Sunday, September 3, 2017

Acts 11:19-26 – The Power of Encouragement

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen - traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.
But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to 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, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people.

And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
The Duke of Wellington, the British military leader who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, was NOT an easy man to serve under. He was brilliant - but demanding… not one to shower his subordinates with compliments.

As successful as he was, even Wellington could see that his methods left something to be desired.
In an interview conducted when he was old, a young lady asked him “WHAT, if anything, would you do differently if you had his life to live over again?” Wellington thought for a moment, then answered, "I'd be a better encourager."

If I could go back and change ONE THING about myself… I would be a better encourager, too.  I have been too demanding MOST of my life.  I have been terrible at showing people how much I appreciate them… slow praising them for the things they get right.
As a kid – growing up with a demanding parent can be JUST AS BAD as growing up with a neglectful parent.  Feeling like you NEVER measure up… like it’s IMPOSSIBLE to please them.  That’s a hard thing to face.  

But what MIGHT BE even HARDER than growing up with a demanding parent is realizing → that I was one of those parents.
EVERYBODY – I don’t care how old you are – needs to hear a little encouragement.  Life is hard.  Disappointment abounds.  Difficulties frustrate us every day.  People need someone to lift them up.  That’s why it is so important that the church of all places be known as a place that encourages those who are hurting.  

Sadly, however, we are often so wrapped up in our own problems that we fall short.
To prove my point ⇒ When was the last time YOU encouraged someone?  When was the last time YOU made a concerted effort to drop someone a note, or make a 5 minute phone call, or put your arm around slumped shoulders and offered to listen??
Seated all around you on a weekly basis are people who need encouragement.
  • The single mom doing her best to keep her head above water and her kids in church.
  • The young couple struggling financially, wondering if they will make it.
  • The widow who longs for companionship, but no one calls.
  • Parents grieving over their prodigal child.
  • Depressed people, sick people, broken people.

All around you are people who need encouragement.  

I firmly believe we are most like Jesus when we are full of compassion for those who are hurting.  And if you are anything like me – you could use some help in that department.  Today’s text offers it!
Barnabas was an inspiring Christian.  We first meet him in Acts chapter 4, where we learn that his real name was Joseph… but the disciples gave him the nick-name “Barnabas” which LITERALLY means “the encourager.”  And every time you find him in the Bible, he is living up to that name.
  • In Acts 4, we see him giving generously – Sacrificially - to meet the needs of the poor.

  • In chapter 9, we find him coming alongside the new Christian, Saul, putting his reputation on the line insisting that the leaders of the church extend the right hand of fellowship to this former persecutor of the church.

  • Here in Acts 11, we find him going to Antioch to verify the salvation experience of the Gentiles… and while there, people were so encouraged by him that many MORE souls were saved.

  • In Acts 13, the church sends Barnabas and Paul on their first missions trip, winning people to Christ all the way into Europe and Asia.

  • In Acts 15, he defended their work among the gentiles to the Jerusalem Council - forcing those who were prejudiced to accept other races with an open heart.

  • When the young man Mark was struggling in his walk with the Lord, Barnabas encouraged him, seeing in him a young man who would one day become something great for God.
And perhaps the BEST description of this “encourager” is found right here in our text.  Verse 24 says, “he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”
Can that be said of ME?  Of YOU?  Are we encouragers?  Are people attracted to Christ because of what they experience when they are around us?  
If you want to be that kind of person, there are three important characteristics YOU NEED that are found in the life of Barnabas:
1.  First, if you would be the kind of person who encourages others, you must be Full of Faith.  BE Positive - because you’ve SEEN what God can do in bad circumstances - you’ve seen the changes He can make in a life.

Challenge yourself to look at people the way GOD sees them.  Anything less than being “full of faith,” leads to a negative, critical, PETTY kind of Christianity. (and trust me - there are WAY too many of those already!)
Faith is the key to the Christian life.  Scripture says We are
  • JUSTIFIED by faith…
  • SANCTIFIED by faith…
  • and one day we will be GLORIFIED by faith.  
The Bible says
  • Without faith we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6).  
  • And without faith we sin (Romans 14:23).
Being FULL OF FAITH is crucial to being an ‘encourager!’

SO, What does being ‘full of faith’ mean?
First, a person is full of faith is OPEN to the Lord.  Barnabas had given the Lord a blank check.  There was a specific moment in his life when he laid it all on the LINE and he never looked back.  He was all in – no reservations.  

That openness to the Lord made him the man he was.
Are you open to the leadership of the Lord?  Too many of us seem like we want to go PART OF THE WAY in our commitment to the Lord - but not ALL of the way.

We want to tell the Lord - “Thank you for saving me from my sins, for meeting my needs and giving me a home in heaven - but I can take it from here.”  We have drawn lines and said, “Lord, I will go THIS FAR but NO FURTHER.”  

But Jesus wants us completely abandoned to the will of God.  Those who are like Barnabas say, “Lord, WHATEVER IT TAKES, WHATEVER THE SACRIFICE, I will do it.”  Only when you get to that place, will you be “full of faith.”
But not only was he open, he was also OBEDIENT.  The two always go together, by-the-way.  You cannot be open to Him without obeying Him.  

Listen to me - God will not fill a disobedient man.

Barnabas was a man who not only felt it HIS responsibility to obey the Lord, he encouraged others to do the same.  
  • When a person drifted, he would go after them.  
  • When people complained or were at odds with one another, he would intercede as a peace-maker.  
  • He was personally involved in the lives of others.
If you want to be an encourager like him, you must be full of faith… open and obedient. Let God work on you BEFORE you try to help others!

2.  Second, you must be Full of the Spirit.  

Talent will only take a man so far… being WILLING to serve, is good, but NOT GOOD ENOUGH.  V. 24 says that Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit.
Do a study of that phrase - “FULL of the Spirit.” You will find that whenever a ministry was to be performed in the early church, the primary qualification for the job was NOT if
  • the person had money
  • or influence
  • or was the head of a large family.  
  • It had nothing to do with how talented they were or
  • how connected they were.  

No… the MOST important quality a person could have when being chosen to serve was being “filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Even those tasks we might view as the responsibilities of servants, MINOR - MINUTE tasks - were to be performed by men and women who were full of the Spirit.
Why is that so significant?  God isn’t interested in the service of people who are not under the constant, continual, and conspicuous direction of God!  If you want to be an encourager, you must hunger and thirst for MORE OF GOD.  God cannot use a self-willed, self-FILLED man.  The person who is filled with self is like a walking time-bomb, one bad mood away from critically wounding others.
As you read the NT, there are several SIGNS or EVIDENCES of spirit fullness, like, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  

But there are OTHER signs too.  As you study the NT church, it is apparent that those who were filled with the Spirit
  • had a driving compulsion to share their faith with others.  
  • They also had a passion for TRUTH.  
  • They put OTHERS ahead of themselves,
  • they served,
  • lived in harmony with others,
  • AND had powerful prayer lives
  • and positive attitudes – ALL BECAUSE they were Spirit-filled.

So the natural question follows, “WHAT must a person DO to be filled with the Spirit?”  Basically 3 things:
First, you must be Empty.  One of the reasons people aren’t filled with the Spirit is because they are too full of themselves - filled with wrong priorities.  God cannot fill a person who is self-willed.
THEN, you must be Yielded.  You must submit yourself to the control of the Spirit.  Acts 5:32 says that God gives the Holy Spirit to those who OBEY Him.  You cannot be filled with God while living in disobedience.  The Lord won’t share your heart with sin.
And third, you must be prayerful.  Jesus said in Luke 11:13, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

For far too long, the church has grown accustomed to operating without God’s presence and power.  What it basically boils down to is, we have not met the conditions for Spirit-fullness.  We’ve gotten so used to getting by WITHOUT the aid of the Spirit, that we can’t even tell the difference anymore.  Like King Saul or Samson in the Old Testament – both of whom the Bible states: “Did not know that the Spirit had LEFT THEM.”  

Churches are powerless today because the Spirit of God isn’t there. There's LOTS of Activity - but no spirituality.  EXTERNALS matter more than the HEART.  Today's church puts WAY MORE emphasis on academic training or political connections than on walking with Jesus!  As Paul said of the end-times – “We APPEAR godly but DON'T HAVE the power.”  

So many Christians are withering on the vine.  But not Barnabas.  He was FULL of the Spirit.

3.  And then finally, Barnabas was the great encourager he WAS because of his Fruitfulness.  

How was he fruitful??  In three ways:

First, he devoted himself to being an Example.  In chapter 4 we find him stepping up to the plate and meeting the needs of others.  And when the church saw it, THEY wanted to get involved too! Loving the Lord and serving others was MORE than just talk with him.  He sacrificed himself for it.  

Are you a positive example of the Christian life?  If the people in your life followed your lead, if they chose to do Christianity just - like - you, would they be better because of it?   

Second, he devoted himself to being an Encourager.  Every time you see him in the Bible, he is encouraging people.  

  • When Paul became a brand new believer in Christ, the church, as you can imagine, was SLOW to accept him into their fellowship BECAUSE he had persecuted the church at every turn.  They were AFRAID to open their hearts to him because of all the hateful things he had done in his past.

As a side note… I'm glad I belong to a church that doesn't CARE about your past.
But Barnabas took Paul under his wing and became his mentor.  He put his own reputation on the line and asked the church to accept Paul on the basis of his OWN relationship with him.  

But Paul wasn’t the ONLY person Barnabas stuck his neck out for.  

  • The church at Antioch was accepted into the fellowship of the Jerusalem Council because of Barnabas.  

  • MARK, who wrote the GOSPEL of Mark – if it wasn’t for Barnabas, there’s no telling WHAT he would have become.
So you see - Barnabas was one of those men who had the gift of drawing the best out of others.
Do YOU have that ability??  When you walk into a room, does the place turn positive or negative?  Do you lift their spirits or are you so wrapped up in yourself that you are of no use to others??  
And Third, he devoted himself to doing the work of an Evangelist.  According to v. 24 of our text, “a great many people were added to the Lord” through his ministry.  He later went on to help Paul establish numerous works all over the Roman Empire.  

He was a soul-winner.  ALL his relationships - ALL His friends and Family were exposed to Christ and the Gospel because he could not imagine remaining silent about such an important thing as SALVATION.
I imagine we would have felt comfortable in his presence… BUT we would have been challenged to live closer and serve better than ever too.  I am sure he smiled a lot, welcomed strangers as though they were his friends, and loved his church as if they were his family.  Magnetic in personality – the consummate encourager.

Are you an encourager?  Do you WANT to be??  

I know what some of you are thinking - - - “I could NEVER be like that.”  Oh yes you can!

Right now, you have problems just like everyone else – I get it.  Barnabas had his fair share of problems too.  His life wasn’t PERFECT either.  He had struggles just like the rest of us.  But he could rise above it because he was willing to let God work through his life.
Would you ask the Lord to use YOU like that?  

Would you be willing to be less preoccupied with yourself and more focused on showing the love of Christ to those around you?  

THIS is your time to make that commitment.