36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Wait, wait, wait. We just went through the biggest disagreement in the book of Acts. Paul and Barnabas and a bunch of Antioch folks went to Jerusalem. They talked out their different sides. They came to an agreement. They wrote a big letter about their decision. It’s known as The Council of Jerusalem for crying out loud.
Paul and Barnabas can’t have a disagreement that makes them split up and go their separate ways in the same chapter!
It’s easy to read the Bible and think that these people were some sort of superheroes. They always knew where to go, what to do, and exactly what the results would be.
They were just like we are, if not at an even greater disadvantage. They had the Holy Spirit to guide them, just like we do, but they didn’t have the precedent of the Gospels and the written New Testament to inspire and advise them. They didn’t have 2,000 years of Christian thought behind them.
They were just figuring it all out.
So this disagreement came up and it was deep enough for them to part ways. It was overtaking John Mark, who had left them mid-way on their last trip. We get a little bit of Paul’s side which is a spoiler. Luke would continue to travel with Paul so he knew, as he was writing this, how the trip would turn out for Paul.
Barnabas is never mentioned again in the Bible. Much later in his life, Paul will send for John Mark and honor him by saying he is “very useful for me in ministry.”
Guidance and decisions are hard. They were even hard for Paul and Barnabas. It’s reasonable to wonder if they always made the right decisions or if they should have done something different here. The confidence we get from the Lord is that He was still in it. While God works miracles as a response to our unity, He also sticks with us as we disagree. His cause won’t be stifled by our caprices.
Barnabas and Mark went back across Cyprus, Paul and Silas went north into Syria. Some churches have drums, others have piano hymns and sing every single verse (or maybe just 1, 3, and 5). The Lord is moving and the Gospel spreads among us. Thankfully, God is bigger than our preferences.
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