Nicknames often reflect who we are

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What's in a nickname? Some people have them. Some people want one. Some don't care. Often nicknames arise out of an embarrassing moment. Someone who keeps falling is called Trip. Someone who can't remember anyone's name calls everyone "bub."

In the book of Acts we are introduced to a man who is known and will remain known more for the qualities of his nickname than his given name. This man embraced and stood by a person who many feared and did not trust. He traveled widely sharing with all who would listen. He gave generously. When fear took over one young man's actions and caused him to draw back, only this man gave him a second chance. Joseph was his given name. "Son of encouragement" was the name by which he was known.

Barnabas, son of encouragement, continuously demonstrated the characteristic of his nickname. In his day when someone was identified as "son of" with various adjectives following that, it was those character traits and temperament that person was known for. Someone called "son of anger" reflects a hostile and even wrathful character; "son of peace" someone of peace; "son of joy" filled with delight; and in this case "son of encouragement."

What was it about this man's life that earned him this tremendous badge? When we first meet him, he is carrying out an act of generosity. He sold a piece of property giving it to the fledgling movement of the church. The new church in turn used the funds to supply basics of food and shelter to those who were in need and unable to supply for themselves. A trait of encouragement is generosity.

Later on we see him standing by Saul not far removed from his hostile persecutions of the young movement. Many stood in fear of him, not wanting to have anything to do with him. Perhaps they were afraid his amazing conversion was a ruse but not the son of encouragement. He risked the unknown and his name applying grace to one who used to mock grace. Being an encourager is risky business. It demands giving grace to someone who may reject you.

Being an encourager is not limited to temperament. An encourager is one who lives out the greatest commandment of loving your neighbor as your self. As much as you would want to be encouraged you should be an encourager.

Rob Hurtgen is a husband, father, minister and writer. Read more from him at

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