Have you gone through battles with people and developed a strong, intimate relationships because of it and then later disagree? Do you have a way of doing things? What are your “sacred cows?” What are your people’s sacred cows?
I was studying in Acts this week and I came across a passage that I have read many times and God really laid it on my heart to share. I have had the privilege to be in ministry over a decade and there have been many times where I disagreed with others on a variety of things. I would consider myself to be an extremely Type A person and sometimes I can disagree with individuals when they don’t have a logical, rational reason for their position or if they can’t defend their position. When this happens there will usually be conflict/division. In those situations, my pride tells me I am justified/right because their argument is substandard to mine. The problem is I may not be wrong in my position, but I am wrong in my approach and attitude. The longer we are in ministry, the greater the chance for disagreements, but hopefully we are also wiser and more discerning in those situations.
The passage is Acts 15:36-41,
“And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches”.
Let us put the passage in context. What just happened before this? This is the part that makes my Type A, shake its head. The first part of Acts 15 is the First Church Council at Jerusalem. A division had rose in the church between the Jewish and Gentile believers and what was necessary for them to be saved. Did they have to be circumcised? Did they have to follow the Torah/Law of Moses? What was and wasn’t required? Today, we don’t really think of this as a big deal for the most part. If you asked most Christians today, I think they would simply say that there was a disagreement and they solve it and it was no big deal. As Gentiles, we don’t really give it much thought. At the time this was huge. You essentially had two major religions at odds. One was steeped in tradition and the other was this upstart that was catching fire. (I do consider Christianity a relationship and not a religion, but to an outsider looking it, most would call it religion). Ever seen a church divide? Ever been on the outside looking in and shake your head at what seems like a bunch of immature people that are being selfish and want to take a side?
This wasn’t just any church; this was the entire first century church. What would the church look like to today if the legalistic Jewish teachers had won and all Gentiles would have to do this list of things to be a part of the church? Sounds like the works vs. faith debate would have taken place centuries earlier. What would the church look like today?
Paul and Barnabas were in the middle of it. They went to battle together. They were unified. They were in one accord. They had a deep intimate relationship with one another. Barnabas was the one that stood up for Paul originally when others stilled feared him after his conversion. We all need Paul and Barnabas’ in our life. As the scripture says “Iron sharpens Iron” and we need others to sharpen us.
Not only were Paul and Barnabas unified, the Entire Church was Unified at the end of the council. Paul, Barnabas and a few others are selected to go to the gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. They go to Antioch and everything is great. They are working together and doing ministry. Life is good, but then a disagreement comes about. In verse 39 it says there was a sharp disagreement. The Greek word is paroxysmos, which can mean to spurn on, encourage like it is used in Hebrews 10:24. In this context it is a positive and it is referring to an athletic event where you are spurring someone on towards victory in a grueling competition. In our passage it is negative, there is sharp contention. It is an intense difference of opinion. You could say it was irreconcilable. One minute you are unifying the entire church together and then you are in this huge disagreement, OVER WHAT?
The disagreement was over John Mark and whether they should take him. The text doesn’t tell us everything, but the argument may have been something like this.
- 1. He is family, they were cousins (Col 4:10) – family ties can run deep and it is no difference in ministry. Not always a good thing, but not always bad either.
- 2. Barnabas was an encourager (Acts 4:36) – Barnabas was eager to help others, might have been a server.
- 3. Barnabas is known to go to bat for people, he did for Paul (Acts 9:27)- Paul you didn’t disagree with me, when I was doing the same for you.
- 1. He abandoned us before (Acts 13:13) – He has done it once and he’ll do it again.
- 2. Ministry is too important- this is no trivial thing. This is not a time for this see what happens.
- 3. We can’t depend on someone who is unreliable- we need to be unified and I trust you, but not him.
- 4. Silas is a better choice- he has proven himself, John Mark has not.
It seems to me that Paul was more concerned with the task and Barnabas was more concerned about the person. In this situation I would probably be on Paul’s side. The evidence says that John Mark may not be trusted in this situation. This isn’t a situation where we can take a chance. Who was right? Were they both right? Were they both wrong? Should they have divided over this?
The easy answer would be to say that they were both right on some parts and both wrong on others. I like things to be more definitive personally. The important question isn’t what does you or I think? What does God think? What about God’s plan? Did the job get done? God took a situation with two imperfect people and still accomplished His perfect plan. Instead of one missionary team he had two. The task was still accomplished. Paul and Silas took half of the assignment/task and Barnabas and John Mark took the other half.
The counseling part of me (which is big on redemption & reconciliation) is glad to know that later on Paul and John Mark worked together in ministry and whatever caused the early conflict was resolved later (Col. 4:10, 2 Tim. 4:11, Phil. 23-24).
None of us are perfect and God still gives us the privilege to do His work/ministry. Part of me treasures the fact that in the end God will bring about his perfect work. Even if I mess up/fail, that doesn’t mean God’s plan will. That in no way gives me a license to do what I want, when I want, because then I would be disobeying. God uses imperfect people to bring about his perfect plan. He is sovereign, providential, in control, know what He is doing, and that is the bedrock we can depend on.
2 Corinthians 3:4-6 says, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”. We are insufficient, but He is Sufficient!!!!
I pray that each and everyone of us are resting in our Perfect Savior and not in our imperfect selves.