After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there. Acts 15:36-41 NLT
A sharp disagreement. A difference of opinions. Feelings of hurt and disappointment. Spiritually exhausted. Emotionally spent. Churched out. Oh so incredibly tired of church sometimes and people and the hard work that comes along with ministry. The place where we should receive the biggest encouragement and be refreshed to continue the work of the gospel can sometimes be the place where we are hurt the most and spin our wheels trying to do good. Church is the reflection of Christ’s love for His Bride. A place where we are encouraged in a community of believers, refreshed with worship to God and receive encouragement from the teaching of God’s Word so we can take it back out to others. But then, people disappoint. Satan causes division. Disagreements happen and feelings get hurt. So deeply hurt.
Paul and Barnabas could speak into this situation. They were such good friends. Barnabas was Paul’s mentor, his spiritual encourager, the one who brought him into fellowship with other Christians after his conversion when no one else trusted him. Barnabas and Paul had been doing ministry together for a long time. They had done so much good work for the gospel. When it was time to go back to revisit and encourage the churches, Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark. Paul didn’t like John Mark because he had been hurt and felt he deserted them. Barnabas, being the strong encourager, was also full of mercy. The same mercy that he had given Paul when God called him into ministry, is the same mercy he now showed John Mark. But Paul sharply disagreed. That’s Paul for you. Fiery, bold, mission minded, not distracted by people. So they chose to separate. Paul took Silas with him and headed to Syria. John Mark and Barnabas sailed over to Cyprus. Just like that, all the years of doing ministry with each other was over. So they packed up, quit sharing the gospel of Jesus, and went home to become tent-dwellers? No that absolutely didn’t happen. Actually, the believers entrusted them to the Lord’s care, and they all continued to strengthen the churches.
While people will disappoint, God remains faithful and sovereign. The disagreement between Barnabas and Paul was not doctrinal, it was simply personal. It was not about us versus them or right versus wrong. It was a personality conflict. They did not let it alienate them from other Christians. They didn’t quit church like we want to do when we get hurt or don’t get our way. They certainly didn’t cause more division and build up walls against each other with Team Barnabas and Team Paul as we so often see happen in churches that split.
They kept their focus and continued to use their calling to spread the gospel. God used their separation in order to give them more opportunities. You see, sometimes God separates us in order to move us to a place where greater good can be done. Sometimes multiplication of the gospel can only happen when God divides us up and subtracts all that we deem more important. When it is all pared down, it must be about Christ. Not personal preferences, not my opinion, not hurt feelings, or personality conflicts. The gospel will continue to prosper with or without us. Let’s not be the kind of people who refuse to let God grow us because we have a disagreement.
Not surprisingly, God used this division to teach them and grow them in faith. Barnabas became an encourager and mentor to John Mark and taught him to persevere in hard times. Paul learned the gift of encouragement from his friend, Barnabas as he continued to strengthen the churches and later learned to mentor Timothy. And despite their disagreement, both Paul and Barnabas spoke fondly of each other even after they parted and continued for the sake of the gospel despite their conflict. And John Mark, apparently he learned, grew, and was now a key figure in spreading gospel with other disciples.
2 Timothy 4:11 Paul speaking, “Get John Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.”
Heavenly Father, Please forgive us when we hang on to all that we deem more important than You. There is no program, tradition, policy or person that is more important than taking the gospel to others and living on mission for Christ. Forgive us when we let conflict and disagreements get in the way of that and allow our enemy to turn us on each other. Help us to keep focused on You and give us the grace to let go and let You work. Help us to stay on mission for You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.