The Levite and the Pharisee





Alex Tang



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The Levite and the Pharisee

Dr. Alex Tang


In 1969, The Hollies ( a singing group)  released a song that was very meaningful to me. The name of the song is, ‘He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother’:

The road is long,

With many a winding turn,

That leads us to who knows where, who knows where,

But I’m strong,

Strong enough to carry him,

He ain’t heavy; he’s my brother.


I became a Christian when I was in first year of medical school. My parents were not Christians. I was trained in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. In my class of 160 students, there were 4 Chinese and one Indian. One Christian. It was the time the Dakwah movement was very strong on campus. It was also compulsory for all students to attend a course on Islam Civilization. It was difficult being a Christian on campus. Being a Christian is like a walking target. Like walking with a bulleye on your back.

The few Christians decided to form a fellowship group. We were like the underground church. We had bible studies in the hostels at night, secret prayer meetings and our weekly meeting, we held in a church in Kajang. Outside Bangi where the main campus was. It was a wonderful time. We were closely knitted. We cared and encouraged each other.

I remembered one of the girls. She had to share room with two other persons. Every time she tried to have a quiet time, they will make noise and pass comments. She was very discouraged and would cry every time we meet. Every time she cried, the boys would panic. I remembered one day, I met her and her face was radiant. I asked her why she was so happy. She said one of the boys bought her a shampoo with conditioner because he said her hair was so brittle and dry. “Isn’t it encouraging to have brother like that?”  He ain’t heavy; he’s my brother.

When we think of encouragement in the bible, we often think of Barnabas. I would like to offer three observations of Barnabas in his relationship with Paul and try to derive three principles of encouragement to help us.

1.                  Barnabas was a ‘Man of God’

(i)                  Luke described him as ‘ a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith’ (Acts 11:24)

(ii)                Acts 4:36. He was an early believer and was with the young church in Jerusalem.

AC 4:36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.

(iii)               Leader of the church in Jerusalem and is of good standing with the Apostles. When the church in Jerusalem, which consists mainly of Jewish believers heard about God’s miraculous work with the Gentiles in Antioch, they sent Barnabas to investigate. Acts 11:22-23

AC 11:22 News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts

(iv)              He stayed on in Antioch was named amongst the prophets and teachers (Acts 13:1)

(v)                He may have written the Epistle of Hebrews.

(vi)              He and Paul were called by the Holy Spirit for missionary work. Acts 13:2-3

2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

(vii)             The apostles called him, ‘Son of Encouragement’.

The basic NT words for encouragement are parakaleo (verb) and paraklesis (noun). This word group appears over a hundred times in the NT and carries three different meanings: parakaleo can mean

(1) “to summon, invite, or ask,”

(2) “to exhort or encourage,” and

(3) “to comfort.”

But what does “encourage” mean?

·        Encouragement strengthens and calls forth renewed commitment.

·        Typically believers are encouraged to some godly course of action.

·        Many were encouraged by Paul’s chains to “speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Phil 1:14).

·        The apostle encouraged believers in Thessalonica to “walk worthy of God” (1 Th 2:12). God’s grace and love are intended, he told them, to “encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Th 2:17).

There is a subjective aspect to encouragement. The purpose of encouragement is that we may be strengthened for fresh faith and obedience. How beautiful, then, is the gift of encouraging (Rom 12:8). Those with this spiritual gift are able to strengthen others, enabling them to win fresh victories in their Christian lives.




2.                  Barnabas spoke up for Paul because he believed in him.

(i)                  He brought Paul to the apostles and convinced them that Paul has a genuine conversion. Acts 9:27

27 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. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.

(ii)                He helped Paul to be accepted by the apostles in the church in Jerusalem.

This is after Stephen was martyred and the young church persecuted. Paul was with the crowd that stoned Stephen. Paul was the one who asked for letters of authority to go to Damascus to arrest believers and bring them to trial in Jerusalem. Luke noted “ Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.’ (Acts 9:1). Then Saul was met Jesus and was converted. Instead of denouncing the disciples in the synagogue as expected, Saul began to argue that Jesus is the Son of God. No wonder the Jews tried to kill him. Saul escaped Damascus by being lowered in a basket then an opening in the city wall. Then he turned up in Jerusalem. Imagine the sensation it caused in Jerusalem.

It is understandable that the apostles do not trust him. Could this be a trap to catch all of them? Is Paul a double agent? Barnabas believed Paul. Only with someone with his faith and standing would convince the apostles to accept Paul. Imagine what an encouragement this was for Paul. What if the church in Jerusalem rejected Paul? History will be very different from what it in now.




3.                  Barnabas invited Paul to share in his ministry.

(i)                  Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Paul (Acts 11:25-26)

(ii)                They were team Barnabas/Saul

(a)                They lead and taught at Antioch (Acts 11:26;13:1)

(b)               They brought the gift for famine to Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30;12:25)

(c)                They went on a mission trip (Acts 13:4- 14:28) 

Initially, the team was Barnabas and Saul. Their mission was always to the Gentiles. Then in Acts 13:9; Luke started calling Saul, Paul. From then on the account was Paul and Barnabas, except at the Council in Jerusalem where Barnabas was prominent.

Encouragement will build up another person in Christ. Paul may be a great intellect, well versed in the Law, but he did lack people skills. I am sure Barnabas may have taught him some. Encouragement also may cause others to outshine us. As Paul and Barnabas. ‘He must increase and I must decrease’.

This does not mean encouraging others is always smooth sailing. We are all human. There is bound to be conflict. The conflict between Paul and Barnabas was the choice of John Mark for the second missionary trip. Paul did not want to take John Mark because Mark deserted them in Pamphylia during the first missionary trip.

Barnabas insisted on bringing Mark. I think being the encourager he is; Barnabas can see the worth of the individual. He also believed in Mark as he has believed in Paul. This resulted in the two parting company and there is no record in the NT that they ever met again. In this case, I think Barnabas is right. John Mark went on to be Paul’s companion and is with him in Rome. He wrote the Gospel of Mark.




Principles of Encouragement 




Encouragement does not need to be big things done. Look at the life of Barnabas.

·        Where will Paul be without Barnabas?

·        Where will John Mark be without Barnabas?

Everyone needs encouragement: teachers, doctors, lawyers, teenagers, toddler, baby, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, husbands, wife, married, unmarried. A friend of mine was trying to sell me engine oil. It will energize your engine and give it new life. Encouragement is like this engine oil. It will lubricate our soul and gives us new lives.


How do we encourage each other in the church?

1.                  We must be right with the Lord.

Remember Barnabas. He is a godly man and his acts of encouragement were the outflow of who he is. It is the same with us. If we are walking with the Lord, if we are praying and learning from His Word, if we are allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us, then it will be natural for us to encourage others.

2.                  We must be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can teach us a lot about encouragement because he is called the “Comforter”. Have you ever had the experience when sudden a particular person comes to mind? You may not have met the person for a long time but suddenly he or she pops into your mind. It may be the Holy Spirit prompting us. There are many times that when I was depressed or discouraged, I would receive a telephone call from someone. He or she would say suddenly I came to their mind and they called to say hello. It was so encouraging. So I urge you that if suddenly someone pop into your mind, call to say hello. It may just be what the person needs.

3.                  We identify a number of people we want to encourage. They can be members of the church. Members of your cell group. Colleagues at work. Younger people in the church. It is important that the older members of the church make friends with the young people. Often we stick to our own age group or people who share the same interest with us, like golf. But we must make it a point to go intergenerational.

4.                  We encourage these people by being their friends

(a)                praying for them. Praying for them is bringing them before the Lord who supplies all our needs. It also opens us to them, deepen our love for them.

(b)               spend time with them. We are all so busy. Yet we must realize that building relationships is more important than building careers, building mansions or building empires. Building relationships require time.

(c)                Listen to them. We have forgotten how to listen. Do you realize that when we are talking to other people, we automatically note the keywords and began to formulae a reply before the person has finished his/her sentence? Most of the time in our conversations, we impart information rather than communications. We do not communicate because we do not take the time and effort to listen. How many times have we finished a conversation and do not remember what has been said. With a feeling that the other people have been trying to tell us something but we were too busy thinking of witty replies to listen. Sometimes when I observe people talking, it is like a chess game. Knight to K2. Bishop to take pawn. Moves and counter moves.

(d)               Lessen their burdens. Do things for them. Sometimes, it is the little things that mean a lot. Shampoo for dry hair. Offer to baby sit. Give a book. Agnes and I travel a lot. Last month we were in Australia for 10 days and Po Yin was home alone. It was a tremendous encouragement for us that Joy and Teck Hui offered to look in on Po Yin and bring her to church. Even took her out for dinner afterwards.

Everyone needs encouragement and everyone can give encouragement. We do not need to attend any courses or training to give encouragement. Be yourself. Love others. Encourage one another. Heb 10:24-25

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.


It’s a long long road,

From which there is no return,

While we’re on the way to there,

Why not share,

And the load will not weigh me down

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

                                                                                                                                                       Soli Deo Gloria



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