my New American Standard (NAS) translation to the English Standard Version (ESV). The word encouragement in NAS is translated as exhortation in ESV. And exhortation means speaking and teaching the truth. Which means biblical encouragement is not always a rah-rah, feel good experience since speaking and teaching truth often exposes sin. Which leads to conviction. Which leads to repentance. Which requires change. And change is hard.
No wonder the Jews rioted. But by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the words of Paul and the presence of Barnabas, the hearts of many Gentiles were encouraged/exhorted to repent and believe the truth. And they were changed for eternity.
God used ordinary guys like Barnabas and Paul to speak and teach gospel truth, and he still uses ordinary men and women like you and me today. Sometimes, our words may cause a riot. But other times, the gospel will lead those imprisoned by discouragement and deceit to new life in Christ and the promise of eternal life. If that thought doesn’t put a starry twinkle back in my eyes and yours, what will?