Paul and Barnabas had been chosen by the Holy Spirit back in Acts 13 to take the gospel to the Gentles. Here in Acts 15, however, they had a disagreement that they could not solve. That disagreement was detailed in verses 36-41:
- The occasion for their disagreement was a desire to return to the churches they had founded on their first missionary journey (v. 36). Ultimately, this trip would become Paul’s second missionary journey.
- The reason for their disagreement was John Mark. Barnabas wanted John Mark to come but Paul was opposed to it because John Mark had deserted them on the first missionary journey (v. 38).
- The result of their disagreement was that they split and went their separate ways (v. 39).
This passage is instructive in a number of ways. According to verse 40 Paul was “commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.” That suggests the church at Antioch (see v. 35) officially backed Paul, so he would seem to be the winner of this dispute.
Over time, however, God used John Mark to write “The Gospel According to Mark” and even Paul had to admit that Mark was useful to Paul’s ministry (2 Tim 4:11). So while Paul may have been backed officially by the church, apparently Barnabas was wise to include Mark despite Paul’s objections.
One lesson from this passage is that, sadly, there are times when godly Christians have problems with each other that cannot be solved. That seems strange to admit. If everyone involved is walking with God, it would seem that every issue should be solvable. But if godly men like Paul and Barnabas could not agree to extend grace to Mark after his failure, we should accept that sometimes disagreements among God’s people cannot always be resolved.
Another related lesson is to realize that God used Paul and Silas and he also used Barnabas and John Mark. In other words, although they did not agree, that did not mean that one party was in sin and the other was not.
Have you ever had a disagreement with another believer that could not be solved? Were you convinced that you were right and they were wrong? Did you conclude that they must be in sin or at least unwise? Let this passage cause you to reconsider. As believers we should do everything we can to resolve our issues with other believers but we should also be prepared to “disagree agreeably” without condemning the other person. Can you choose to believe the best about another believer even if you can’t resolve every problem?
NOTE: In the next devotional, we are going to leave the book of Acts for a bit and read the book of Galatians for the next several days.