Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Becoming a Son of Encouragement

Let me tell you about Joseph, “a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement)” (Acts 4:36). The Greek word translated “encouragement” here is paraklesis, from para, meaning “by the side,” or “alongside,” and kaleo, “to call.” Paraklesis is a picture of one coming alongside and calling out to another. It is a word of gentleness and strength that speaks of exhortation as well as encouragement, of challenge as well as comfort. The apostle Paul numbered paraklesis among the spiritual gifts in Romans 12.

Spiritual encouragement is an “alongside” ministry. It means talking with people, “up close and personal,” rather than shouting at them from a distance. It means helping them find their spiritual way, the path God calls them to walk, rather than leading them in our footsteps. It requires the vision to see what God can do in a person's life.

Barnabas had such a vision. When the apostle Paul first became a believer, he ceased persecuting Christians and began preaching Jesus in the synagogues. But when the disciples in Jerusalem were afraid and did not think him sincere, it was Barnabas who recognized the work of God in Saul (later called Paul) and brought him into the fellowship (Acts 9:27).

When the first Jewish Christians, scattered by persecution, began to take the gospel into gentile communities, Barnabas went to Antioch to investigate. “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” (Acts 11:23).

And when Paul wanted to make his second missionary journey without John Mark, who had deserted the first mission, Barnabas sharply disagreed. He saw the work God wanted to do in Mark's life and was not willing to abandon him. So Barnabas parted company with Paul, taking Mark with him to Cyprus, mentoring him in ministry. His vision was confirmed as Mark became an able and respected partner to both Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and Paul (2 Timothy 4:11).

How is your vision? Can you see what the kingdom of God looks like in the life of someone to whom you are ministering. They may not be able to see it for themselves — can you see it for them and encourage them with it, speaking it over their lives and believing God for it? Can you walk beside them — not ahead, not behind, not above, but beside them? Then you can become a “son of encouragement.”