On our trip home this time another building caught my eye. It wasn’t that it was as eye-catching as a barely built ark, a truck where you’d normally not see one, or a lighthouse in the middle of the mountains, but its signage struck a chord with me. The sign hung across the porch of a lovely house, painted in white with forest green shutters. “Ministry of Encouragement” it proclaimed with the “T”s shaped like a cross. I’m not sure if it’s a counseling center or a church, but I liked the sound of the name.
If there is any one person in the Bible who is associated with the “ministry of encouragement” that person would be Barnabas. His actual name was Joseph and he was a Levite who originally came from Cyprus. He was an active member in the early church and earned the nick-name “Son of Encouragement” (Bahr- son of, nuh-buhs- consolation/encouragement) from the disciples because of his generous and supportive nature (Acts 4:36-37). He welcomed Paul into fellowship when others had reservations about him (Acts 9:26-27), was excited to see God working among Gentile converts in Antioch (Acts 11:19-30), served both as a missionary and relief worker (Acts 13:1-3, 42-43; 14:8-18), took part in the Jerusalem Council on behalf of the Gentile converts (Acts 15:1-34) and took a stand against Paul concerning the status of John Mark (Acts 15:35-41). I’m sure the decision to separate from Paul weighed heavily on his mind, but in the end the Gospel spread further because of it. I think Barnabas would have been encouraged by that. (And a satisfying footnote to the story appears in 2 Tim. 4:11.)
The Scriptures consider encouragement to be a trait all Christians should posses. We are admonished to fill our speech with grace (Col. 4:6), encourage and build each other up (1 Thes. 5:11), encourage the faint-hearted (1 Thes. 5:14), and to encourage one another to avoid an unbelieving heart (Heb. 3:12-13). When encouragement is evident in the body of Christ it glorifies God the Father (Rom. 15:1-6; Heb. 10:19-25). The life of Christ encourages us to strive for humility and unity (Phil. 2:1-11) and Paul considered encouragement to be a major component of his ministry (1 Thes. 2:1-12). It saddens me when I’m with a group of Christians who have embraced the humor of the world by teasing one another with put-downs and caustic remarks. The language is no different than the current hit comedy and I wonder, “Why do we think this is funny?” I know most people take it on the slide, but are we really supposed to be making fun of each other this way? Have we become so immune to this form of sarcastic humor that we don’t even realize we’re doing it? Is that what we’re supposed to sound like?
While we were visiting in Kentucky we attended one of our son’s soccer games. I was sitting on the bleachers before the game started and noticed that the women’s soccer team had a Scripture verse printed on the back of their T-shirts (Heb. 12:11-13). I knew it had something to do with training and how a person carries themselves on or off the field in this case. During the game a couple of the women started poking fun at an opponent. The words were meant to pull his focus off the game and therefore give an advantage to the home team. While the tactic is typical of any sport, the words were unkind. After a few cat-calls, another young lady turned around, caught the eye of the hecklers and admonished them to find a better way to cheer for the men’s team. “Yes Mom!” they joked. But they stopped. And that was encouraging to me! I think if you’re going to put a Scripture on your back, you most definitely want to walk in a manner worthy of the One who called you (Col. 4:6 and 1 Thes. 2: 12 in action) and “Mom” was right to call them out on it! We should all be that attentive to our speech. So, I challenge you to watch your words this week and instead of embracing the humor of today’s pop culture, go against the norm and use your words to be an encouragement to someone (Ps. 19:14; Prov. 16:24; Col. 3:5-8).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 9/10/2017