The first time a Nigerian couple asked me to preside over a naming ceremony for their newborn, they provided me with a list of twelve names. Each name represented an important quality they hoped their child would embody.
Names in Eastern culture convey character. In ancient Chinese society a courtesy name was assigned to men at the age of twenty, it marked their coming of age. It was sometimes given to women, usually upon marriage.
In Acts 4 we're afforded a glimpse into a unique naming ceremony. Luke introduced Joseph, or should I say Barnabas.
"Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet." Acts 4:36-37 ESV
Luke packs a lot of information concerning Joseph's character in just two verses:
a priestly pedigree
immigrated to Jerusalem
owned real estate
Most importantly, he was generous toward God. He was such a remarkable individual the apostles assigned him a courtesy name, Barnabas - encourager extraordinaire.
Shortly after a murderous character by the name of Saul of Tarsus - later named Paul - was converted to Christianity, he attempted to join the disciples at Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-27). The folk were all afraid of him, until Barnabas intervened and vouched for him. Barnabas stepped out from the crowd and showed Paul great kindness.
For the next several years Barnabas traveled with Saul through thick and thin. Together they faced violent mobs, fierce storms, and scornful audiences. But like all dynamic relationships, eventually a conflict arises. It was over John Mark, Barnabas' cousin (Acts 15:36-41).
Paul was upset over Mark's decision in Pamphylia to abandon them. He wasn't prepared to take him along on their next venture. The contention was so fierce Barnabas and Paul went their separate ways, Barnabas with Mark to Cyprus and Paul with Silas to Syria and Cilicia. The breach between them apparently lasted for quite some time.
Thankfully the differences did not prove to be irreconcilable. Paul refers to Barnabas a few years later regarding the church's support of them, "Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?"
(1 Corinthians 9:6 ESV)
Barnabas sacrificed himself to drive forward the mission of the Church. He risked being misinterpreted. He willingly risked long-standing relationships when he felt by doing so, he was serving the greater good - to come alongside Mark in his dark season.
Scripture paints a picture of Barnabas as kind, forgiving, encouraging and compassionate. Luke sums up his character, "he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." (Acts 11:24 ESV)
Barnabas encouraged the church at Antioch, "When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose." (Acts 11:23 ESV) Barnabas was akin to the Old Testament character, Johnathan - King David's youthful friend.
Jonathan visited David at Horesh and encouraged him. He said, "Don't despair. My father, Saul, can't lay a hand on you. You will be Israel's king and I'll be right at your side to help. And my father knows it." (1 Samuel 23:16-18 MSG)
John Ortberg, in his book The Life You Always Wanted, tells of a preacher who was leaving his church. He was attempting to encourage one of the senior members. He said to the lady, "don't be sad at my leaving the next preacher might be better than me." She replied, "that's what they said last time, but it keeps getting worse."
It wasn't exactly the encouragement he needed, and obviously she was not a gifted encourager.
"We all need others. None of us can do life and ministry on our own."
I don't want patronizing platitudes or reassurance birthed out of obligation. But there are Mondays when my heart screams for encouragement. There are Sundays when I walk away from the platform needing positive feedback. There are evenings when I sure could use an encouraging email in my inbox.
One of the greatest challenges of leading people is keeping refreshed with inspiration, motivation, and passion for what God wants to do through your efforts. We all need others. None of us can do life and ministry on our own.
Jonathan believed in the calling and purpose of God on David's life and he let him know. Who knows where Paul would've been without Barnabas believing in him and introducing him to other leaders? Both mighty leaders had and needed an encourager, and each of us do too.
Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy". (Matthew 5:7 ESV)
I say Blessed are the encouragers, for they shall receive encouragement.
Paul went on to become a great encourager to Titus and Timothy, and a host of others. The people in your orbit need encouragement, "Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted." (Isaiah 40:30 ESV)
Encourage someone today!