The Gifted: Encouragement

If you find yourself worn out, tired, discouraged, and discontent, then you’ve come to the right place this morning!  Hang in there as together, we find the key to breaking through these things and entering into an oasis of refreshment and encouragement!
This morning, we’re continuing our message series entitled ‘The Gifted’. So far, we’ve learned about what spiritual gifts are and why we receive them and why we should eagerly desire them.
 
So far, we learned specifically about the trio of word gifts: prophecy, word of knowledge, and word of wisdom as well as the gift of service.
This week, we’re covering a gift that everyone loves to receive, but not too many give to others.  It is a gift very similar to that of service.  This is the gift of encouragement.
One of the best examples that we find in scripture is that of Barnabas.  He fulfilled his destiny, which was set in motion at birth when he was named Barnabas, which means son of encouragement (or consolation) and was also born a Levite, who were the tribe chosen by God centuries previous to his birth to be set apart as priests and those who served God faithfully in the temple.  He truly embodied what it is to have the spiritual gift of encouragement!
Through his life, we’ll learn some of the traits and attributes of an encourager.
We first find Barnabas in Acts chapter 4, only 5 years since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the church.  Persecution has just began to break out against the church following the miraculous healing of a 40 year old lame beggar.  The church met and began to pray about this persecution and I absolutely admire the prayer that they prayed and what the church looked like at this time when Jesus was able to work so mightily through it!
Acts 4:29-37
29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

The first trait that we see of an encourager is that they are engaged.
Barnabas wasn’t just observing what the church was doing.  He didn’t just go to church and attend their services.  Barnabas was actively engaged in being the church, sharing God’s word with the lost, and leading people to Christ.  He gave sacrificially to the church, selling off his own possessions and giving all of the funds, so that the work of the church could go on unhindered.  And notice, that God took care of his and all of the other’s needs as well – there were none among them who were needy.  They were one in heart and mind – working together in unity to testify about Jesus.
When we possess and use the spiritual gift of encouragement, we will actively engage in someone’s life.  We don’t watch at a distance and simply pray.  We don’t just offer simple and kind words, we speak those words with our actions.  We’re right there with that person, sacrificially laying down our own life, to help carry the burden of another.  Barnabas did exactly this.
An encourager is engaged.
We find Barnabas again the following year in Acts chapter 9.  Saul was on his way to Damascus speaking murderous threats against Christians.  He was on a mission to imprison anyone found who was a follower of Jesus.  The church greatly feared him as he had just overseen and approved the execution of Stephen by stoning.  On his way to Damascus, however, he had a personal encounter with Jesus that radically transformed his life.  He was now a believer, himself!  Ananias prayed for him and he received the Holy Spirit.  He immediately went from being the murderer Saul to the apostle Paul attempting to lead others to Jesus as well.
In fact, he went from being the murderer of believers to the one who daily had to avoid men who were about to kill him for following and preaching about Jesus – irony at its best!
God is searching for the available, the willing, and the humble to do extraordinary things through – to transform this world through them!  You don’t have to know scripture well (though Saul did), you don’t have to be a believer for long, you don’t have to live the perfect life – you just have to be ready and willing to learn and grow and be used by God!  You have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone into the realm of faith where God and the miraculous dwell.
Don’t allow doubt and condemnation hold you back any longer!  Step out of the boat and make the concious decision – I WILL!  I WILL ALLOW GOD TO TRANSFORM MY ORDINARY INTO HIS EXTRAORDINARY!  I will make the most of every opportunity knowing that the eternity of other’s is at stake.  I will make the most of every opportunity knowing that God is with me and God is for me and His signs, wonders, and miracles WILL follow me because I believe in Him and His word!
Here, Barnabas comes in on the scene once again.
Acts 9:26-31
26 When Saul came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
Another trait of an encourager is that they are defenders and always believe for the best.
We live in a very negative culture.  Think about the conversations that we commonly participate in or overhear.  More often than not, they consist of negativity.  It’s easy to see and focus on people’s weaknesses and faults – the obvious mistakes that they have made.  Not so with an encourager!  They prophetically see the best in people – the potential that God created in them, His plans and His purposes for their lives and they believe wholeheartedly that this potential will come to pass.
Honestly put yourself in their place.  Saul has been commissioned to imprison and possibly kill all Christians.  You’re a Christian.  Saul claims to be saved and wants to join you.  Would you be willing to put your life on the line and believe that he’s telling the truth, or would you avoid him at all costs believing that it is only a trap?
Barnabas steps in and doesn’t begin to argue with the other Christians and try to convince them, he goes above and beyond and takes Saul directly to the apostles, the same men who were directly involved in the ministry of Jesus before His death and resurrection!  He believed for the best in Saul and was willing to even put his own life on the line, as well as that of the entire church, to come to his defense.  He explained Saul’s personal testimony to the apostles and testified about Saul’s work in Damascus.
The evidence was clear.  Saul approved the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr and was authorized, ready, and willing to continue doing so until the church was completely destroyed.  This wasn’t something that occurred years ago in Saul’s life, this occurred days ago.
Barnabas could have easily used this evidence against Saul questioning his salvation.  He could have easily accused Saul.  He could have easily used caution and waited to make sure that he wouldn’t go back to his old beliefs about Jesus and those who followed him.  He could have questioned and challenged Saul.  He could have made him wait and go through a few discipleship courses to make sure that he understood what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus.  Instead, Barnabas immediately defends Saul and believes in the best for him.
The spiritual gift of encouragement doesn’t drag the past into the future.  An encourager has hope and trust in God for the future of others.  They don’t continue to remind others of their past mistakes, they remind others of their destiny in Christ.  They don’t remind others how weak they are, they remind others how strong the Holy Spirit is.  Their perspective toward others comes straight from the Holy Spirit and isn’t tainted and perverted by the way that a person may currently be or the way that they have been.  They manifest the agape love of God described in 1 Corinthians 13 just like all of the spiritual gifts do.  However, an encourager does so in a very practical and tangible way just like those using the spiritual gift of service.
Imagine what could have possibly happened had it not been for Barnabas.  Saul would have never been accepted by other believers.  He would have never become the great apostle Paul who planted so many churches, ventured on so many mission trips, and lead countless people to salvation through Jesus.  He may have even rejected Jesus because of how he was treated by other believers and continued his mission to destroy them.
I believe that God has placed people in each of our lives who we are to use this spiritual gift of encouragement with.  If none come to mind right now, ask the Holy Spirit to show you who they are.  They may be someone that no one else has hope for, someone who have made the worst of mistakes in their lives.  They may be someone who has no hope or faith in themselves, who see themselves as complete failures.  However, take Saul’s example to heart.  Look at what Jesus can do in and through a person’s life because one person chose to believe in them and encourage them despite what everyone else said.  There could be no greater transformation than to go from a destroyer of Christians to a leader of Christians.  Be that encourager no matter how things look now!
Understand that this may not always be a popular choice.  In fact, Barnabas and Saul parted ways at one time because Barnabas encouraged his cousin, Mark, who had abandoned them on one of their missionary trips together.  Many good things actually resulted from this disagreement, however.  I also firmly believe that although they went separate physical ways in ministry, that their love and respect for one another endured beyond their disagreement, which scripture also indicates.
An encourager is a defender and always believes in the best.
Another trait of an encourager is that they are consistent.
We next see Barnabas in Acts chapter 11.
Here, Jesus had just convinced Peter and the believers in Jerusalem that salvation and the baptism in the Holy Spirit is available to Gentiles as well as the Jews.  He wasn’t the first to find this out, however…
Acts 11:19-26
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 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 called Christians first at Antioch.
It had now been seven years since Saul was saved and Barnabas convinced the apostles and other believers that this was a fact and not just a trap.  Barnabas went out to Tarsus, found him, and brought him back to partner with him in ministry in Antioch.
We all probably can relate to those friends who you lost track of.  Years go by and you either look them up or run into them.  Upon meeting, it’s as if though not a single day has passed.  You’re excited and joyful to see one another.  You connect and continue on just like you had so many years ago.  No one tries to blame the other for losing touch or not making a better attempt at staying connected.  There are no feelings of resentment or bitterness.  As you catch up, you share in their lives and feel no envy toward the good things that happened in their life since you parted.  You rejoice with their successes and mourn along with them any losses experienced.
That’s just how it was with Saul and Barnabas as well as how it is with one who is an encourager.  There is a consistency in their lives that stands the test of time.  No matter how much time may pass and what may happen during that time, they still consistently encourage the other.  Saul and Barnabas were partners in ministry for quite some time.
An encourager is consistent.
This week, and throughout your life, be that superhero that comes rushing in to save the day by using the spiritual gift of encouragement.  Allow God to mark your life with these attributes of an encourager.  Find someone who is down and out and lift them up.
Finally, if you are one this morning in need of encouragement, find that this truth will come to pass in your life!
Proverbs 11:25b
whoever refreshes others will be refreshed
Realize that the spiritual gift of encouragement does not require you to be floating on cloud 9 yourself.  You could be at rock bottom in your life and still find that as you encourage someone else using the grace-empowered gift of encouragement that doesn’t come from you, but from God, that you will also be greatly encouraged and lifted up!  You’ll break free from the chains of discouragement and find yourself refreshed and recharged.  Get out there and encourage someone!