A.D.: Episode 10
When an Enemy Needs a Friend
Would you agree, life consists of a series of risks?
We’re presented with a circumstance, the outcome of which is uncertain. We assess the situation and, based on a series of internal calculations, either take a risk by faith or take a pass.
• You see it in a toddler deciding to take her first steps.
• You see it in a teenager deciding to ask for the first date.
• You see it in a parent deciding when to hand over the keys.
• You see it in a business owner making a critical hire.
• You see it in a person who failed the first time, trying to decide whether to try again.
The decisions we make are often based on several factors:
• Am I naturally a risk taker?
• Usually you have an inclination toward playing it safe or taking risks. God, in His infinite wisdom or perverse sense of humor, often provides us with a spouse or close friends who are at the opposite end of the spectrum. I’m a natural risk taker while my wife is somewhat risk reluctant.
• What do my past experiences tell me? If I’ve been down this road before, success or failure will color my current choices.
• What are other people saying about it? We can all think of times when we were influenced beyond our comfort zone by the voices of those we trust.
• Is the potential gain worth the possible pain? We usually do a quick risk/reward calculation to determine whether or not this might be a step too far.
Seldom are the stakes higher in this risk/reward equation than when it involves relationships:
• Entering into new relationships
• Breaking off destructive relationships or
• Choosing to forgive and possibly restore broken relationships
It’s risky to love people!
People will hurt you. Sometimes they can’t be trusted. We have all been burned by someone in the past. The idea of taking a risk on other people might not be very appealing. But sometimes that’s exactly what God has in mind for us. And sometimes, on the surface, it makes very little sense.
That’s exactly the circumstances a Christ follower named Barnabas found himself in (Acts 9:26-31). He had to make a decision to take a risk on a relationship that no one around him was willing to take. He overcame a number of common obstacles to taking risks by faith, and he invested in a risky relationship that ultimately shaped the course of Christianity.
As we study his story, God may prompt you with a name of someone whom He is at work in. God may even nudge you toward a step of faith that could change the course of a life, a family, or even a community of faith.
READ TEXT Acts 9:26-31
Saul, a newly converted disciple who was formerly an enemy of the church, came to town, hoping to meet up with the disciples. But they weren’t’t interested! Can you blame them? They knew who this guy was, what he had done to their family and friends. Maybe they even wanted to believe that he had changed, but it sounded too good to be true. They didn’t’t want to take a chance that this rumored conversion was just that—a rumor.
I think if I’d been in their place, I may have done the same thing.
Why is that?
What keeps us from taking a risk w/ people?
I. Fear keeps us from taking a risk.
We might fear failure when we’re starting a new project or business venture. Maybe we’re afraid of rejection, especially in relationships. We wonder: Will they accept me as I am? Can I tell them this part of my past? Can I really open up to them?
When it comes to taking a risk on someone who has hurt us in the past, we’re probably most afraid of being hurt again. Maybe you’ve been hurt by an ex, a business partner, an employer, or a child. And they come to us and say, “I’ve changed!” We want to believe that they can change, but we’re afraid.
Saul had hurt people. He had thrown men and women into prison; he had probably broken up families. He wasn’t just opposed to Christianity; he was dedicated to destroying it. If you were a Christian living back then and you heard that Saul was coming to town, you’d hide or get out. When he showed up in Jerusalem, no doubt a rumor began to circulate that he had changed. The wise thing would have been to disregard the rumors.
Remember, the disciples weren’t’t just protecting themselves; they were protecting the entire community of believers. Taking a risk on one man just didn’t seem worth it.
Sometimes fear can sound a lot like wisdom: “Do you really think that’s a good idea?” “Did you really hear from God about that?” “You aren’t afraid of failing; you’re just being careful.”
But God doesn’t rationalize our fear; He conquers it.
That’s why God told Joshua to “be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:9). Essentially, He was saying to Joshua: “Get moving! Don’t be afraid, just go and I will go with you!”
Fear wants to keep us right where we are when God has a better destination for us.
Fear will keep you from taking a risk . . . &
II. Doubt keeps us from taking a risk.
If you had been in the disciples’ place, would you have believed God could change Saul? You know the saying: “If something sounds too good to be true . . . it probably isn’t.” Saul—the number-one enemy of Christians—becoming one of them sounded way too good to be true.
It’s understandable to be wary when someone comes to us, claiming to have changed. What if they’re wrong, or what if they’re lying?
We know that we’re supposed to believe God can change anybody. It’s just that there seem to be so many people who never do change. And if we’re talking about a person who can harm me, the safer thing is to stick with my doubt, right? Why take a risk on a lost cause?
Fear and doubt keep us from taking a risk on relationships. There is another far more sinister reason.
III. Cynicism keeps us from taking a risk.
Cynicism happens when we decide that our preconceived prejudices represent reality; we apply them to everyone and everything.
Cynicism thinks it knows better:
· People don’t change.
· They can’t be trusted.
· Risks are never worth it.
When we are cynics, we like to say, “I’m just being realistic.” But do you know what cynicism is? Cynicism is taking all of our fear and doubts and making them hard. We forge them into armor that we can wear to protect us from the world. That’s what real cynicism is.
I doubt that all of the disciples in these verses were cynics, but I bet a few of them were. You can’t see your friends get arrested and killed without becoming a little hardened. A few of the disciples probably didn’t’t care if it was true or not:
Cynicism hardens our heart to true relationship and makes future potential friends pay for the sins of past relationships.
When we have the chance to take a risk on someone,
• Fear says, “They might hurt you.”
• Doubt says, “They probably haven’t changed.”
• Cynicism says, “They will hurt you and they will never change.”
These are the things keeping us from taking a risk. What about you? Which of these is a struggle in your life?
You’re not alone. The disciples were feeling all of these things, which is why they steered clear of Saul. His conversion could have been an act meant to trick them, or it could have been a temporary change.
But there was another possibility: He could have been transformed by God.
Only one person was willing to consider that possibility: Barnabas.
We don’t know why Barnabas decided to go looking for Saul. Perhaps they knew each other. Maybe Barnabas had heard something the others hadn’t, something that piqued his interest. Or maybe Barnabas decided that Saul was worth the risk.
We know from Acts 4:36 that Barnabas’s name means “son of encouragement,” and we see him acting as mediator at other times as well. Perhaps this was just Barnabas being Barnabas, looking out for people others had written off.
So what did Barnabas do, and how can we be more like him? What does it look like for us to take a risk on the people God loves? I think there are three things—three ways we can be a Barnabas for other people.
How We Can Be a Barnabas for Others
1. Take the time to hear their story.
Someone said that the reason God gave us two ears and one mouth is because He intended us to listen twice as much as we talk.
“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.”
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
—Stephen R. Covey
Here are five words that could transform a relationship: “That’s interesting. Tell me more.”
Simple words, but incredibly inviting. Try it sometime. The recipient will usually relax and open up, and true understanding begins to take place.
When we listen to someone else’s story, our opinion of them often changes because we understand them. We realize where they’re coming from, the circumstances that might have affected their choices and behavior. Maybe Barnabas wanted to hear Saul’s story. Maybe he wanted to understand what had led to such a dramatic change in Saul’s life. And boy did Saul have a story to tell!
2. Verify the facts.
If all we do is take someone at their word, there can be devastating consequences. It’s important to remember that Barnabas didn’t insist the church welcome Saul until he had met with him to check out his story. Barnabas wanted to make sure Saul was for real because if it was all a lie, the entire church would be in danger.
Let me be clear: Being willing to take risks on people does not mean that we carelessly open ourselves up to abuse. We need to discern for ourselves whether God is truly at work in their lives or whether they’re simply trying to manipulate us. There is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. We ought always to forgive. That’s a given. Reconciliation is not always a good option. If reconciliation is to occur, the facts must be verified:
• Has true repentance occurred?
• Is there a willingness to make restitution?
• Is there evidence of a changed life?
I don’t know what all Barnabas and Saul talked about. Maybe Barnabas asked Saul to tell his story several times to see if there were inconsistencies. Maybe Barnabas had already talked to other people who knew the story and wanted to see if Saul’s version lined up with theirs. Or perhaps God had revealed the truth to Barnabas, and he just wanted to make sure Saul was still a committed follower.
Whatever Barnabas did to verify the facts, he left convinced. He made sure that all of his doubts were addressed before he brought Saul to the rest of the disciples. Notice, though, that once his doubts were taken care of, Barnabas acted decisively. He didn’t’t sit around for a month wondering what he should do. Once he became convinced of the truth of Saul’s story, he knew that it was time for Saul to meet the apostles.
If you have doubts about somebody, verify the facts. But once you do, keep moving!
Listen, & verify . . .
There’s something else we need to do if we’re going to be a Barnabas for someone else.
3. Trust in God’s power.
The third thing is actually the first thing we need to do: Reject cynicism and trust in God’s power.
You never see Jesus being cynical in the Gospels. Why is that? Cynics pride themselves on being realistic, on understanding the way the world really works. No one understood people or the world better than Jesus.
So why wasn’t He a cold, jaded cynic?
Because He knew the power of God. Jesus understood better than anyone else that God could transform people.
When some of the Sadducees tried to trap Him with a trick question, Jesus told them what their problem was: “You do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).
Cynicism cannot be our starting point. We must trust in the power of God because if He can’t change people, no one can!
In each of his appearances in the book of Acts, Barnabas demonstrates confidence and trust in God’s power.
He is willing to intercede for people whom others have given up on.
INVITATION / CLOSING
At some point in our lives, we’ve all had a Barnabas in our corner—someone who believed in us when no one else did. They were willing to take a risk on us, and it changed our lives.
We needed a Barnabas, and now someone else needs us to be theirs.
• We need to move past our fear and be willing to hear their story.
• We need to overcome our doubts by verifying the facts.
• We need to reject cynicism and trust in God’s power.
Barnabas took a risk and changed the world. God is asking us to do the same. Are you looking for opportunities to take risks in faith? Who needs you to be their Barnabas?
A few weeks ago I challenged everyone to choose one or two people that you would ask God to right on your heart – that you would be their advocate at heaven’s court for life.
How is that going by the way?
Did you think I would – NO did you think God would let us forget?
NO it’s too important!
Remember YOU are NOT a no-body – you are a somebody – If you have invited Jesus into your life YOU are a Child of God and YOU can make a difference in somebody’s life for life!
Who is on your list today?