Paul & Barnabas: Parting Ways

We’ve come to our text – Acts 15:36-41, which says:

After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are. Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

I think a few things stand out clearly here:

a) This passage does not make for very pleasant reading does it?  The conflict between Paul and Barnabas is clear and big.  The very fact that Luke includes this incident teaches us that conflict will be something that accompanies ministry eventually.  This passage also marks a turn in Acts.  We will not hear of any of the other apostles or of Barnabas, but only of Paul and his journeys from now on.

b) Second, the scene is clear: Paul wants to retrace his steps and go back to the churches they’ve planted to see how their fairing. Barnabas agrees with Paul, but he adds his desire to take John Mark with them again.  Paul doesn’t think it’s a good idea.  It’s not quite clear why Barnabas wanted his young cousin John Mark to come with them again, perhaps it was because they were family and he was struggling between the apostolic mission and family loyalties.  What is clear is Paul’s reason for not wanting him to come along.  He viewed John Mark’s earlier leave in Pamphylia as a desertion.  They had been commissioned by the Church on this mission, and he left?  I think Paul thought John Mark’s desertion revealed a character defect which made him unfit for such ministry.  You can see why Paul wouldn’t want him to come again.  He doesn’t want his partner to leave; he wants someone who’ll stay, no matter the cost.

c) Third, in v39 we see them separate.  Reading this almost makes you feel bad doesn’t it?  When no one was there for Paul as a new believer in Jerusalem, Barnabas stepped in for him before the Apostles.  When he was shipped off to Tarsus, it was Barnabas who came after him, pursued him, and brought him back into Antioch for ministry.  They opposed Bar-Jesus and were persecuted together in Paphos.  They were almost stoned in Iconium.  They were called Zeus and Hermes in Lycaonia.  They rejoiced together in Antioch about the Gentiles coming to faith.  They opposed the Judiazers together in Antioch and Jerusalem.  Most of you know what it’s like to be on a mission trip together, you get close with the people around you because they’re the only ones you know.  Therefore we know that these two men were knit together in soul and to separate had to hurt both of them badly.

d) Fourth, they both chose new companions and went different directions– Barnabas chose John Mark his cousin and went off to minister in his home town of Cyprus.  Paul chose Silas and left to encourage the churches in Syria and Cilicia.

So there we have it, conflict in ministry was a reality for the early church, and history has proven it to be a reality ever since.  Tomorrow I’ll post on what I think we can we learn from this story and what we can learn about our own conflicts in ministry.

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