There is one thing all of us have in common: INFLUENCE. The important question is, “What kind of influence are we having on others?” By our words, by our actions, by our reactions, by our attitudes, are we affirming others, are we an encourager?
I have been reading the New Testament to identify some of the people who were appreciated for their ministry of affirmation and encouragement. There are some names in the epistles of the Apostle Paul that most of us hardly notice. We pay very little attention to them, but Paul names them and gives thanks for them, because they were with him when he needed encouragement. There is one who stands out, whose very name, Barnabas, means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). His given name was Joseph, but he was so full of the Holy Spirit – the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23), especially “…kindness, faithfulness, and generosity” – that he was given this special nickname, “The Encourager.”
It was a nickname consistent with his character. The Greek words are “huios” (son) and “parakleseos” (like “Paraclete”, a title given to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament). The Holy Spirit is our Encourager, our Strengthener, our “Standby” – even more literally “the One who comes alongside us”) – the One who is always with us, and within us, to keep us from growing weary in well doing, to keep us keeping on when we are on the verge of losing heart – the One who keeps us steady, steadfast, and immovable in our faith. So, Barnabas was a man in whom others, especially the apostles, could see the Holy Spirit manifested. It was his Christ-like character and influence for good that impressed them.
Therefore, when they were looking for a suitable nickname for him, they chose the name closest to the title Jesus had given the Holy Spirit. Because he was so full of the Paraclete, so filled with the Spirit, that it was impossible to explain his character apart from the fact that he was Christ’s own “workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10 – i.e. what God had made him by the power of the Holy Spirit at work within him, reproducing the character of Christ). Barnabas!
WHAT A NAME! Suffice it to say, we need more sons and daughters of encouragement in Christ’s Church today, who can comfort and challenge, exhort and encourage – followers of Jesus who reflect Christ’s character in their attitudes and actions – brothers and sisters in Christ who have the special gift of “paraklesis” (i.e. the ability to encourage, to comfort, and to strengthen). Think of all those for whom Paul gave thanks, those who were there for him when he needed them, devoted brothers and sisters in Christ whose names few of us even remember. Let us call some of those on the “Honor Roll of Fame” as encouragers in the life of the Early Church, especially in the life of the Apostle Paul.
Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7-8; II Timothy 4:12), Onesimus (Colossians 4:9, Philemon 12, 13, 15-17), Aristarchus (Acts 19 and 27:2, Colossians 4:10), Justus (Colossians 4:11), Epaphras (Colossians 4:12), Archippus (Colossians 4:12, 17), Nympha (Colossians 4:15), and of course, Luke, who was with Paul to the end, until his martyrdom (II Timothy 4:11; see also Colossians 4:14). Paul was filled with inexpressible gratitude for each of these encouragers in his life. The fact that he names them at the end of his letter is significant, for last words are so important, and these last words of the great apostle capsulize his deepest feelings, his appreciation for his friends in Christ, for their faithfulness, for the quality of their love, for the depth of their kindness.
Paul’s last words are full of grace, but there is also sadness when he speaks of those who had “deserted” him, especially Demas, who “loved this world” too much (II Timothy 4:10). He left Paul when he was most needed. Paul obviously loved him, and there is a definite and pathetic note of sadness and disappointment in his words before his departure. However, in this last letter he wrote, he wanted young Timothy to know how grateful he was for him, and for others who had remained faithful to him, and most of all faithful to Christ. He was encouraged by their love and devotion, and wanted them to know that their encouraging ministry to him had been a source of great joy, and was greatly valued.
I would like to have known these encouragers personally. Although they are only mentioned as a footnote in Paul’s correspondence, we know beyond any doubt that each of them was dear to him, and they would be remembered as long as his letters are read. Well, how about us?
Who do we remember? All of us have had such people in our lives, men and women who have been for us, not against us, who have been a blessing to us, whose affirmation and encouragement has strengthened us. Let us give thanks to God for their positive influence in our lives, and let us ask ourselves who will remember us, and give thanks to God for our positive influence in their lives? Have you been an encourager? Are you an encourager now?