Yesterday’s reading featured the friendship of David and Jonathan. Today’s NT reading (Acts 15) describes the parting of ways of two brothers in the Lord, Paul and Barnabas. It was Barnabas who vouched for Paul when he first came to Jerusalem after his conversion (Acts 9:26-27). Later, it was Barnabas who went to find Paul in Tarsus and brought him to Antioch to help minister the word to the first Gentile-dominant church (Acts 11:25-26). And it was Barnabas who shared the load of work on the first missionary journey, facing danger (Acts 13:50) and controversy (Acts 15:2) side by side with Paul.
As close as these two men were in the work of the gospel, we learn from Acts 15:36-41 that these two determined servants had to part company over a disagreement. The issue was not any kind of doctrinal matter. It was a matter of judgment over whether to include John Mark on the forthcoming second journey. Barnabas wanted to bring him; Paul did not. From Paul’s point of view, this young man had proven unreliable when he quit while on the first journey (Acts 13:13). This was serious, dangerous work, no place for an immature and irresponsible boy.
But Barnabas wanted to take John Mark. This is not at all surprising, since Barnabas’ very name means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). Further, John Mark may have been related to Barnabas (see Col. 4:10), adding an additional reason for Barnabas to want to give him a second chance.
This difference of opinion was deep – Luke says it was a “sharp disagreement” (15:39). Eventually, Paul and Barnabas had to part company, Barnabas taking John Mark, and Paul taking a new comrade from Jerusalem named Silas.
Who was right – Barnabas or Paul? I think a good case could be made for either man. Surely Paul was right in thinking that John Mark needed to realize this work was too important to be approached half-heartedly. And Barnabas was also right in thinking that everyone deserves a second chance (and who benefited more from Barnabas’ gracious spirit than Paul?). Maybe John Mark needed both sides of love, soft and hard, to become the man he had the potential to be in the Lord.
And he did indeed become a faithful servant. In Col. 4:10, Paul makes a special point of asking the Colossians to “welcome” John Mark. And at the end of his life, Paul requested that Timothy bring Mark to him in prison, “for he is very useful to me in ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11).
I think the best part of this whole story is the way Paul and Barnabas moved past their disagreement to work for the Lord. Many times when brethren disagree the work of the gospel comes to a screeching halt. Not so here. In fact, the preaching of the word doubled, with two teams of workers rather than just one traveling to proclaim Jesus.
It is unavoidable that brothers will disagree. But if the end result can be what it was in the case of John Mark – spiritual development; and if the outcome can be what it was in the case of the gospel – more preaching rather than less, then God will be glorified.