‘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. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.’
I love how honest this story is: Sometimes a disagreement is so sharp, you almost say: “Ouch!” If I were writing the story of the early church, I’d be tempted not to include this exchange between Paul and Barnabas: “At this point, Barnabas and Mark left for Cyprus, and Paul and Silas traveled to Syria and Cilicia.”
Luke – who wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts – must have considered whether he should speak frankly about the dispute between Paul and Barnabas, or not. The mission, of course, is more important than any dispute between people who lead the mission – the mission must come first, and not sink beneath the weight of strong personalities and their differences. But Luke, wisely, faithfully leaves it in, and I think if we consider it, it can help us to understand ourselves.
So, let’s try this: Whose side would you be on in this dispute? Paul or Barnabas? With Paul, and against Mark, because Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia? With Barnabas, and against Paul, because Barnabas thought Mark deserved a second chance? Our God is a God of second, third, and fourth (and so on!) chances, isn’t He? He is. Thank the Lord.
It’s also true that Jesus warns us about wolves who dress like sheep (Matthew 7:15). And Paul warns Titus (3:10-11) to have nothing to do with a divisive person after two warnings. These warnings are especially important for those like Paul and Barnabas, who were charged with leading the church: The standards for church leaders are high, as they should be (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-8).
The real trouble in this case is that we don’t know what Mark did or didn’t do, after he deserted them in Pamphylia. Did he come back, after a time, and submit to their authority and discipline? Did he try to reconcile with those he hurt? Or did he just march back in, and try to assume his place, with no recognition that he had hurt people, and the mission? We just don’t know.
Maybe that is the lesson to take from this story: When we don’t know “what really happened”, we should be humble and leave the matter to God. Is there something like this in your own life? In the life of your family, or where you work? Two people disagreed, sharply, and went their separate ways. You would love to fix it, but you just don’t know what really happened. It is difficult to accept that, sometimes, we can’t fix what went wrong, but it is a blessing to know that God doesn’t miss a thing, and will work out his purposes even through difficult differences.
Prayer: Lord, something happened, and feelings were hurt. I can’t tell who’s right and who’s wrong, so I just need your help to be the person you need me to be in this situation. I would love to fix whatever went wrong, but – Lord – I know only you know what’s best. Help me, help them. Amen.