Encouraged and Encouraged Again

Son of Encouragement for sure.

And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. Acts 9. 26-28

A twofold challenge
We can imagine that, when Saul of Tarsus showed up in Jerusalem, announcing that he was now a Christian and wanted to join the disciples, he was met with a good bit of skepticism.

The disciples there were afraid of him, and not without good reason. Not that long ago he had been rampaging through the city, dragging believers out of their homes and locking them up in prison for the “crime” of believing in Jesus (Acts 8.1-3). So zealous and violent was he that the word spread all the way to Damascus that he had “destroyed those who called” on the Name of Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 9.21).

The believers in Jerusalem were understandably unwilling to admit Saul to their fellowship. So they turned him away.

What would he do now? He couldn’t go back to the Pharisees, for the word about his conduct in Damascus would surely have reached them by this time. He couldn’t very well go to his teacher, Gamaliel, for advice. He was all alone, and he must have wondered whether God would ever be able to use him for the Name of Jesus.

But Barnabas had seen something the others missed. He went to Saul and listened as he told his story about meeting the Lord on the Damascus road, hearing His voice, and how he had preached Jesus to the people in Damascus (v. 27). While everyone else looked askance at Saul, Barnabas sought him out, heard his story, and took him in tow to the apostles.

It's likely that getting Saul to agree to go to the apostles took a little persuading. It certainly took courage on Saul’s part, given his role in persecuting the apostles and other believers, and the fact that other Christians had rejected him outright.

But Barnabas – whose name means “Son of Encouragement” – encouraged him and went with him to meet with Peter, John, and the others.

And he persuaded the apostles to put their fears and doubts aside and have the courage to welcome this young man into their company. Barnabas himself told Saul’s story to the apostles. As a result, Saul was welcomed into the community of believers, and went in and out among them freely.

Thus Barnabas was able to encourage both Saul and the apostles. Through his efforts, God gave Saul the courage to stand before the apostles; and He gave the apostles courage to welcome Saul into their ranks. The encouragement Barnabas offered Saul and the apostles added a fresh voice to the Gospel witness in Jerusalem, for Saul “spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists” (v. 29).

What he did
Barnabas encouraged Saul by seeking him out and acknowledging him as a brother in the Lord. He listened attentively to his story, and probably advised him to go straight to the apostles. He offered to go with him, and even to advocate for him, to demonstrate his conviction of the truth of Saul’s conversion.

Barnabas encouraged the apostles by getting them to agree to meet with Saul and hear his story. The disciples – believers in Jerusalem – had rejected Saul, so Barnabas went “straight to the top”, as it were, believing that if the apostles – the leaders of the church in Jerusalem – would hear and receive Saul, then everyone else would as well.

But he had some convincing to do to get the apostles to agree to that. After all, these men had known and worked with Stephen, and they had not forgotten Saul’s role in his murder (Acts 7.57, 58), as well as his rampage against their flock.

Surely the quality of Barnabas’ character factored in his being able to gain an audience for Saul with the apostles. Barnabas was generous with his possessions to help the church (Acts 4.36, 37). And “Barnabas” was actually a kind of nickname for him. His real name was Joses, but the apostles found him to be such an encouraging fellow that they named him Barnabas. No wonder they sent him to Antioch to check out the situation there, and to encourage the new believers (Acts 11.22, 23).

Barnabas proved the worth of his name by encouraging the apostles to receive Saul, whom he had encouraged to come before them and share his story.

Best friends
Barnabas’ encouragement to Saul brought them together as friends and co-laborers, but only after one more extraordinary effort at encouragement on Barnabas’ part.

Saul had been sent away from Jerusalem because the Hellenistic Jews there wanted to kill him. So the only home he had left was back where he was raised, in Tarsus. That’s where they sent him. We can only speculate about what he did there. Study? Pray? Seek to grow in the Lord? Preach in the streets? Probably a little of each.

So one day, while Saul was out doing his thing, who shows up at his door, but Barnabas, encouraging him to accompany him back to Antioch, and to help in growing the church there (Acts 11.25, 26). Saul had to be encouraged by the fact that Barnabas once again had come looking for him, was persuaded of his gifts and abilities, and held out to him a possibility of ministry that Saul had never dared to imagine.

No wonder they called him “Son of Encouragement.” He believed in Saul. He took him before the apostles. He didn’t forget him, off there in exile in Tarsus. He went there to find him, and brought him back and set him up in his first ministry. Both Saul and the Christian movement benefited from the work of encouragement of this selfless man from Cyprus.

No wonder Paul urged believers to encourage one another. He had experienced first-hand the power of encouragement to make all the difference in someone’s life. And he must have believed that multiplying the work of encouragement among the followers of Christ would result in strong believers and a strong movement of the Gospel for the glory of God.

For reflection
1. Can you think of a time when someone encouraged you? What was that like?

2. How did Barnabas’ encouragement affect Saul of Tarsus?
3. Why should believers be eager to learn how to encourage one another?

Next steps – Transformation: What can you learn from Jesus and Barnabas about encouraging others? Whom will you encourage today?

T. M. Moore

Resources for the Journey
If you missed our ReVision series, “We Would See Jesus,” you can download all four installments by clicking here. Our newest book, What in Heaven is Jesus Doing on Earth?, can help you to “see Jesus” as He continues His work at the right hand of God. Order your copy by clicking here. For a sweeping study of the unseen realm and the world to come, order our workbook, The Landscape of Unseen Things, by clicking here. And you can learn how our Celtic Christian forebears saw Jesus through the 28 days of meditations in Be Thou My Vision (click here).

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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