11 June 2014

Acts 11:19-30

"When he [Barnabas] came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." (vv. 23-24a)


Today's passage reminds us of the great encourager, the Apostle Barnabas, and takes us back to a much earlier stage in Paul's story. Those who believed in Christ and had become followers of the Way, were becoming scattered across the Mediterranean provinces, as their faith became the subject of persecutions. Yet even as they scattered, and in an age with none of the advantages of modern telecommunications, they sought to support and encourage one another. The members of the church in Jerusalem sent one of their number, Barnabas, to the group of believers in Antioch. On arriving there, we are told that he could see the grace of God, in the numbers of people joining the community there.

Barnabas first of all encouraged them, by recognising their commitment and strengthening their faith and prayerfulness. He then set out for Tarsus in order to bring Paul amongst them, recognising perhaps that the influence of this zealous convert would be of greatest benefit in this fledgling community. We are told that Paul and Barnabas spent a whole year with them, and that it was here that the followers of Christ were first called "Christians" (v. 26).

The fruits of Barnabas' spirit of encouragement did not end there. When famine was experienced or anticipated across the region, the followers set about organising practical help and sending it, via Barnabas and Saul, to the other Christian communities. It is significant that the birth of the new communities bearing the name of 'Christian' are linked from the outset with acts of practical compassion and encouragement. The man who "saw the grace of God" at work became instrumental in enabling countless others to experience the grace of God in practical and life-changing ways.

To Ponder

  • Can you think of an instance where the grace of God has been made more tangible for others through practical help? What happened?
  • Who have been the encouragers in your own journey of faith?
  • Is there someone who is waiting for their courage or faith to be kindled into action by you? What are you going to do about it?


Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Liz Smith

Liz is currently chair of the Leeds Methodist District. She has conducted research into the Church as a learning community, with particular reference to the experience of women.