In 2004, the Boston Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. It was a time of celebration the likes of which Boston had never seen.
Who did they beat?
Few remember that the Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals (in convincing fashion: the Cardinals did not win a game in the series). The Cardinals are now merely a historical footnote.
Likewise, the Red Sox swept their opponent in the 2007 World Series.
Who did they beat? Hint: their home-field altitude helped them little.
Maybe you’ve heard of a horse named Secretariat, the Triple Crown winner in 1973. Much has been made of the rivalry between Secretariat and his cousin Sham. And for good reason.
Sham finished second to Secretariat at the Kentucky Derby and The Preakness, and lost soundly to him at the Belmont Stakes.
If not for Secretariat, Sham may have been remembered as one of the greatest race horses ever.
Sham was a second-placer.
There is a great second-placer in the bible, one who has, for the most part, been relegated to footnote status: Barnabas.
Barnabas (so nicknamed by the disciples, meaning ‘son of encouragement’) is forever known as the sidekick/supporter/fellow traveler of the New Testament hero Paul.
Yup, THAT Paul.
But it was Barnabas who went to bat for the pompous, outrageous, former Christian-persecutor Saul of Tarsus after his conversion. He persuaded the disciples in Jerusalem to accept this (now) Paul as a fellow worker for the cause of Christ.
It was Barnabas who sold his property to support the church in Jerusalem.
It was Barnabas who was sent to Antioch to encourage the work of the first disciples in that city.
When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord (Acts 11: 23-24, ESV, emphasis mine).
It was Barnabas who saw the value in John Mark as a companion on a second missionary journey with Paul (Paul was not convinced, and he and Barnabas went their separate ways).
And yet Paul became the voice and the face of Christianity, even to this day.
Paul won the Triple Crown, if you will. Barnabas came in second, time and time again.
But just as Sham pushed Secretariat to greatness by his mere presence, so Barnabas saw in Paul a potential greatness, a man that God would use in powerful ways.
And so Barnabas accepted his role of encourager, and became arguably the greatest second-placer the world has known.
Without Barnabas, Paul would never have been given the opportunity to lead.
Without Barnabas, the early Jerusalem church would have struggled to survive.
Without Barnabas, Paul would not have been nearly as successful in his missionary journeys.
Paul gets most of the glory in the Christian tradition, but he accomplished greatness partly as a result of the support of the great encourager Barnabas.
Let’s not forget the importance of being encouragers. We are not all called to lead. We are not all called to preach. We are not all called to plant churches.
But we are ALL called to be encouragers.
Who are you pushing to greatness today?