I’ve talked about how conflict is a present reality for us in ministry, set up the friendship betwen Paul and Barnabas, and walked through the passage where they part ways. Now what can we learn from their separation?
a) First, we have a lesson in diversity.
Notice how Luke retells this event without assigning blame to either Paul or Barnabas. It just seems that they’ve got different missions philosophies. I think Luke does this to show that Paul and Barnabas didn’t have to be doing the same thing. Paul went his way, and Barnabas went his way. There were plenty of opportunities for the cause of the gospel in both directions. This shows us that the mission of the Church is large enough for multiple methods to be used. There will be diversity in missions, and we should not think one route of spreading the gospel is any better than the other. But we would do well to remember that though there may be many ways to spread the gospel, there is only one gospel to be spread.
b) Second, the gospel is important enough for us to use every possible resource.
Yes they split, but because they split, there were now two missionary parties going out rather than one. Two groups of people would hear the gospel, not just one. It opened the door for more to hear the gospel. The conflict did not stop Paul and Barnabas from doing missions. Paul even, mentions Barnabas in a good light in some of his letters. Rather than focusing on our conflicts, or on our personality differences, our focus ought to be the gospel. If the gospel is above all things in our hearts, we’ll continue to minister as Paul and Barnabas did rather than leaving the ministry all-together.
c) Third, we can trust that Jesus is strong enough to handle our conflicts and use them for both His great glory and our great good.
When Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, and later met his brothers face to face he said “as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20). The brothers weren’t trying to do God’s will, and some of our conflicts in missions will be with those who aren’t trying to do God’s will either. Yet, just as the actions Joseph’s brothers were in accordance with the sovereign purpose of God, so too our actions and the actions of those were conflicted with are under the sovereign purpose of God. The ultimate display of this truth is the cross. WE, in our sin, meant evil against Jesus by killing Him, but God meant the death of His Son on the cross for good. What looked like a tragedy was turned into the greatest victory in history. When conflict comes to you, turn to our sovereign God, and ask Him to work it out for good. He will.
d) Fourth, in conflict we need to remember love.
Both Paul and Barnabas didn’t bring anyone else into their dispute. They didn’t gossip about the other to their new companions. They didn’t drag the churches into it either. Rather than lashing out or complaining, they attempted to work it out, realized they couldn’t, and moved on, united under the common cause of the gospel. This was wise, and was gracious. I think, 95% of the time, we know how to resolve our conflicts. The problem is that we’re usually more interested in displaying ourselves to be right before other people rather than fixing the conflict. You’re going to have to fight this desire if you want conflicts resolved.
e) Lastly, there is hope for reconciliation in conflict.
I’ve said that Luke never again mentions Barnabas in Acts, it’s just about Paul after the incident. But we have a record of their reconciliation later in Scripture. It is found at the very end of Paul’s life, in the very last chapter, of his last epistles (never to late huh?). Paul’s closing words to Timothy are in 2 Tim. 4:11, where he says, “Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” Timothy will come to Rome, but he’s not to come by himself. He’s to bring John Mark with him. Why? Because Paul has need of him. There once was a time when Paul had no use for Barnabas’ cousin John Mark in the mission field, but that has changed now. John Mark has grown up, and perhaps Paul has too.
Lesson? Conflict has an end, it may take years as it did in this case, but we see from this that it’s never too late for reconciliation.