In Acts 15 we have an account of a harsh conflict between two of God’s children, Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas first appears in Acts 4:36 as one who sold his land and gave the proceeds to the apostles. The next time he appears is in defense of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:27.) In Acts 11:22-26 Barnabas was sent by the church at Jerusalem to disciple new converts at Antioch. He thought of Paul and brought him to join in this ministry. For the next few years, it seems Paul and Barnabas were inseparable, facing tribulation, victories, joys and defeats. Barnabas took his nephew, John Mark, on one of their mission trips (Acts 12:25) which John Mark chose to abort and go back to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13.) After the big conference in Jerusalem regarding circumcision and the four commandments to the Gentiles (Acts 15,) Paul and Barnabas went back to Antioch. After awhile, Paul suggested to Barnabas that they revisit the places they had evangelized. Barnabas agreed, but wanted to take John Mark again (Acts 15:36-37.) Paul was adamant in refusing to take John Mark and the result was
“And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.” Acts 15:39-40
Here was a disagreement between two of God’s useful servants that ended in a split. Barnabas wanted to give Mark another chance and Paul refused to lower his standards. Barnabas certainly wanted Mark to succeed …this was his nephew (Colossians 4:10.) We are all aware that it is easier to enforce standards when it does not involve friends and loved ones. Too often, for those we love we want special treatment, while for others we want justice. Paul was surely not unfeeling about this, since he had a sister and nephew also (Acts 23:16.) We also find that later on Paul embraced Mark in his ministry (Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24.) Evidently, Paul wanted Mark to have more training or discipline before he would be entrusted with their ministry. Barnabas, on the other hand, must have felt it alright to take Mark again with no stipulations or disciplinary actions for Mark’s first failure.
What is amazing about this split is that no one seemed to care very much. It had no effect upon anyone else or the church at Jerusalem. They went about their business of getting the commandments out to the Gentiles. No one quit or fumed or accused or threatened. How many times do we hear people excuse their sinful lifestyles or failures because of something that happened at the church? Who are we serving? Christ or that particular church? It is also interesting to listen to pastors that think theirs is the only church. When they speak of serving or giving to the church, you can be assured they are referring to their church (unless they are in another town trying to pump up a pastor’s friends program.)
Many have judged Paul as being too harsh in this circumstance. To use the modernist’s favorite word, he was too “legalistic.” How “close minded” and “legalistic” for Paul to have rules and behavior requirements that one must attain before being given a position of service. This might cause Mark not to feel good about himself! I am sure that Paul did not enjoy having to take this stand against his closest friend. This had to be hard for Paul, but necessary for doing what was right.
Do you want to know how the conflict plays out? Paul writes half the New Testament and Barnabas is never heard from again! Mark does continue to grow in his walk and matures into a disciple that Paul loves dearly. Paul’s hard line stand did not damage Mark at all. If fact, it might have been a valuable lesson in Mark’s life. You see, it was not a personality issue with Paul. It was strictly an issue of principle. Right is right and wrong is wrong regardless of who does it. Truth is truth regardless of its source. Barnabas went into obscurity, not because he fell into some gross sin or got into some false doctrine, but because his concern for people took precedence over his concern for truth. Barnabas was a Christian man, a good man, who sacrificed principle. What a shame for one who had been so widely used by God to be set on the shelf. We do know that Paul went on preaching, not looking back and was used to evangelize the whole world from a jail cell (Colossians 1:23; 2 Timothy 4:17.)
The greatest example of principle over people is Calvary!
Three times God’s Son prayed to Him, “Let this cup pass from me.” Three times God said “No.” The sins of mankind must be paid for…they could not be overlooked, dismissed or forgotten. If God is a God of honesty and justice, sins must be taken care of. Jesus Christ left glory, set aside His glory and came to earth to pay for those sins:
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21
What people forget is that the hard line stand requires more love than the “everything’s OK” position. God would not go back on His word though it would require His own blood to bring many sons to glory.
Why is it that after many years on earth, the people whom we admire in our lives are those who required more from us; who demanded more than others from us; the teacher, the coach, the relative, the preacher, the friend…who would not accept a so-so effort?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
Keep Looking Up!