There are certain risks in life that we can and should take. One of those risky things is investing in people.
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, was a man who took risks. He is better known by his nickname, Barnabas (meaning “son of encouragement”).
Barnabas took three risks on people that others had written off as losers. And these risks yielded great rewards. Let’s take a look at each one.
Barnabas Gave These People His Money
Barnabas had some good farmland, and owning land was important in his day. Owning land was essentially the only long-term investment option for people in his era. Land produced food, thus it was a terrific income-yielding asset.
But Barnabas sold some of his land and brought the money to the apostles (Jesus’ first and closest followers), earning himself a new name in the process. He must have figured that there was a better return on his economic asset if he converted it to an asset for God’s kingdom.
Barnabas Gave This Guy His Trust
Then there was the time that this fanatical, militant, fundamentalist Jew named Saul (later, Paul) tried to crash the church in Jerusalem. He came to them with a wild story about seeing the Lord and having Jesus talk to him while he was traveling to Damascus, ostensibly to find some more Christians to persecute. Supposedly, that was all behind him now, because he had “seen the light,” literally (Read Acts 9).
But Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem were too smart for Paul, or so they thought. They thought they were onto his wily ways, so they avoided him.
When he (Saul) came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple (Acts 9:26 NIV).
Barnabas heard Saul’s story. Just imagine his conversation with himself.
This is just too far-fetched for any reasonable man to believe. What am I doing, wasting my time even thinking about it? He dragged Christians off to their death. But what if his story is true? It just might be the hand of God.
Barnabas listened to Saul’s story. He didn’t know for sure, but with one last look at the expectancy written all over Saul’s face, Barnabas took a risk. He turned to Saul and told him, “I believe you.“
But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. (Acts 9:27-28 NIV)
Sure enough, Barnabas’ decision honored God. It opened the way for Jesus’ name to spread throughout Jerusalem.
Barnabas Gave This Kid a Second Chance
Some years later, Barnabas met another young man named John Mark, written off by some of Jesus’ followers because of his past mistakes. Barnabas was willing to give him another chance. He believed John Mark still had a lot to offer. Ironically, it was Saul, now called Paul, who was adamant in his opposition to Mark.
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. (Acts 15:36-40 NIV)
Mark and Barnabas’ conversation might have sounded something like this:
“Please, Cousin Barnabas, let me come with you, I won’t leave you again. You can count on me this time!”
“But Mark, how can I be sure that you won’t change your mind and leave us as you did before?”
“I’m older now. I know better. I won’t leave the work now. I’ll stick with you until the end.”
“Oh, how I want to believe that, but even if I did, I don’t think that we could ever convince Paul . . . He is so stubborn about some things.”
“I’m not asking Paul; I’m asking you. Please, please believe in me!”
And there it was. That same look of expectancy written across the face of John Mark. He had seen that look on Saul’s face so many years before. So once again, Barnabas took a risk.
At the end of Paul’s ministry, writing to Timothy from prison, he said: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is useful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11 NIV, emphasis added).
Where would the church be today if Barnabas hadn’t taken a risk on Paul or John Mark? Paul wrote over half the books in the New Testament, and Mark went on to write the Gospel of Mark.
A Risky Faith
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (NIV).
Barnabas couldn’t see God’s heavenly kingdom, but he believed it was a better place to invest than the world. For Jesus said, “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:20-21 NIV).
Barnabas couldn’t see Jesus, but he believed Jesus was who he claimed to be—the light of the world, able to bring anyone, even Saul, out of spiritual darkness. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 NIV).
And Barnabas couldn’t see the outcome of his journey with Mark, but knew how graciously Jesus had treated his disciples, and trusted that Jesus had big plans for Mark too.
If we’re measuring our risks by God’s Word and God’s promises, acting off what we know to be true of God’s purposes and power, then those risks are wise investments of faith.
Ask God what people in your life he wants you to pour more time, trust, and maybe even travel into. Be prepared to be disappointed sometimes, for to deal with people is to deal with the fallen, the imperfect, the insensitive, the careless, the forgetful—well, it’s to deal with people.
Believe in somebody, because you believe that God can work in and through them. Remember, it’s God’s ability to work in a person that offers the potential for tremendous returns on your investment. Take the risk of investing in people.