The gift of encouragement (also known as exhortation) can be found in Paul’s list of spiritual gifts: Romans 12:7-8.
Paul may well have had Barnabas, whose feast day we celebrate today, in mind when he wrote about encouragement as a spiritual gift. Barnabas was an important person in the foundation of the early Church. He is honored with the title “Apostle” as is Paul. While his given name was Joseph (or Joses in Greek), the Apostles gave him the Hebrew name Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement”.
Barnabas was born into a Levite family in Cyprus. It is thought he may have been one of the 72 disciples sent out by Jesus during His ministry. In the Book of Acts he is described as owning a tract of land which he sold to help financially support the Apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 4: 36, 37).
Barnabas believed in the power of the gospel message to change people’s hearts. When Paul first came to Jerusalem after his conversion, it was Barnabas who stood as a sponsor for him and had him received by the skeptical Apostles who were a bit slower to accept the reality of Paul’s conversion.
Later, Barnabas was also instrumental in persuading Paul to go to Antioch and begin his work of preaching. Barnabas was one of the first to understand that the mission of the church was universal. In Antioch, Barnabas and Paul preached the gospel to Gentiles for the first time, rather than to Jews. They brought the followers of Jesus, Jewish and Gentile, together by removing the differences between them.
As we celebrate the life of Barnabas, let us give thanks for the people in our lives who encourage us to be our best selves. Let us also pray for the grace to be encouragers for others: in our families, in our communities, and especially in our faith communities. Words of encouragement can plant seeds that blossom for eternity.