Some time later Paul said to Barnabas,Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.Acts 15:36-39a
Here is a quarrel between Barnabas and Paul which has fascinated many. They could not agree whether or not to take young John Mark with them again. Barnabas was his cousin and wanted to give the young man another chance. But Paul did not want to take the chance because the work was both important and dangerous, and he did not think it wise to take someone they could not count on.
So we read the sad note:
there arose a sharp disagreement between them. Many have said,
Which of these men was right? There have been a lot of disagreements over that, so that many people have had
sharp disagreement over whether Paul or Barnabas was right! But that is really not the point. Both of these men were right. One was looking at the work and the other at the person. As Paul looked at the work he was perfectly right to say,
We don't want somebody who is apt to cop out on us. That is exactly what he said. And he probably quoted the words of Jesus,
No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:62) That is right. Christian service is demanding, and those who undertake it should be prepared to go through with it and stick with it to the end, for God's cause is injured by those who quit in the middle.
On the other hand, Barnabas, though I am sure he would have agreed as to the importance of the work, was looking at the young man. He knew Mark was gifted. Sure, he had failed, but who doesn't? Who of us does not need a second chance, does not need to have a forgiving spirit exercised toward us, and the opportunity to try again? So Barnabas was willing to give Mark a second chance.
This indicates a very normal and proper procedure by which we may know the mind of the Spirit. There are times when there are differences of viewpoint which require a separation. The will of God was that Barnabas should take Mark and go to Cyprus, because Cyprus, his birthplace, had not been visited since the churches there had been founded. And it was the will of God for Paul to take Silas and go into Syria and Cilicia, because the churches there needed his particular ministry. But it was not the will of God that they should be sharp in their contention. Their quarreling was not right. It was the will of God to separate; it was not the will of God to quarrel. There are times when the Spirit of God does lead Christians to go separate ways. But they should do so with joy and with an agreeable understanding that the mind of the Spirit has been expressed in their divergent viewpoints.
Teach me, Father, how to apply this practical help. When I disagree with others, help me to do it in a way that neither compromises your truth or your love.
What can we learn from the dispute between Paul and Barnabas? Do we receive others' opinions as ego threats? Do we honor God's work in others, even when we have divergent opinions?