“And when he was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. And he was with them going in and going out at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord” – Acts 9:26-29a
In 1984 the Chicago Cubs hired Jim Frey as manager. During spring training, while inspecting his new team, Frey saw a young infielder named Ryne Sandberg hitting hard groundball after hard groundball to shortstop. Another word for a groundball to shortstop, no matter how hard hit, is an out.
So Frey took aside the 24-year-old, whom the Cubs had received as a throw-in two years earlier from the Phillies, who projected him as nothing more than a backup. The manager’s message was: You’ve got the size; you’ve got the ability; drive the ball! When you get that inside fastball, don’t ground out; knock it over the left-field fence.
It worked: That year Sandberg won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award. By the time he had retired, he had hit more home runs than any other second baseman in major league history. And when he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the highest honor afforded any baseball player, and this for a guy deemed expendable by the team who drafted him, Sandberg invited as his special guest to the ceremony his old manager, Jim Frey.
What a difference a word of encouragement can make!
This is the difference we see Barnabas making for Saul. The church in Jerusalem, which Saul had persecuted, is afraid of him when he comes and tries to join them. But Barnabas, who had credibility with the church and the apostles, takes him to the leadership and vouches for what Saul had done by preaching boldly in the name of Jesus. And what a difference it made for the future of the church!
Why did Barnabas react differently than others in the Jerusalem church? I think Barnabas saw the same potential that the Lord saw in Saul, whom He had appointed as his chosen vessel to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). Barnabas saw not what Saul had been but what he could be.
It’s not a coincidence that later we see Saul, by then known as Paul, offering encouragement to his son in the faith, Timothy (2 Timothy 1). All of us can think of examples of people who have encouraged us in our Christian walk, and because of that we are strengthened to encourage others.
Here’s a challenge: Who is one person in your congregation who you could encourage to do more for the Lord? You’ve got to be intentional in doing this, or it tends to never happen. And you need a deadline; I challenge you to reach out in some way to encourage them in the next week.
What a difference it can make!