Son of Encouragement
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Son of Encouragement

Throughout history, the church has been influenced by unsung heroes—ordinary men and women who were significant in the fulfillment of God’s purposes. In this study, we meet one such individual, Barnabas. Ever on the lookout for evidence of God’s grace, he played a key role in the early church’s ministry by offering compassion and encouragement to others. Noting that no one is irrelevant and no task inconsequential, Alistair Begg challenges each of us to dare to be a Barnabas!

Series Containing This Sermon

Jars of Clay

Series ID: 22501

Sermon Transcript: Print

Acts 11:21:

“The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

“News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 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. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

“Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were [first] called Christians … at Antioch.

“During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.”


Let’s pause in prayer for a moment:

Once again, our God and Father, we humble our hearts before you, because we know that by our very nature, we do not receive the things of the Spirit; they’re foolishness to us.[1] It is only as a result of your grace redeeming us, as we have pondered in song already tonight, that the eyes of our understanding would be open to the truth of your Word. And yet we recognize how dense we often are, how slow to believe what was spoken of old, how lethargic in having your Word applied to our lives. We pray that tonight, in these moments of study, that you will stir our hearts, fuel our minds, and channel our wills into the pathway of obedience, for we pray in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen.

Can I ask you to do one other thing? Turn forward in your Bibles to Romans 16. I just want to show something to you here for a moment and introduce our study tonight.

If you look at Romans chapter 16, virtually the whole of the chapter deals with greetings that were given to people who were colleagues and fellow workers and individuals who were known to Paul in his ministry. And if you just dip into the list at any place at all, you’ll be introduced to people, many of whom we have no other record of in the whole of the Bible. For example, Epenetus in verse 5, “who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.” I couldn’t have answered that. If somebody had asked me tonight, “Who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia?” I would have said, “Who knows?” And the answer is, the Lord knows, and Paul knew, and he wrote it down here in Romans. “Greet Mary,” verse 6. Who was Mary? Well, all we know about Mary is that she “worked very hard for you.” “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who[’ve] been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” How about this character in verse 8, Ampliatus, or Urbanus, or Stachys? And so on, all through this list. Most of them we know nothing about. And yet, already they share their reward, and their voices mingle with the praises of those who’ve gone before us into heaven.

If I could get one thing across tonight, I think it would be this truth beyond any other. It’s not a new truth; it’s just a word of reminder. And it is this: that the church, not only in the first century but in every subsequent century, has been sustained and blessed and enriched not by those who were prominent, not by those who were apparently heroic, but largely, predominantly, by those who were unsung heroes. By individuals whose names were never printed up in lights. By people who were known perhaps only to a few in their immediate circle. By some who were perhaps tempted to believe that as they made their pilgrimage through life and as they ended their days and went on into eternity, they had really died insignificantly. And what we discover when we read the Bible is that there is no one who is insignificant in the purposes of God. “None of us lives to ourself nor dies to ourselves. And so, whether we live or whether we die, we do so as unto the Lord.”[2]

One of the characters who has more prominence than some who’ve been mentioned here in Romans 16, and yet was not the most significant even in his day or amongst his circle, is the individual whom we’ve come to refer to, as a result of the biblical record, as “the Son of Encouragement,” or “the Encourager.” We’re referring here to Barnabas. We could almost call him Barney. I think he would’ve been called Barney if he’d been around. Don’t feel that it’s sacrilegious. I don’t think it is; he was just a man like us, and I can’t imagine that he would have liked to have a title. I can’t imagine that he would like to have been distanced from people in any way at all. I think children, as well as elderly people, throughout the whole spectrum of life, would all have had something to say concerning this character, Barnabas.

We’re introduced to him in the biblical record for the first time in Acts chapter 4. Acts chapter 4 tells us that things had been going quite incredibly well for the believers. They were united in prayer, and they were united in purpose. They were enjoying a precious unity of heart and mind, as verse 32 tells us, towards the end of the chapter: “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” Boy, there’s a description for your average church meeting, is it not? How would you like that to be the designation that went over your annual general meeting? “And what was the annual general meeting like, 1992?” Someone says, “Well, it was just tremendous. All the believers were of one heart and one mind.” That ought not to be a surprise to us, nor a forlorn hope, because the Spirit of God is the one who creates that unity.

And then it goes on to tell us of the characteristics—marks—of a church that was effective in its day. And it tells of the fact that these individuals, touched by the Spirit of God, were manifesting the change in their lives not simply in their worship, nor even in their prayers, but also in their conduct—in the way they treated one another, and also in the very practical realm of their possessions and their attitude towards their possessions.

What we discover when we read the Bible is that there is no one who is insignificant in the purposes of God.

I was telling some people the other day of an individual whom I know who is now in Washington, DC. He worked for a time in a church on the West Coast. And involved in the pastoral team, he would be the recipient of a number of calls—people seeking to sit and be counseled by him. And he was a very busy man and wasn’t necessarily given much to counseling but was prepared to counsel. And so he would tell people when they called, that wanted to speak to him, he said, “Yes, I’m very happy to talk with you, and I’ll see you at such and such a time on such and such an evening, and when you come, bring your checkbook.”

And there would always be a pause at the other end of the phone, and the people would say. “Bring our checkbooks?”

And he would say, “Yes, that’s correct.”

And they would then say. “Why? Have you started to charge for the counseling?”

And he said, “No, I’m not charging for the counseling. I just want you to bring your checkbook because if you bring your checkbook, then I will see where your heart is.”

And if we could have looked into the checkbook of Barnabas on that day, we would have discovered where his heart was. Indeed, we are told in Acts 4:[37] that he had “sold a field [which] he owned,” and he had “brought the money,” and he “put it at the apostles’ feet.”

What about a little thumbnail sketch of this individual? His religious status. Well, notice he was a Levite. His roots went right back into the purposes of God to the tribe of Levi, which had been set apart by God; from this tribe would come those who would render service in the temple courts. And when this individual “called Barnabas”—his real name was Joseph—when he traced his roots back, he traced them to the tribe of Levi. Concerning his origin, he was a foreigner. A foreigner. He came from the largest island in the Mediterranean, Cyprus. And he was not immediately one of the group there from North Africa. He was from overseas, albeit only a wee bit overseas, but nevertheless, he came from somewhere else.

But the thing that is most significant about him is not his religious background nor his country of origin but is the fact that he was given a nickname. Now, some of us have nicknames that we’re not prepared to let anybody know about. They were given to us at school, and when they were given to us, we disproved the little statement that when “sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you,” the fact is, names are a lot more tarnishing than sticks or stones will ever be. And we’re not going to have a display this evening of nicknames. But it may provide interesting conversation over a cup of coffee later on.

Every so often, somebody will be given a nickname which is just so good that it replaces their name. And in this case, that was true. He was called Barnabas, given the name because the name means “Son of Encouragement.” And it was this factor about Barnabas which made him the influential character that he was in his day. He was able to console and to exhort those who were in his company, and everywhere he went, this was his point of departure.

That’s what we’re told in Acts chapter 4. When you turn on to Acts chapter 9, you find that this is borne out. The next time you read of Barnabas in the Acts of the Apostles, it’s five chapters later in Acts chapter 9. In verse 23, we read of the fact that the Jews had conspired to kill Saul, who was now called Paul. And “day and night,” verse 24 tells us, “they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him.” The reason was that Saul had now begun to appear in the synagogues, and he was actually proclaiming the fact that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the one who had died for sin, the one who had become his friend and his Savior. And the Jews didn’t like that. They liked it far better when he was trying to shut down the Christians; they didn’t like him as a Christian.

In verse 25, we’re told that the followers of Paul “took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.” It’s a great story; I mean, it’s just quite tremendous. You can imagine the situation of how he was under siege, and all the time he was being watched, and people would say to him, “There’s no way in the world you’re gonna get out of here. Because if you go out, they’ll see you, and when they see you, you’re a dead man.” And then somebody—we don’t know who it was. Maybe Paul, but who knows? Probably somebody else’s name we don’t know, and when we get to heaven, this guy’s gonna be going around saying, “Hey, you know that thing in Acts chapter 9 about the basket? That was my idea. I came up with that, you know.” “Did you? Man, that was good. We spoke about that one evening at Boca Raton. It was an interesting point.” “His followers took him by night … lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall,” and the next thing you know is, he’s arriving in Jerusalem.

But look at this in verse 26. How easy is it to join your church? “When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join” the church, “join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.” Now, we can sympathize with them; after all, this was a radical change in his life, was it not? He had certainly not been very prone towards the things of Christ up until this point. Nevertheless, their fearfulness and their unbelief does not commend us to them as a group.

What did it mean for Paul? I don’t know what this meant, nor do you, in the immediacy of these events. How did he try and join the disciples? Presumably, he found out where they were, and he went to somebody’s home, and he said, “I’m Saul of Tarsus, and I love the Lord Jesus, and I’ve just made an escape in a basket, and I came to introduce myself to you,” and the door closed in his face. And then off he would go down the street to the location of some other buddy, and he would go through the same thing again, and again the door would close in his face. How he must have said to himself, “Is this what Christianity is all about? Is this the way it’s supposed to be? Aren’t the Christians supposed to be people of faith? Aren’t the Christians the ones who are supposed to believe all things and hope all things?” Words that he was later to write, when he wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 13. Do you ever think about, when he penned those words—“love is this, and love is that, and love is the next thing”—he understood what it was not to be loved by those who profess to be loved by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Dear ones, as an aside, let’s say this tonight: it is a dreadful tragedy in the church of Jesus Christ in our day to discover how many people get the door closed on their face. How much harm we cause young and tender Christians, because they’ve come from a background that we actually never expected anybody to get saved out of. Oh no, we just believe that God is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we can ask or even imagine,[3] but he can’t save people like that—or he doesn’t want to. And if he does, I sure hope he doesn’t send them to “our” church.

I told you last night about me—or the other morning it was—about me trying to ride dirt bikes up in Michigan. That same year in Michigan, I went to a Baptist church in… I’ll just say Detroit, that covers a multitude of sins. But I went to a Baptist church. Remember, I told you my hair was a little longer than it was supposed to be, swinging at the back, and swinging in a few places, actually. And the youth pastor determined that it would be okay for me to give a word of testimony. And I remember it was a building about this size, and he called me up. And I remember it was a long walk all the way up to here, and I stood and shared my faith and testimony in Christ. And as I was walking back down the steps, back to my seat, he stood up and he said to the congregation, “There you are, folks. Even somebody who looks like that can be a Christian.” It’s a real nice sort of encouraging feeling on the back of your neck!

I remember one lovely story, along similar lines, of a church out on the West Coast, again in the ’60s, during the hippie days. And how it was a very fine church, and everybody came properly dressed, and the right kind of style, and the right kind of haircut, and the whole business. And suddenly, hippies were starting to get converted. And some of the people were really disgusted at this. And they weren’t pleased to have them coming.

And there was one evening when a guy appeared off the coast there in San Francisco and arrived in this church. His hair was all down on either side of his face, he had a beard, and he had beads. And he had no shoes on, and he had bell-bottom jeans, and they were all frayed at the ends. And when he walked in, none of the ushers greeted him. And so he continued to walk. And there were no seats; the church was packed. And as he looked along the rows, nobody moved. And so he continued to walk. And eventually, having walked all the way to the front and still never having found a seat, he sat down right in the middle of the aisle, cross-legged on the floor. And there was an ostensible groan went through the congregation—people nudging one another and saying to each other, “What in the world should we do now?”

And it was just at that point that they saw the senior deacon start to walk from the back aisle: a small man in a three-piece suit, with a pin in his tie. And as they saw him going further and further and further towards the hippie, they were saying to themselves, “He’ll take care of him, he’ll take care of him!” And they watched him as he walked right up to the young man, and he sat down on the floor, and he crossed his legs beside him.

That wee man was a Barnabas! One Barnabas out of a group of five hundred made the difference in a brand-new convert’s life.

Some of us have been reared in environments—in conservative, fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity—where the motto of so many of our churches has been, “Us four, no more, shut the door.” We’re very happy to have our little group. We know who is in it, we know who we want to be in it, and we know who we don’t want to be in it. Well, when that exists in the fellowship of God’s people, we are just in point of identification here with the group in Jerusalem, because Saul himself had no place to go, and there was no one to take him.

And then come these four fantastic words that begin verse 27: “But Barnabas took him”! “But Barnabas took him.” Four great words. Suitable for a tombstone. I mean, it would be enough, would it not? I would be happy if they put it on my stone, concerning one individual: “But Alistair took him.” That would be enough. That would be enough. Could die contented.

See, Paul needed somebody at this juncture in his life—somebody to encourage him, somebody to lead him, somebody to introduce him. And God looked from heaven and said, “Now, who will I use for my servant Saul?” And who did he pick? He picked a character that he had been forming all along. He picked this individual, a foreigner from Cyprus, a man who’d been given a new name, a man with a great religious background, a man by the name of Joseph, but everybody called him Barney. Because he knew he was just the kind of fellow that would be ideal for the task.

Now, you see, those four words in verse 27 are the key to what we discover in verse 28: “So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews … they tried to kill him,” and soon he was on his way again. But the key to all of that was in this individual Barnabas. The key to Paul’s ministry in that day lay in an unsung hero.

Do you realize how important this kind of ministry is? I’m sure you do. Many of you wouldn’t be here tonight were it not for a Barnabas. It’s lovely what it says: it doesn’t say that Barnabas directed him, or Barnabas drew him a map, or Barnabas suggested someone he might talk to. “But Barnabas took him”! And when you take somebody, it involves time, it involves effort, and it involves a rearrangement of your plans. And since most of us are cagey with our time, are not necessarily committed with our effort, and don’t like our plans being rearranged, as much as we want to be Barnabas, we may be one of the disciples that closed the door in Saul’s face. Because we didn’t want to give up the time.

If you think about the evangelism of our churches, in terms of their outreach, when we greet people, and we tell them about our church and about the pastor that we have and the ministries that are there, and we invite them, we say to them, “Oh, you know, you ought to come along some Sunday,” and the individual is intrigued, and they say, “And how do I get there?” And so we start to tell them, “Well, if you take 480 as far as 91, and then come off there, and go here, and go there…” And the person needs a computer to be able to remember all the jolly instructions that we’re giving them. It would be a lot easier to say, “Do you know such and such a petrol station? Is that near you?” “Yeah.” “Well, I’ll tell you what, I’ll park my car in the forecourt of that BP station, and you park your car there, and you come and drive with me. That’ll give us a chance to talk. That’ll give us a chance to get to know one another. That will give me indication of some of the people that you may need and like to be introduced to you.” Sometime we ask the person, “And where do you come from?” and they say “Oh, I come from Georgia.” And we say, “Oh yeah, we’ve got a lot of people from Georgia in our church. When you come, look out for them; maybe you’ll bump into them.”

A few weeks ago now, I was with my daughters, trying to exercise—trying to keep up with my girls as they ran round a track. And as we paused for a cup of water, a lady said to me, “Aren’t you the pastor?”

Well, I was some miles from my church, and so I said, “Well, I am a pastor, but I don’t think I am the pastor.”

She said, “No, no, no, no. That church, that such and such church, isn’t that where you’re from?”

I said, “Yes.” I said, “Do you come?”

She said, “Well, I started to come, but I don’t come.”

I said, “Well, why not?”

She said, “Well, I came, and I was invited to an event that was specially geared, I was told, for people like me. They said that if I came, I would find out a lot about the church, and the church would follow up on me and find me a place of involvement.”

I said, “So you went to the event?”

She said, “Yes.”

I said, “Well, tell me what happened.”

She said, “Well, they went around the room, and we all said who we were and where we’d come from, and I said I’d come from Virginia, and I was new to the place, and I knew nobody.” She said, “But three weeks after I’d been to the event, I never heard a thing from anybody at all.” And then she said, “I called the office, and I got no one. And then I called again, and I got someone. And I told the person, I said, ‘Hey, I came to your thing, you know, and you said you’d follow up, and you were interested, and you’re glad to have newcomers, and nothing happened!’”

The person said, “Well, what’s your circumstances?”

She said, “Well, I’m an engineer, I work at NASA, and I’m single.”

So the guy says, “Whoa! Well, let me give you the names of one or two single people that you could maybe contact.”

So she takes down the names and telephone numbers of a couple of people that she doesn’t know. This girl is shy; she’s not an extrovert type of person. She tries a couple of times to phone, and eventually she just gives up. I think we saw her on a Tuesday, and on the previous Sunday, she had driven to West Virginia to meet three friends from her old church in Virginia to meet in a coffee shop, to read their Bibles, and to pray together, and to try and encourage her and strengthen her along the journey of faith.

Now, that was my church. I’m happy to tell you that as soon as I found out, we sorted it out. This lady greets me now every Sunday, tells me how thrilled she is to be a part of things. But stuff like that goes on all the time. I don’t think my church is unique.

Barnabas wasn’t that kind of guy. Barnabas took him.

Can I ask you something? When’s the last time you took somebody to church?

We had a guest service last Sunday night in our church: 1,200 people there in the morning, and 650 people came in the evening to the guest service. I don’t understand the mathematics of that, do you? 1,200 in the morning and 650 in the evening, and you were inviting guests. If my congregation had come back, all 1,200 of them, there would have been 2,400 people in the evening service if they’d only just brought one guest. You see, it is the spirit of Barnabas—when it’s in the heart of an individual, it exudes this kind of compassion. How I long for Barnabases in my church and in my life.

I told you before that I was brought up in Glasgow. Glasgow was the second city of the British Empire. When I went to church in Glasgow, it was actually to a mission hall near to the fish market—a real stinky place. And it was there that they had built this large mission hall. The “Tent Hall,” it was called, after the meetings of Moody and Sankey at the turn of the century. There had been a tent on the Glasgow Green, a park by the River Clyde, and when Moody had gone, he had gathered up some cash, he’d left it behind so that they could build a permanent structure. And build a permanent structure they had.

There are no inconsequential moments in our days. There are no chance encounters. There are no irrelevant people. There is no inconsequential task.

And there, on a Saturday evening, when I used to go as a wee boy, there would be 2,200 people, and again on Sunday another 2,200 people. They used to have seats that were in the window ledges; the window ledges flipped down and made into a seat, so once everyone had been seated all through the auditorium, then all the people began to sit on the window ledges, all around. And it was there as a small boy that I heard many of the great American preachers as they came to do evangelistic campaigns in that place. It was a vast spot, and the responsibility that was given to those who were the ushers was a real and important one.

I tell this story with purpose, because my granny had told one of my aunts—who died as a missionary in India before I was born—on this particular evening, when she was heading for church, she told my aunt, “Now, when you go to church tonight, look out for somebody. Look out for someone. Don’t just go with your friends. Look for someone who may be lonely. Look for someone who perhaps is a visitor. Just be on the lookout!”

And so she went. My aunt was a nurse; she nursed at the Southern General Hospital there in Glasgow in Govan. And she went to church with her mother’s instructions ringing in her ears. She took her seat, and as she sat there, she was involved in the opening parts of worship. And suddenly, a man who was an ex–professional boxer, who was a dreadful usher, if you like, in the sense that he always made an awful lot of noise, and people in the mission hall used to complain about him: “We don’t need characters like this as our ushers. We like nice demure and quiet ushers.” He used to go, “THERE’S A SEAT OVER THERE!” and you could hear him booming all throughout the hall. And then his big boots would be coming across, and when he’d get to the seat, and he’d have hymnbooks coming all over the place, dropping on the floor and crashing and banging. And he didn’t just dish out Bibles and books and throw people into seats. He looked them in the eye, he asked them their name, and he found out where they were from.

And into that vast crowd walked a girl who had arrived that weekend to be a nurse in Glasgow. She’d come from the north of Scotland, she was completely on her own, she knew nobody. He said to her, “Who are you?” And detecting her accent, he discovered that she was from the Black Isle of Scotland. Immediately thinking through the group that represented the church, he said to himself, “I bet that girl Bertha Begg would be just the person to sit next to.” And so he went on one of his crash-bang-wallop traipses all around the church. And doubtless there were a bunch of old fogies complaining about him that night as well: “Why doesn’t he just put them in the first seat? Why does he have to roam all round the church, for goodness’ sake? What’s going on here?”

And he went and he brought this girl who knew no one to a girl whose mother had said, “Look out for someone.” And I can’t continue the story for you, dear ones, but the implications of that man doing that on that night have spanned four generations since, as a result of one act of genuine friendship and encouragement.

There are no inconsequential moments in our days. There are no chance encounters. There are no irrelevant people. There is no inconsequential task. The church—my church—is sustained every single week as a result of men and women whose names you will never, ever know. Men and women just like you and just like me.

Let’s turn, finally—’cause I went on an awful long time last night—let’s turn to Acts chapter 11. Because this is the last little vignette that we have of Barnabas that I’d like to consider with you, and we’ll do this just briefly. Acts 11:19 tells the news of the great blessing which followed the scattering of the Christians as a result of the persecution which had accompanied the death of Stephen—a reminder to us, incidentally and in passing, that we ought not to “judge … the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace,” as Cowper says, because “behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.”[4] And in the persecution which hit the church in Jerusalem, the believers themselves realized that they were buffeted and tossed. But God, in his purposes, was scattering them through Phoenicia, and through Cyprus, and through Antioch. And the message up until then was going only to the Jews.

But then in verse 20, we read, “However, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to [the] Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. [And] the Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” And so the news of this goes back to headquarters, back to the church in Jerusalem. This was not an immediately welcome story for them, because it confronted them with a whole new departure that they weren’t necessarily ready for. Up until now, the expansion of the gospel had been Judaistic, almost wholesalely so. But here the word had come back that Greeks now were becoming Christians. This was a new departure. Who could they send for an encounter such as this?

It’s no surprise to us: “[And when the] news of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem … they sent Barnabas to Antioch.” It’s not everybody in your church can cope with new things. It’s not everyone in your group that is prepared to see God’s Spirit at work in different ways. If we have lived our lives channeling the Spirit of God into our own concrete little trenches, determining this is the way and only the way in which God will work, then the day that God expands the banks and pours his Spirit out in a new way and in a new dimension, there will not be too many of us that will be able to respond to that with the kind of alacrity that was marked here by Barnabas.

What are we told of him? Barnabas, “when he … saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad.” Glad! How many people are there in your congregation who are glad when things are new and things are different? Are you glad when things are new and different? Can you rejoice in new songs and in new hymns, or must we only sing those same old hymns? Do you think that Ira Sankey would have written the same kind of hymns if he had lived in the twentieth century, at this point, as he did then? I love those hymns. I know them off by heart too. I have no word to say against them. Let’s sing them and sing them all. But there is more that God is doing. And some of us who’ve lived a little longer need to realize that as the church moves on into a new generation, if Christ tarries and goes on into the twenty-first century, while we have an unchanging message, we have a changing world, and we have changing times. And it’s not everybody who can see the evidence of the grace of God and be glad. Are you glad for the evidences of the grace of God? Are you glad when you see young people sing his praise?

I preached in Ireland a few years ago, and I’m going back there, God willing, in July to preach at a Bible convention there. Boy oh boy, if you want to see stuff kinda stuck in a mold, you ought to go to Ireland. And since it’s St. Patrick’s Day, we might as well have a little Irish illustration here. These are dear and godly people. But I shared the platform with a bunch of guys that were all old enough to be my dad, and some of them to be my grandpa.

On one particular evening, we didn’t have the same people playing the piano and the organ. Indeed, we didn’t even have the piano and the organ. We had a group of about twenty-five young people, playing all manner of instruments, banging and crashing and blowing and sucking and doing all manner of things, making a right royal hullabaloo down on the right-hand side, as I sat on the platform. The hymns had all manner of beats; some of them sounded like Israeli folk songs, some of them sounded like half-baked pop songs, some of them sounded like glory-all-knows-what-not. And do you know, there were at least a couple of men on the platform beside me who refused to sing a note? Refused to sing a note.

Now, a younger man is not supposed to rebuke an older man;[5] the Word of God says that. But in the flesh, I could gladly have taken the two of them and banged their wooden heads together, right there and then, right on the platform. For what they did not realize was that there from the streets of the troubled, torn province of Ulster were young men and women redeemed by the grace of God. They did not come from their background, they did not know their songs, they did not come out of the chute from which they had emerged. But they were in love with Jesus Christ.

It was stinking hot in this tent. And on the evening before the final day’s meetings, I made a dreadful tactical error. I said to the chairman, “Do you think it would be okay to preach without my jacket on?” He replied, “We will have a meeting about that, and I will let you know.” This is the gospel truth! They had the meeting, and they informed me that it would be inappropriate to take one’s jacket off. Well, I was the last to speak. I spoke on the Sunday afternoon at three o’clock; I was flying at four thirty. And midway through my message, with the perspiration running all down my face, I took off my jacket and mainstream, and I threw it on the old boy’s chair, right beside him. Landed right on his knees. And I preached, and I flew, and I was gone. And guess what? They invited me back! And I’ll be back in July. I’m blowed if I’m gonna wear my jacket at all, for the whole time. I might not even wear a tie, just to rattle them up a wee bit!

Where in the world did we get half of this junk? We’re as bad as the Pharisees! Ten Commandments, and then another forty-five that we came up with! And the whole forty-five of them not worth a hill of beans, all added together.

Oh no, give us a Barnabas. That’s what I say. Give me a Barnabas! When he sees the grace of God, he was glad. And what did he do? He “encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts”! That’s the kind of encouragement we need, isn’t it? I don’t care what age you are—that’s what you need, that’s what I need. I need somebody to encourage me to remain—stay—true. To whom? To the Lord. How? With all of my heart! That’s it! That’s all I need! Because all that throws itself against me in this wicked world encourages me not to be true, not to stay the course! To lie down and to quit! To let go of the baton before I finish my lap of the relay, before I get it safely in the hands of the person who’s to take it from me. I need someone, you need someone, to encourage us to stay the course, to run the race, to finish the task.

Only in heaven will it become apparent just how successful Paul was able to be in his earthly ministry as a result of the fact that God initially placed by his side Barnabas.

If I have one true friend in the whole world, then I am a rich man. Poor is the friendless master of a universe.

I wish I had a wee song just like “Dare to Be a Daniel.” You know that

Dare to be a Daniel!
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
[And] dare to make it known![6]

I have to make up a poem: “Dare to be a Barnabas,” you know. “Dare not go alone.” You know, “Gather someone on your arm, and buy yourself a phone.” I mean, I don’t know. But I mean, we just so desperately need this in our churches. Fifty percent of the marriages in America are falling apart. Kids are brought up in daycare centers. Lonely people!

Now, let me do something that’d just give you all a real scare. Let me quote the Beatles to you:

Hey, Eleanor Rigby
Picks up the rice in the church where the wedding has been.

Oh, look at all those lonely people,
Where do they all come from?
Ah, look at all those lonely people,
Where do they all belong?[7]

I’ll tell you where they belong. They belong in the church. They belong in the bosom of Jesus. They belong in the embrace of grace. And they will not find their way there in a vacuum. But you may be that link, as the pastor said Sunday morning—a substitute for the Substitute. A Barnabas, a friend, an encourager, in a world that can be so cold.

“When you’re down and troubled,” said James Taylor in the 1960s, “and you need a helping hand”—actually it was Carole King—

And nothing, no nothing is going right,
Close your eyes and think of me,
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night.

You just call out my name,
And you know wherever I am,
I’ll come running.

Hey, ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend,
’Cause people can be so cold;
They’ll hurt you, they’ll desert you,
They’ll take your soul if you let them.
Oh, now don’t you let them.

You’ve got a friend.[8]

Do you have any friends? Are you a friend to anyone? I figure, if I have one true friend in the whole world, then I am a rich man. Poor is the friendless master of a universe. What makes a good friend? A guy like Barnabas, he was a good man. Do you know anyone else that was described just as a good man in the New Testament? Check it out: he was a good man, he was full of the Holy Spirit, and he was full of faith. God, give us more Mr. and Mrs. Barnabases.

That’s the message, that’s the evening. Let’s have a prayer, and we’ll be on our way:

Our God and our Father, we pause in a moment of silence to thank you for those who on the journey of faith took us to the place of mercy and redemption. Some of us think of loved ones who nurtured us in the early days of our lives, some of us of a business colleague, or a friend over coffee, or a neighbor down the street, a schoolteacher, a Sunday school teacher. Our lives are literally littered with the evidences of the need for encouragement, of the need for friendship, the need for the spirit of Barnabas to be reincarnated in our lives. Surely, this whole conference exudes such a spirit. May it never be lost, may it never be diminished. May this always be a warm and friendly place, for Jesus’ sake.

Take our lives and let them be
Consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take our moments and our days,
And let them flow in ceaseless praise.[9]

For we ask it that Christ may be exalted, that the church may be encouraged. And it’s in the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

[1] See 1 Corinthians 2:14.

[2] Romans 14:7–8 (paraphrased).

[3] See Ephesians 3:20.

[4] William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774).

[5] See 1 Timothy 5:1.

[6] P. P. Bliss, “Dare to Be a Daniel” (1873).

[7] John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Eleanor Rigby” (1966). Lyrics lightly altered.

[8] Carole King, “You’ve Got a Friend” (1971). Lyrics lightly altered.

[9] Frances Ridley Havergal, “Take My Life, and Let It Be” (1874). Lyrics lightly altered.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.