Posted by: Mike Willoughby | September 8, 2011

How do you say Love (Part 5)

Have you ever had someone speak up for you at a time when you desperately needed someone to vouch for you?  Perhaps it was the person who provided the personal introduction and character reference that helped you get that big job.  Have you ever been falsely accused only to have someone with impeccable credibility stand up and defend your honor?  Maybe you actually did make a mistake – maybe even a big mistake – and someone took a chance on you and gave you an opportunity to redeem yourself.  How did you feel when that person stood up for you?  If you are a Words of Affirmation love language speaker, your heart probably swelled with joy when you heard those precious words of affirmation spoken about you!

There was a disciple in the early church named Joseph that was that kind of stand-up man.  He was such a tremendous source of encouragement that his church family named him, Bar-nabas which means “son of encouragement” in the Hebrew/Aramaic language.  What an amazing nickname to have!  Barnabas had a knack for seeing the best in people and bringing out the best in people through his words of affirmation and encouragement.  Barnabas put words of affirmation into action in one of those amazing New Testament stories recorded in Acts chapter nine.

Let me set the stage for you before you read the passage.  A very devoted and passionate member of the Jewish governing establishment was violently persecuting the young church under authority of the establishment.  He was directly responsible for many of the early disciples of Christ being thrown in prison for exercising their faith and some were even killed under his authority.  The man’s name was Saul.  As Saul was traveling from home base in Jerusalem north to the city of Damascus to take his persecution on the road, Jesus Himself intercepted Saul on the road with a blinding light and a personal message.  This was perhaps the origination of the term “come to Jesus meeting” and it was a very effective encounter.

As a result of that meeting and the ministry of a faithful Christian named Ananias, Saul turned from his path of violence, accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior and was baptized.  Saul was just as devoted and passionate about his new faith but rather than persecuting anyone, Saul was focused on preaching the saving word of Christ to all who would listen.  Saul’s amazing metamorphosis no doubt created huge credibility with his audience for the message he now preached.  What other explanation could there be for Saul’s incredible about-face than the transforming presence of Jesus Christ in his life?  Surely the news of Saul’s conversion reached Jerusalem and the Christians whom he had been persecuting.  They were justifiably skeptical.  Can you blame them?

At some point, Saul left Damascus and returned to Jerusalem to join the disciples there.  It is at this point of incredible tension that this passage from Acts 9:26-28 picks up.

And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.  But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.  So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.

Notice that Barnabas “took him” and brought him to the apostles in order vouch for him.  Can you envision Barnabas physically putting his arm around Saul’s shoulders and ushering him into the room where the church leaders were gathered?  What an amazing source of comfort and encouragement it must have been for Saul to have Barnabas for an escort.  Barnabas didn’t stop there.  He “declared to them” the facts of Saul’s miraculous conversion and the works of faith that Saul had done in the name of Jesus Christ.  Barnabas spoke words of affirmation about Saul to the church leaders as he took a stand for Saul.

Remember the man that Saul had been prior to his conversion.  He had made some very big mistakes as he persecuted the church. He was a violent man on a misguided mission.  Jesus took that persecution very personally as you can see from the dialog between Saul and Jesus in Acts chapter nine.  However, God’s grace was sufficient to forgive Saul for his mistakes and because of Barnabas’ willingness to vouch for him, the Jerusalem faithful also forgave Saul.

The result of that meeting was full fellowship for Saul with the Jerusalem church.  More importantly, Saul was empowered to “preach boldly in the name of the Lord” throughout the city resulting no doubt in many converts.  Saul (more widely known by his Greek name Paul) went on to be the most prolific missionary of the first century.  One could argue that he got his start from the encouragement of Barnabas here in Jerusalem and again later in Antioch as recorded in Acts 11:19-26.

From what I read about Paul, I think he might have been a “words of affirmation” kind of guy.  For a reference see Philippians 3:4-11 where even as Paul discounts all of his accomplishments as vain works, he still itemizes the merit badges.  He even lists the misguided “merit badges” from his former way of life.  If Paul was a “words of affirmation” kind of guy, can you imagine how Barnabas’ encouragement must have gone straight to Paul’s heart?  Wouldn’t you like to have someone take a stand for you and vouch for you even when you’ve made some big mistakes?

Jesus says in Matthew 10:32-33,

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

You and I need someone to vouch for us in the most important circumstance of our existence.  Who can be found to take on that responsibility? 

Jesus is willing and able to vouch for you!

Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!

Copyright © 2011 Michael Willoughby. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to author and/or owner with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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