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The Kiss of Encouragement

Five qualities of an encourager.

Here's a great look at the life of Barnabas—with a few lessons on how we might be more encouraging in the way we interact with others. For another great sermon on Barnabas, be sure to check out John Ortberg's "Balcony People."


The king of the comics, as far as I'm concerned, is still Peanuts by Charles Schulz. I love Linus, Lucy, Schroeder, Pigpen, the Little Red-Haired Girl, and Charlie Brown. There's a ring of reality to their relationships. One sequence in particular comes to mind. Linus has just written a comic strip of his own, and he wants Lucy's opinion. In the first frame, he tentatively hands Lucy his comic strip and says, "Lucy, would you read this and tell me if you think it is funny?" In the next frame, you see Lucy patting her foot, and a little bit of a grin comes across her face. She looks at Linus and says, "Well, Linus, who wrote this?" Linus, with his chest heaved out and a great big grin, says, "Lucy, I wrote that." In the next frame, you see Lucy wadding it up, throwing it to the side, and saying, "Well, then, I don't think it's very funny." In the final frame, Linus picks up his comic strip, throws his blanket over his shoulder, looks at Lucy, and says, "Big sisters are the crabgrass in the lawn of life." We find that humorous. But I dare say if you and I thought long and hard enough, we'd remember being the crabgrass in the lawn of somebody else's life.

None of us wants to be a loser. None of us wants to be a source of discouragement. And yet, if we're not careful, we can find ourselves being more pessimistic than optimistic, more discouraging than encouraging. Encouragement is vital for life and for relationships. Encouragement is like a cool breeze on a hot summer day—it revives and refreshes. It's like a cold drink to parched thirst—it renews and gives strength. Encouragement helps you overcome when you feel overwhelmed. It helps you soar rather than sink. It helps you to be a victor rather than a victim.

We all hunger and thirst for encouragement. When encouragement comes our way, we soak it up like a sponge. We're ready for more because that's what gets us through the day. If encouragement is that important, what can you and I do to make sure we're more positive than negative? If encouragement brings hope and strength and growth to people's lives, what can we do to make sure we're more encouraging than discouraging?

Barnabas—a model of encouragement

God has placed in Scripture a model and a definition. This model is mentioned throughout the Book of Acts. We're going to note five characteristics of this effective encourager. The encourager's name is Joseph, and the first place you find him mentioned is in Acts 4:36. It says, "Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement)." I'm going to talk about Barnabas today. But I want you to notice something: his real name is Joseph. His nickname is Barnabas, Son of Encouragement. Whenever they saw Joseph coming, the apostles would say, "Here comes Barnabas. Here comes that Son of Encouragement." Something about his life caused them to give him that nickname.

Most of the time, nicknames point out the negative, not the positive. I remember the men's dorm at Dallas Seminary. We had nicknames for each other. One guy had spindly legs and a strong upper body. We called him Spiderman. Another guy literally stuck out his tongue when he took off his glasses, so we affectionately called him Frog. My nickname was The Bear because in the morning I didn't have the greatest disposition, and when I ran, I'd kind of rumble along like an old bear. When the disciples looked at Joseph, they said, "Here is Barnabas, Son of Encouragement." What was it about his life that made them give him that name?

Encouragers give freely of their resources.

The first characteristic that shows just how much of an encouragement Barnabas was is found in Acts 4:36-37. Luke writes: "Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet." Barnabas sells a piece of land, gives the money to the church, and they distribute it to those who have need. The church had a community mindset: what's mine is yours, and what's yours is mine.

Barnabas shows the first characteristic of an encourager: an encourager freely gives of his resources. Encouragers recognize what they have really doesn't belong to them but to God. What God has given to them is basically there to meet the needs of those around them. Barnabas freely gave. If you want to encourage someone, do something tangible for them. As one person said, people really don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. When we send money overseas, we call that "support" to our missionaries. It is basically encouragement—letting them know we are tangibly behind them. When we give time or talent or resources, we tangibly encourage others.

I've discovered there are two key things that show what's important to us: where we spend our money and how we spend our time. Haddon Robinson put it well when he said, "If you want to see what's important to a person, look at his or her checkbook register." Jesus was even more poignant when he said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." When we do something tangible, that's the most encouraging thing we can do. In Balancing the Christian Life, Charles Ryrie writes:

A vital spiritual life is related to fellowship with the Lord and his Word and in prayer and service for the Lord in his work. Our love for God may be proved by something that is a major part of everyone's life, and that is the use of our possessions. How we use our possessions demonstrates the reality of our love for God. In some ways, it proves our love more consciously than depth of knowledge, length of prayers, or prominence of service. Those things can be faked. But the use of our possessions shows us up for what we actually are.

When you want to encourage someone, do something tangible. Encouragers freely give resources without expecting anything in return. When they give, it's over. They couldn't care less whether they get the credit. Their major goal is to make sure the need is met. They won't scratch your back so you can scratch theirs. They're content if they can just scratch yours. An encourager operates with an open-handed philosophy about life.

Corrie ten Boom put it well: "I've learned not to hold onto anything too tightly because it hurts too much to have God pry back my fingers to get to it. So I've learned to live my life with an open hand so that God can put in and he can take out whatever he wants, and that way I never miss the blessing." Encouragers give of their resources without expecting anything in return.

Encouragers accept you where you are.

Here's a second characteristic of an encourager, evidenced in the life of Barnabas: encouragers accept you where you are. In Acts 9, we read about the conversion of Paul. Instead of being a persecutor, he becomes a promoter of the gospel. As a result, his life is in danger. Acts 9:20-22 reads:

At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, 'Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?' Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.

Eventually, the Jews conspired to kill Paul, but his followers took him at night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. Paul went to Jerusalem to join the disciples, but they were afraid of him. They couldn't believe he had become a disciple.

Put yourself in Paul's shoes. At one time, this man was a Jew of Jews, a Pharisee of Pharisees. Now he's given all that up. He's proclaiming the gospel, and people are coming to Christ. At the moment, Paul needs refuge in Jerusalem—the Christian mecca—but he can't get in. And really, his opponents had a point. Think about Paul's life: Who oversaw the death of the first martyr of the church? Paul. Acts 8 says that "Saul began ravaging the church." The word "ravage" has an interesting word picture behind it. It's like a pig going into a field to root it up. Paul's sole purpose was to root up the church. Acts 9 says he breathed threats and murder against the disciples. I'd say they had good reason to be concerned about Paul!

But notice who comes to the rescue. I love to follow the word "but" in Scripture, because I always find contrast. In Acts 9:27, we see one of those contrasts: "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. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord."

Do you see the second characteristic of an encourager? Encouragers are willing to accept you where you are and help you get where you need to be. They're the kind of people who don't look at your reputation or your past. They have a wonderful ability to let the past be the past and to start fresh right where you are. Encouragers realize that none of us come to Christ with an advantage—all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All are new creations in Jesus Christ, and because of that, the encourager can pick up anyone from where she is and help that person get where she needs to be. As I say in class, "No blame; no shame. We start fresh."

A modern-day Paul is Chuck Colson. I had the opportunity to travel and speak on behalf of Prison Fellowship. I learned that Colson had the experience of not being accepted into the Christian community. Can you believe that? This is the man who wrote books like Loving God and The Body! But you see, Colson had been Richard Nixon's close assistant during his presidential campaign and years in office. Colson was so ruthless in his dealings with people, he was frequently referred to as Nixon's "hatchet man"—the one who handled the president's dirty work. One person described Colson by saying he'd walk over his own grandmother. It's not surprising when Chuck Colson became a Christian and confessed his wrongdoings that many people doubted his sincerity. After he served his jail term and began his ministry, many Christians were skeptical. If it were not for those who knew the reality of Colson's Christian experience and were willing to play a Barnabas role, Colson would have had a difficult time convincing people he was indeed a converted man. Thousands of people might never have been blessed by Prison Fellowship.

Now think about Paul—we might not have had half the New Testament if Barnabas hadn't been there for Paul!

Encouragers get excited about the progress of others.

A third characteristic of an encourager is found in Acts 11. Because of the death of Stephen, we find that the church is growing and spreading across the map. Gentiles are getting saved. In Acts 11:19, Luke writes:

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. News about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem.

At this point in the story, the church needs a follow-up program to minister to Gentiles. And their follow-up program happens to be Barnabas. They choose to send him off to Antioch. Good choice! Why? He wouldn't have any racial problems because he doesn't judge people by their past.

What does a new believer need more than anything when they first start their walk with God? Encouragement. Notice what Barnabas did. When he got there, he witnessed to the grace of God and began to encourage them to remain true in the Lord. He rejoiced. He got excited about their progress. Encouragers get excited about the progress of others. When they see someone growing in the Lord, they get excited about it. When they see a couple with a strong marital relationship, they get excited about it. When they see a single person with healthy relationships, they get excited about it. There is no envy. There is no jealousy. There is excitement because they're growing and developing.

I'm strong on this quality because someone got excited about my progress. I almost flunked the first grade. I was a terrible reader. We had three reading groups in my school. The highest group was called the Owls. They were in the trees above everybody else. The next group was the Giraffes—head and shoulders above the rest of us. I was in the third group—the Humpty Dumptys. We were on the wall, off the wall, in the wall, and out! We just couldn't get it together. We struggled. My mom saw me coming home discouraged and down every day. She started reading with me every night. I came home one day with a C on one of my papers, and I gave it to her. She smiled and started to cry. She said, "Oh, Rodney, I'm so proud of you." She made my favorite dinner and let me stay up late. I'm thinking, Gee, if this is what a C will do …

What do you think that did for me? It spurred me on to want to do the best. That's what encouragement does. It makes you want to move on when you feel like quitting. I didn't make it to the Owls, but I got to the Giraffes. I also got out of the first grade, and here I am. Today my mom will introduce me by saying, "This is my son. Dr. Cooper." Then she'll look at me and wink, just to remind me about how far I've come.

Encouragers meet the current need.

An encourager has a fourth characteristic. Notice what happens in 11:24-25. "He [Barnabas] 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." That's strange. All of a sudden, the church is booming. If that happened today, we would think, Let's raise up some lay leaders. Let's have three services. Barnabas goes to look for Paul. When he found Paul, they went to Antioch, and for an entire year they met with the church and taught new Christians.

The fourth characteristic of encouragers is that their major goal is to meet the need even when they're not the best ones to do it. An encourager is never out to make a name for himself—only to glorify the name of God. Barnabas knew that Paul had tremendous gifts and that a church needed to be fed. He pulled those two together. An encourager is a networker—always looking to see who can best fit the need. The major goal is to get the need met. Encouragers sit in the back seat and let somebody else drive, if that's what brings God glory. We call it a servant mentality.

Encouragers give others a second chance.

There's one more quality of an encourager found in Acts 15:36. In this passage, Paul and Barnabas have decided to go back and visit the churches. But there is a little problem—John Mark. Paul suggests to Barnabas that they visit the brethren in every city where they have preached. Barnabas wants to take John Mark. But Paul keeps insisting they should not take him along because he deserted them in Pamphylia. The disagreement is so sharp that they separate. Barnabas takes Mark with him to Cyprus, and Paul chooses to take Silas.

Mark had deserted them on the first missionary journey. Some believe he left because he was intimidated about being a new Jewish believer in tough Gentile territory. Others believe there was a bit of a leadership change from Barnabas to Paul. (Early on in the story, Barnabas is listed first, but over time, Paul takes top bulling.) Mark is Barnabas's cousin, so maybe that's why he decides to leave.

Regardless of the reason for Mark's abandonment, notice that it shows us the fifth characteristic of encouragers—they're the kind of people who are willing to give a second chance. They realize that one failure doesn't mean total failure. "Try again," they say. That's exactly what Barnabas did for Mark. I find this interesting. Barnabas went on the first missionary journey with Paul. You would think they'd have a pretty close relationship. But Barnabas goes to the mat for Mark. Why would he take that risk? He and Paul were a working team. Author Gene Getz has an interesting theory as to why Barnabas is so sensitive to John Mark's condition—though it is purely speculative. The apostles met together after Christ had returned to heaven to determine who would replace Judas. There were two candidates—Joseph, called Barsabbas, and Matthias. When they drew lots, Matthias was chosen. Some believe that Joseph called Barsabbas may also have been the Joseph whose name was later changed by the apostles to Barnabas. If this is true, perhaps we can understand why Barnabas was so sensitive to rejection. He knew the pain firsthand. Barnabas could identify with others who were going through the same experience. If this is true, it reflects deeply on the character of Barnabas. Notice that you don't hear much about Matthias later. But you hear a lot about Barnabas. Encouragers like Barnabas are willing to give a second chance.


Let me sum everything up with a story about the power of encouragement. Painter Benjamin West tells how he loved to paint as a youngster. When his mother left, he would pull out the oils and try to paint. One day he pulled out all the paints and made quite a mess. He hoped to get it all cleaned up before his mother came back, but she came home before everything was clean. West says what she did next completely surprised him. She picked up his painting and said, "My, what a beautiful painting of your sister." She gave him a kiss on the cheek and walked away. With that kiss, West says, he became a painter.

Every day you and I are trying to paint the picture of Jesus in our lives through what we say and do. But we make messes. The last thing we need is for someone to come along and say, "What a mess!" What we need is a kiss of encouragement. It's vital for life and for relationships.

To see an outline of Cooper's sermon, click here.

For your reflection:

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? _____________________________

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Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? _______________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? ______________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ___________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? (For help on what may require credit, see Plagiarism, Schmagiarism and Stolen Goods: Tempted to Plagiarize.

Rod Cooper is Kenneth and Jean Hansen Professor of Discipleship and Leadership Development at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and author of Holman New Testament Commentary: Mark (Volume 2) (B H Publishing, 2001).

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Sermon Outline:


I. A model of encouragement

II. Encouragers give freely of their resources

III. Encouragers accept you where you are

IV. Encouragers get excited about the progress of others

V. Encouragers meet the current need

VI. Encouragers give others a second chance

VII. The kiss of encouragement