And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. - Acts 15:39-40, ESV
How Should We Handle Disagreements in Ministry?
Well, today we see the first chinks in the shining armor of Paul and Barnabas. We have been following them for the past few weeks as they have taken the Gospel to Cyprus and Asia Minor. We have seen them stare down opposition, overcome hostility, confront the corruption of the Gospel, lead the church to defend the Gospel in the Jerusalem Council and spread the truth to churches. Now we see then disagree and part ways.
How could this happen? How could two such godly men who endured such hardship in ministry together end up having a "sharp disagreement" and parting ways? Well, as I was reminded at my ordination and installation service several years ago, "The best of men are but men at best." (John Lambert, 1610-1683) Paul and Barnabas apparently had very different personalities, which served them well in ministry but were also the basis for this disagreement.
Paul was a scholar and a debater, one who was firm in his convictions and was a strong defender of the truth. We saw him take the lead when opposition arose during the first missionary journey. Barnabas was the "Son of Encouragement," and was warmly encouraging toward others. So, the disagreement arose between them over what to do with the young John Mark (who would later write the Gospel of Mark).
Mark had abandoned them very suddenly when they set out on their first missionary journey, and now he wanted to accompany them on their second journey. Paul thought this was a bad idea. He knew what opposition they would face, and he thought is was not wise to bring a brother who might run away in the face of it. Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance to serve. Adding to the disagreement, perhaps, was the fact that Mark was Barnabas' cousin (Colossians 4:10).
While the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas shows us their humanity, the way they handled the disagreement shows us their wisdom. Barnabas took Mark and went to Cyprus, while Paul took Silas and went to Asia Minor. They used this disagreement as an opportunity to double their ministry impact. They did not create a church split or form some new denomination, because their disagreement was not over essential doctrine but over a ministry method decision. The church commissioned both teams, blessed them, and sent them on their ways.
Later, Mark and Paul would reconcile and Mark would become very useful to Paul in ministry. He was with Paul when he wrote Colossians (Col. 4:10), In Paul's last letter, 2 Timothy, he asked Timothy to "Get and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry." So we can see that neither Mark nor Paul took this split personally; they still respected and served together in ministry. If only we would handle ministry disagreements with such grace today!
Heavenly Father, we know that we are called to defend the truth and to seek to guard the purity of Your church. But we are also to seek unity and to love each other within the body of Christ. Give us wisdom and discernment, along with strong love for You and one another, as we seek to handle disagreements in a way that honors You. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Prayer Based on Proverbs 19:1-7:
than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.
Desire without knowledge is not good,
and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.
When a man's folly brings his way to ruin,
his heart rages against the Lord.
Wealth brings many new friends,
but a poor man is deserted by his friend.
A false witness will not go unpunished,
and he who breathes out lies will not escape.
Many seek the favor of a generous man,
and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts.
All a poor man's brothers hate him;
how much more do his friends go far from him!
He pursues them with words, but does not have them.
Heavenly Father, wealth is one of the most difficult things for us to handle well. We are drawn to the allure of wealth, often tempted to judge people on the basis of their wealth and even tempted to seek to win the favor of the wealthy. Lord, keep us from being so driven by money, which is a gift from You to be used for Your glory, but is also a dangerous snare if we do not guard our hearts. So, guard our hearts and let us seek to honor You with our wealth and seek to love all who bear Your image, rich or poor. In Jesus' name, Amen.