I played basketball in middle school and high school. I was an early grower, so in middle school, I towered over the other girls, I was automatically placed as the center and played every game mostly because of my height, not my skill. But by the time I got to high school, the other girls caught up to me, and I didn't have my size to use and to be honest, I never really had any skills. The bench was my home. And If I am really being honest here, I was much happier sitting on the bench cheering on the team, then to be in the spotlight on the court. Not everyone has the skills to be a star basketball player. Most of us won't be the MVP of the game; most of us won't become Pauls of our church or community. But all of us can be on the bench and be sons and daughters of encouragement for our brothers and sisters.
Barnabas is one of my favorite people of the New Testament. Barnabas is just his nickname; it means son of encouragement. I can only imagine what he was like to get that name. He was one of the first people to accept Paul when he converted to Christianity, and he ended up traveling on many missionary adventures with Paul. But Paul was the star. Barnabas was on the bench, but there are some essential lessons from the bench. Barnabas knew that it wasn't about him. The story wasn't about him - he played his part, he passed the ball, AND he cheered from the sidelines as Paul scored the goal because he knew it didn't matter who scored just as long as his team won the game. See Barnabas knew that the story of Jesus was bigger than him, bigger than Paul, bigger than the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, bigger than the Gentile Christians in Antioch, it was bigger than anything anyone could imagine. The story was and is about Christ and proclaiming Christ's good news to all the world. Barnabas, as a man filled with the Holy Spirit, put aside his own personal wants and desires and instead encouraged those onward, encouraged those forward, encouraged them to be the people God called them to be. He told them about the potential that God saw in them, and he told them about the hope God had for the world. It wasn't about him or his faith or his glory, but about the glory of God. Because Barnabas understood that truth, he was a son of encouragement.
Not all of us can be Paul, but we can all be Barnabas. We can all be the ones on the bench, cheering each other on and pushing each other forward. Hebrews tells us we should encourage one another every day. Paul tells us in his letter to the Thessalonians, "therefore keep encouraging one another and build each other up" (1 Thessalonians 5:11). This message is repeated again and again throughout the New Testament. Barnabas doesn't get the top billing, he doesn't even get his name first in the New Testament. In fact, most people don't even know who he is, but without Barnabas, the story of the early Christian church would look quite different. I have no doubt that God would have found a way to bring his message to the world, but would we have Paul? Would we have Antioch? Would we have these missionary journeys, this rapid spread of the good news? What would the world be like without Barnabas?
Each of us could learn to be a bit more like Barnabas. We could use more cheerleaders and encouragers in this world. It may not be the most glamorous job, it will not be the job that gets you the most likes, but it is a job that is essential to the spreading of the good news.