Tuesday, June 19, 2012

June 17, 2012 - Spiritual Gifts: The Three R's - Encouragement

Acts 9:19b-21; 26-31

I was sitting at an intersection the other day when another vehicle pulled up beside me.  It was one of those intersections where the light takes a long time to change.  I noticed a couple about my age occupied the other vehicle.   He was sitting in the passenger seat, so I had a good view of his actions.  He was very, very impatient as he waited on the light to change.  He was bouncing around in his seat, making repeated obscene gestures at the traffic light, and appeared to be yelling at the other person in the car with him.  She looked as though she wanted to put him out of he vehicle and leave him.  When the light finally changed, I was driving along in the lane next to them for a little bit of a distance and he was still wound up, and still appeared to be yelling. 

I really felt sorry for the woman riding with him.  Who wants to be around someone acting in such a way?  Words and actions can either build up others, or tear them down.  When someone is impatient or angry and dumping a load of negativity on someone else it can create a wound that takes a long time to heal.

We are in the midst of a series of messages based on spiritual gifts.  I am grouping the gifts under three headings – Relational, Revelatory, and Redemptive.  Today we come to the gift of encouragement.  Did you know encouragement was a spiritual gift?  It’s a gift of great importance.

Our text for today tells us of a man who embodied the gift of encouragement.  His name was Joseph, although we know him by his nickname of Barnabas.  Acts 4:36 tells us that Joseph was given the nickname of Barnabas by the apostles.  Barnabas means son of encouragement.  Joseph was so well-known for his encouragement that he was given a name to reflect his gift for encouragement. 

As we talk about the gift of encouragement this morning we’ll look at some of the ways that Barnabas lived out his gift of encouragement.

 An encourager is someone who is faithful to others.
Has there been a time in your life when someone demonstrated faithfulness to you?  Perhaps they spoke on your behalf, or stood with you when others wouldn’t.  That’s a powerful experience, isn’t it, when someone is faithful.

One of the ways faithfulness is demonstrated is to speak on behalf of another person.

Our Scripture reading for today relates this interesting event that takes place after Paul’s conversion.  Remember that Paul had been a persecutor of the church and was converted as he traveled to arrest people who were followers of Jesus.  After his conversion there was a great deal of suspicion about Paul.  Many in the early church wanted nothing to do with him.  Luke tells us that when Paul came to Jerusalem he tried to join the other disciples but they resisted because they were afraid of Paul and they didn’t believe his faith was genuine.

It’s not easy to stand up and speak against a crowd.  It’s tough to go against the majority opinion.  But notice what Barnabas does – he brings Paul to the apostles and speaks on his behalf.  Barnabas tells the apostles about Paul’s faith and he is the one who opens the door of opportunity for Paul.  Barnabas stands before the apostles and the leaders of the early church to say you’re wrong about this guy.  Imagine the difference if Barnabas had not been willing to stand up for Paul and speak on his behalf.

Barnabas later traveled with Paul on his first missionary journey, and they took Mark along with them.  Mark did not complete the journey, returning home after completing only a portion of the trip.  When they were preparing for their second journey Paul refused to allow Mark to go with them, because he did not complete the first trip.  Barnabas was caught in the middle, as he felt Mark should be able to travel with them, but Paul was adamant that Mark not be permitted to accompany them.  Barnabas remained faithful to Mark, traveling with Mark while Paul chose Silas to accompany him.

Paul should have given Mark a second chance.  Because Barnabas advocated on behalf of Paul, Paul should have been willing to give Mark another chance, but he didn’t.  Paul was too quick, I think, in his willingness to leave Mark behind, but Barnabas, ever the encourager, was willing to take up for Mark, and to stand with him.  What would have become of Mark, and his ministry, if Barnabas had not remained loyal to him?

I had a time in my life where I felt very alone and abandoned.  It was a very, very difficult time.  One of the things that meant a great deal to me was having people who were faithful to me, and spoke on my behalf.  Life would be very different for me if they had not done so.

An encourager is someone who cares about the needs of others.
In Acts 4:36-37 Barnabas makes his first appearance. The passage relates that Barnabas sold a piece of property and brought the proceeds of the sale to the apostles.  Interestingly, the story that follows immediately is that of Ananias and Sapphira, who also sold some property but only brought a portion of the proceeds, while trying to mislead the apostles into thinking they were giving more than they really were giving.  Barnabas becomes an example of faithful giving, as he offers what he has to care for the needs of others.  Barnabas, along with Paul, later received a collection from other churches to aid the church in Jerusalem.  Many of the members of the church in Jerusalem were in great need, and Barnabas worked very hard to provide for their needs.

An encourager is one who cares about the needs of others, but it’s not just financial needs.  Some people need the gift of time, some need the gift of a listening ear, some need the gift of an encouraging phone call or note. 

For years I was really terrible about writing notes to people, which is odd because I so value receiving encouraging notes from others.  In recent years I’ve tried to do better, and my goal is to write a couple of encouraging letters each week.  Doing keeps me observant of what others, because I’m looking to see if someone needs a word of thanks or a word of encouragement.   I could still do better, but I’m trying. 

Take a few moments to do something encouraging each week.  Take a few minutes and write a note.  Take a few moments and make a phone call.  Take a few moments and make a visit.  You make a huge difference when you demonstrate a caring attitude about the needs of others.

An encourager makes a lasting difference in the lives of others.
Barnabas is not one of the “household Biblical names.”  We are so much more familiar with Moses, Abraham, David, Peter, Paul, Mary, and others. Barnabas receives only a few mentions in the pages of Scripture.  Much of his work was done out of the spotlight. But his work was very important, and his encouragement made a lasting difference in the lives of others.  The encouragement of Barnabas made possible the ministry of others, including people such as Paul, who became much better known.  Encouragement, or lack of it, makes a lasting difference in the lives of others. 

Some years ago I was with a group passing out food.  It was a hot summer day, there was a long line, and we ran out of some of the food items.  A man came through the line and when he came to where I was standing, he started to complain to me.  They weren’t big complaints.  He said he didn’t get some of the food items he saw others carrying.  I was hot, tired, and a bit frustrated, and I unleashed my frustration on him.  In front of all the people who were in that place I told him he was ungrateful, that we were doing the best we could do, and if he didn’t like it that was too bad.

He didn’t say much in response.  Neither did anyone else.  What I did was wrong, it was embarrassing for everyone, and it was also a moment that is hard for anyone to forget, because words and attitudes – positive or negative – reach deeply into our hearts, our souls, and our minds, and they stay there.

The man walked out with his box of food and I tried to convince myself that I was perfectly justified in lecturing him, but I wasn’t.  I went in search of him and thankfully I found him.  I apologized to him and he was very gracious.  He even told me that he had been in the wrong, but he wasn’t.

A discouraging word makes a lasting impression, as does an encouraging word.  I can’t go back and erase what I said.  That man needed an encouraging word and I didn’t offer it to him.  Other people needed to see me as an example of being an encourager and they did not.

An encourager – or discourager – makes a lasting impact in the lives of others.

Who are you a Barnabas to?  Who needs you to be a Barnabas?  The gift of encouragement is one that we can develop.  We can learn to be an encourager.  Be an encourager – there are people who need encouragement from you.

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