Formations 05.05.2019: The Power of Encouragement

Acts 9:23-31; 13:1-3

Seventeen teachers in Houston County, Georgia picked a student who inspires them and took the time to say “thank you.”

Eliza Morales, who teaches English as a Second Language at Westside Elementary School, picked fifth-grader Kimberly Lopez Ramirez. “You’re always going to have a special place in my heart,” Morales told her. “I just believe in you. I know you’re going to do great things.”

Morales relates how she kept coming back to the question, “Who really needs to hear this?” She believes encouraging students is part of a teacher’s job. They have to let their students know they’re special “because they…have to believe in themselves in order for them to be successful.”

The school system created a video featuring the teachers and their students as part of a project to showcase why teachers love their work.

Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t need to hear an encouraging word? Is there anybody who wouldn’t benefit from knowing there’s somebody in their corner, somebody who’ll go to bat for them when they need it?

The apostles gave Joseph of Cyprus the nickname “Barnabas,” meaning “son of encouragement.” Nearly every time we see him in the pages of Acts, he’s living up to that name.

In Acts 9, he vouches for Saul when other Christians doubt the faith of their former persecutor. That story ends as Saul, emboldened, preaches the gospel in Jerusalem despite growing hostility. Later, in Acts 13, Barnabas leads the church in Antioch and, with Saul, is one of the church’s first missionaries.

What risks did he take by standing up for Saul among the Jerusalem disciples? What blessings did Barnabas contribute to Saul’s life and ministry?

Ensley Nichols, “‘I Just Believe in You’: Houston County Teachers Tell Students How They Inspire Them,” 13WMAZ.com, 12 Apr 2019.

Discussion

• Why do you think the other believers feared Saul? What made Barnabas believe Saul when others did not?
• What blessings did Barnabas contribute to Saul’s life and ministry?
• What risks might one incur by standing up for an outsider?
• Who has encouraged you when you most needed it?
• Who stood up for you when you felt you were all alone?
• For whom can you be an advocate or encourager today?

Reference Shelf

Barnabas

“Barnabas” was the surname that the apostles gave to a man named Joseph (Acts 4:36). The name Barnabas literally means “son of encouragement” or “son of consolation,” and Acts refers to Barnabas as a good man who was full of the Holy Spirit and faith (Acts 11:24). Barnabas was a Jewish native of Cyprus and traced his ancestry to the priestly tribe of Levi (Acts 4:36). In Acts, Barnabas was important in the spread of Christianity because of his role as an encourager….

The Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to Antioch of Syria to learn about the conversion of gentiles (Acts 11:22). Barnabas encouraged the gentiles in Antioch to remain steadfast in their faith. Barnabas went to Tarsus and found Saul; he brought Saul back to Antioch, and they stayed there for one year teaching. The church at Antioch sent famine relief to the church at Jerusalem by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

Bennie R. Crockett Jr., “Barnabas,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 87.

Barnabas and Saul

Barnabas plays the role of intermediary (v. 27). His appearance recalls his introduction in 4:36, where the narrator portrayed him as a loyal disciple and interpreted his name to mean “son of encouragement.” He clearly plays such an encouraging role here, vouching for Saul. In describing Barnabas’s role as Saul’s advocate before the apostles, the narrative establishes a bond between Barnabas and Saul, providing a foundation for the close association between them that readers will see in Acts 11–15. The narrative leaves the reader wondering why Barnabas trusted Saul or how he (seemingly) was the only Jerusalem disciple who knew of Saul’s experiences in and around Damascus. Readers simply do not need to know these things to understand Barnabas’s narrative role as “the son of encouragement,” indicating, once again, how narrative concerns drive the author.

The community accepts Saul, as evidenced by his easy movement among the disciples (v. 28a). Saul does in Jerusalem what he did in Damascus: he preaches “in the name of the Lord” (v. 29a), again fulfilling partially the call of 9:15 to carry Jesus’ name to the children of Israel…. Saul’s loyalty to the gospel leads the disciples of Jerusalem to accept him. It leads the non- believing Jews, however, to the opposite response (v. 29b). Luke could have referred to these opponents of Saul as “Jews.” But he calls them “Hellenists.” Recalling that “Hellenists” denotes Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora who have now settled in Palestine, the narrator may be offering both an ironic flashback and ominous foreshadowing. Flashing back, the last time Saul was associated with some Diaspora Jews in Jerusalem, Stephen was being executed (6:9; 7:54–8:3). Now Saul is their target. Looking ahead, the Hellenists’ violent opposition to Saul foreshadows the way many Diaspora Jews will respond to the gospel as Saul carries the word to the ends of the earth.

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 154.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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