Luke likes Barnabas a lot, and for good reason. It was Barnabas who Paul went to when he returned to Jerusalem after his vision on the Road to Damascus, Barnabas who took Paul in and vouched for him to the apostles, and here we see him seeking out his friend in Tarsus and bringing him to Damascus. Although he doesn’t get a starring role, its safe to say that without Barnabas there’s no Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, and hence no expanding church, no epistles, no Christianity as we know it. Barnabas is key, but unsung. So let’s sing his praises now, and let him teach us something about the spirituality of encouragement.
True encouragement is nearly impossible when people are striving and jealous. As a young man, I wanted to be a famous writer, and consequently I found it impossible to read a book by an upcoming writer without looking for faults in it. “They’re not so great,” I’d mumble to myself as I turned the pages. I was so afraid that I wouldn’t get to be what I wanted to be that pleasure at anyone else’s achievement became impossible. Yet in my early thirties I came to the realization that I was never going to be famous, or even well known, that I was one of eleven billion people, and the chances of my achieving any kind of notoriety were incredible small. At first I was sad about this, and then I began to think about it with an incredible sense of relief. The pressure was off! My family and community loved me even though I wasn’t famous. God loved me. Next to the wonder of those loves, notoriety had very little meaning.
Once I was free (or at least partially, for who is entirely free) of this ego-driven lust for prominence, I found that I could really enjoy the writing of others. Novels became pleasurable to me again. So did many things that fell entirely outside of my talents. I was no longer comparing myself to other people, or trying to prove my worth. I was suddenly free to wholeheartedly embrace whatever was good in others. I found within myself the capacity to encourage.
This, obviously, is the capacity that Barnabas has in abundance. And I think he’s so encouraging because he’s humble. He’s more delighted in the gifts of others than he is in his own gifts. You can imagine him looking at Paul and seeing how remarkable Paul is, and not feeling a jot of jealousy. He doesn’t care what people think of him. And because of that, he can delight in them.
Encouragement like Barnabas’ is a sure-fire sign of the resurrection. How do you know that you’re living in a Beloved Community? Well, such a community will be full of the sons and daughters of encouragement, people who are actively looking for the gifts and talents of others, and promoting those gifts and talents without much thought for themselves. These people will, of course, feel flattered and loved if you acknowledge their own gifts and talents, but they don’t need you to acknowledge them. The sons and daughters of encouragement know that they’re loved, that God values them completely, so they have little need to seek validation. Hopefully all of our communities are full of these people, just like the community at Antioch.