Acts of the Apostles 11: 19-26 (NIV)
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
22 News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
In this short passage from Acts we encounter by name three people important to the early Church: Stephen, Barnabas and Saul. It is worth devoting a little time to the “back story”.
Stephen was one of the seven made deacons but he was not only competent to “wait on tables” (Acts 6). He was a man of wisdom who spoke the word by the Holy Spirit. As a consequence of his preaching, he was brought before the Sanhedrin then stoned to death, becoming the first Christian martyr. Saul was there (Acts 8: 1), present in the crowd and giving approval to his death.
Saul then had that miraculous encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus – he was converted and began “speaking boldly in the name of the Lord” (Acts 9: 28). For his own safety he was sent by the brothers from Jerusalem to Tarsus (Acts 9: 29-30).
Barnabas, the third character in this passage, is the fulcrum in this story. We read in Acts 4: 36-37, “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement) sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”
In the passage above, we read that the church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch. The passage begins with the consequences of the persecution of the early Church: the scattering of believers who continued to spread the good news about the Lord Jesus, initially only to fellow Jews but in Antioch to Greeks (Gentiles) as well. Thus Barnabas was sent to Antioch. From verse 23, “When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.”
There is a “back story” concerning Barnabas and Saul, too. Initially when Saul returned from Damascus and tried to join the disciples they would not have him; they did not believe he really was a disciple. It was Barnabas who “took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9: 27).
It is evident, therefore, why Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul and, having found him, brought him to Antioch (Acts 11: 25-26a). As a consequence, “for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people” (verse 26b).
This account clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of a ministry of encouragement. Encouraging others is not only the province of the heroes of the early Church. Each one of us can be an encourager. We have staff, family, colleagues, even people whose names we do not know but whom we encounter daily. Building another up is far more productive than tearing another down. Let us all resolve to be encouragers this day and every day.
Help us, Lord, to encourage your children to remain true to you with all their hearts.
Drawn from a talk delivered 14 May 2014