A man named Saul from the city of Tarsus had an extraordinary reputation for persecuting Christians and doing everything within his power to stop the spread of the early church. The very mention of his name would bring fear in the hearts of those who were followers of Jesus. In that day, if you were a believer which encountered Saul, you could count on being dragged off to prison or possibly face execution.
Saul was traveling to Damascus with the intent of extending his work of doing away with Christians and had a very personal encounter with Jesus himself. He was blinded and had to be helped into the city but while there was taught more about Jesus and was baptized. From that day forward he was actively becoming a friend of Christians and preaching about Jesus. His name was now Paul, and he spent the rest of his life devoted to the Lord through missionary journeys, written instructions to churches, and even imprisonment for his faith.
Think for a moment about Paul's conversion experience and the complete turn-around of his life. Think also about the difficulty other Christians might have had in accepting Paul into the community of the faithful. After all, these Christians had suffered at the hands of Paul, and we can understand their reluctance in accepting him. He had a reputation. He had been an enemy of the cross. He had been the author of chaos for many Christians and their families.
Even the Jerusalem Christians were in no hurry to accept Paul. Opposition against him was so great he retreated back home to Tarsus for a time. Then Barnabas took action again.
Acts 11:25-26 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
Paul went on to be very instrumental in the development and growth of individual Christian lives and the spread of the church. Thanks to Barnabas, who provided the encouragement and love toward a struggling brother, Paul got the nudge he needed to keep pressing forward.
Do you know someone today that is struggling with acceptance in the church, perhaps due to a bad reputation or a sinful lifestyle. Is there a ministry for us, the imperfect yet forgiven, to share the example of God's love and grace toward those who are in such a struggle? It could be the very person you encourage and help that becomes a church planter, a leader, a ministry student, or a missionary. I think every church has some of these "strugglers" which are searching for acceptance, encouragement, and love.