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A Sharp Disagreement

As Barnabas and Paul consider a second missionary trip to strengthen the churches they planted, Barnabas is willing to risk the mission in order to give the deserter John Mark another chance, but Paul, thinking of the ultimate success of the mission, refuses.

Barnabas may or may not have seen the character flaw of cowardice or the doctrinal error of the Judaizers in his cousin John Mark, and even if he did, he certainly considered it to be less of a problem than Paul did. Barnabas wanted to use the mission to help John Mark, whereas Paul wanted a faithful helper for the sake of the mission.

These are two different goals, but Luke refuses to chooses sides as to who was right. Barnabas, with the gifts of a discipler, prioritizes John Mark, and is willing to risk the mission. Paul, with the gifts of a leader, prioritizes the mission over the development of John Mark. Barnabas pursues his ministry priority by taking John Mark back to Cyprus to disciple him and possibly to do missionary work there. Paul pursues his ministry priority (strengthening and planting churches) by choosing Silas, one of the elders from the Jerusalem church, and they go out with the blessing of the church to fulfill Paul’s original goal.

This wise solution was not reached automatically or easily, however. There was a sharp disagreement between these two men, an explosion that blew apart this tremendously effective missionary team. This shows us that Christians can have significant disagreements, that those disagreements can get heated and loud, and that those disagreements can have significant consequences for the ministry of the church.

As Barnabas and Paul looked at the situation, they each saw a different risk. Barnabas saw a significant risk in giving up on people that God hasn’t given up on. Don’t you want to be given a second or third chance? Then you should be thankful for people like Barnabas who are committed to working with you despite your flaws and mistakes, even when no one else will. We see in Barnabas’ determination to give continue to work with John Mark a picture of God’s forgiving grace.

Paul saw that when unqualified or unfaithful people are put in positions of responsibility, people get hurt, so he acted to protect the church. And so whether we’re talking about a short-term missions team, an ordination exam, or any ministry position, it does not serve the church well to overlook character flaws or personal limitations in an effort to encourage that person. Be thankful for elders, mothers and fathers, or friends who have the courage to to make the hard calls so that God’s people are spared from harm.

The death of the ministry team of Paul and Barnabas was not the last word. When God tells a story, death is not the end; resurrection is. Under Barnabas’ encouragement and discipleship, John Mark does become someone who powerfully serves the church, most notably by being the one to write down Peter’s account of Jesus in the gospel of Mark. Silas is raised up to the missionary task, and in God’s providence, the fact that he is a Roman citizen proves very useful to Paul. When the seed of the first missionary team falls in the ground and dies, it springs up and bears much fruit.

The profoundly encouraging truth from this episode in Acts is this: God is able to bring good out of a sharp disagreement. Even a vigorous argument between brothers can result in more ministry taking place. This is because a sharp disagreement is no problem to a sovereign God! A sharp disagreement cannot destroy the fellowship that brothers in Christ share, even when it means they stop working together. And a sharp disagreement cannot stop the spread of the gospel, because God is committed to glorifying Jesus by bringing salvation to the whole world. So, in the face of this painful and divisive argument between godly leaders in the church, we should be encouraged to trust in God, who brings good to His people and glory to Himself even out of sharp disagreements.

Posted on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 by CJ Bowen