Acts15v22to39: A MONUMENTAL BUST UP
(A) Introduction (Read the references.) The Council of Jerusalem was a great triumph. It ensured the unity of the church. Paul's principled stand against the Judaisers was vindicated. He must have been delighted with the outcome. However, Satan is never more dangerous than after a spiritual victory. He did not succeed in splitting the early church but he did succeed in driving a wedge between Paul and Barnabas.
(B) The glorious fellowship at Antioch.
When the church at Antioch received the letter sent from the church at Jerusalem: The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. v31. The message was encouraging because it was conciliatory. It recommended unity and fellowship between both Jewish and Gentile Christians.
The fellowship was also delighted with the company and ministry of the two representatives of the Jerusalem church. Judas and Silas said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers. I sometimes feel it would be nice if my little church was encouraged and strengthened by visitors from a more vibrant fellowship. When we lost some of our members to a bigger and livelier church in Bury St Edmunds it would have meant a lot if a representative of that church had come to my house for a time of prayer and a word of commiseration.
The believers in Antioch enjoyed a rich, varied and multi-faceted ministry. Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord. v35. Paul was not the only one who preached. He and Barnabas did not monopolise the teaching ministry. Many others taught and preached the word of the Lord. It is just so different to day. If a church has a star performer they put him in the pulpit and there is no regular input from any one else. The former pastor of my own church was an excellent teacher. I profited greatly from his preaching. But it was sad that while he was our pastor I only rarely had the opportunity to conduct a service of any kind. It is wrong. If the great apostle was prepared to sit and listen to others, as he must have done, then so should the greatest preachers in the land.
(C) A serious difference of opinion.
Paul and Barnabas agreed to revisit the Christians in all the places to which they took the gospel on their first missionary journey. They disagreed on whether John Mark should accompany them. Both had a good case.
On the last missionary journey John Mark had let Paul and Barnabas down. He had gone home when the two evangelists still needed him. Paul and Barnabas in venturing into Galatia were going into danger. A third companion would have provided valuable moral support. Mark showed immaturity in giving up prematurely. His courage was questionable, his commitment unproven and his loyalty doubtful.
Paul sought a fellow worker with staying power; who would prove faithful and courageous in times of trouble. Paul was keen to take with him on his second journey a man who would take risks for the gospel's sake. The apostle's decision proved correct because he was led by the Spirit into Macedonia where he got beaten up in Philippi.
(2) Barnabas' case.
Mark had let Paul and Barnabas down but he remained a follower of Jesus. People do let us down who remain faithful to Jesus! Mark had potential. He needed a second chance to restore his confidence. Barnabas recognised the young man's potential and wanted to see it develop. In this Barnabas was right. At a later date Paul, himself, was highly appreciative of Mark. He writes to Timothy: Get Mark and bring him with you because he is helpful to me in the ministry. 2Tim4v11.
We all need to remember that many of the Christians who make mistakes and let us down grow in grace. They may prove more dependable in the future. We shouldn't hold the failures of their immaturity against them.
(D) A compromise could easily have been found.
No blame attatches to Paul or Barnabas for disagreeing. It was not an easy matter to decide. The fault lies in their failure to compromise.
Paul could have expressed his reservations about Mark but agreed to take him so long as Silas was included in the party as well. Silas' presence would be insurance against Mark failing again.
Paul was usually prepared to compromise. In the next chapter he adds Timothy to his team. Timothy was a young, immature believer. Paul actually insists on his circumcision to make Timothy more acceptable to Jews living in the area. The great apostle was not, as some foolishly suppose, inflexible, unyielding or dogmatic. He claimed: I try to please everybody in every way. 1Cor10v31. Sadly Paul was not prepared to compromise with Barnabas over John Mark.
(E) The monumental bust up.
It was just that! Luke records: They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. v39. The Greek word translated euphemistically as 'sharp' is 'paroxysm'. This is the word used of a violent event like a volcanic eruption which may be described as 'paroxysmal'. Paul and Barnabas had a violent disagreement. I hate it when translaters of the Bible do not tell it as it is but water down the language of the original.
So why should the Son of Consolation and Paul, the great compromiser, fall out?
Barnabas may have suspected Paul of pique. He probably thought Paul was making too much of a young man's decision to go home early. Mark was family - the cousin of Barnabas - and it is often easier to forgive a member of the family for an indiscretion.
Paul may even have suspected Barnabas of bias. He might have accused the Son of Consolation of being forgiving because Mark was his cousin.
There are always tensions in a church where people feel let down and rejected. I am a bald, little man - like Paul - and find it hard, like him, to accept rejection. Ill will is at its worst where a family gets involved in a dispute with the leadership of a church. I know of a minister, who very early in his pastorate at a large rural fellowship, was asked to marry a female member to a non-Christian. He wouldn't do it. The whole family of the young woman at whose marriage he refused to officiate turned against him. The pastor had acted on principle but the family took it personally. His ministry was bedevilled by the simmering resentment of that family. They took it personally.
(2) Barnabas may have thought he deserved a concession from Paul. He had been good to Paul. It was Barnabas who introduced Paul to the apostles on his very first trip to Jerusalem after his conversion. All the other Christians were giving Paul the cold shoulder. It was Barnabas who invited Paul to Antioch to help work amongst the Gentiles there. He brought Paul in from the cold. Barnabas had even conceded the leadership of the first mission to Paul in Cyprus. He went with him into Galatia, into danger, in spite of his cousin Mark going home.
I think that Barnabas did deserve a concession from Paul. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. Acts11v24. Good men may feel aggrieved if they do not get the concession that they deserve. I think my last headmaster thought he did me a few good turns and maybe thought I could have made him a concession or two at the end of my career.
(3) So why didn't Paul concede to Barnabas in what was a relatively small matter?
In many ways the two men were compatible. They worked harmoniously together. There is a telling little comment in 1Cor9v6: Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living. Paul and Barnabas may both have been leather workers. They were both self-supporting on their missionary journeys.
Barnabas may not have been quite as radical in his outlook as Paul. Possibly he was happiest working amongst Jews. He went to Tarsus for Paul's help to work with the Gentile believers in Antioch. Barnabas joined the Judaisers when they made trouble in the church at Antioch - even Barnabas was led astray. Gal2v13.
I believe it is those words that Paul penned to the Galatians which explain Paul's reluctance to compromise with Barnabas. Barnabas had shocked and surprised him in Antioch by going over to the enemy. You can almost sense his hurt: Even Barnabas was led astray. Paul had to fight a lone battle against all the Jewish believers in Antioch and the very last person he expected to defect to the legalists was Barnabas. Even Barnabas was led astray.
Paul had not quite been able to forgive Barnabas. Corrie ten Boom in her book, 'Tramp for the Lord', writes about the Ding-Dong Principle. In a church tower the bell is rung by pulling a rope. After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding, then dong. Slower and slower until there's a final dong and it stops.
The same is true of forgiveness. When we forgive someone, we take our hand off the rope. But if we've been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn't be surprised when the old angry thoughts keep coming up for a while. They're just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down.
Paul had not been tugging at his grievance for any length of time. He had taken his hand off the rope. But when this difference of opinion arose over John Mark Satan took a tug on the rope. Some of the resentment he felt at being let down by his friend Barnabas resurfaced and Paul acted with lack of charity - for charity suffers long and is kind.
This is something for us to remember. If we have been guilty of disloyalty and been forgiven we must expect some echoes of pain to remain. We should be careful. Satan can stir up the nearly forgotten resentment if given half a chance.
Last week, after a prolonged drought, forest fires were raging in Wales. The fire brigade worked manfully to extinguish the flames. The fires are out, all seems well, until the wind fans the smouldering embers into flames again.
(4) Barnabas was the big loser in the decision to part company with Paul. He is never heard of again in the New Testament - except that reference in 1Cor9v6. Barnabas was probably right to defend John Mark but I think he was mistaken not to give in to Paul, this once, and to continue working with him. Just think of what he missed!
(F) The consequence of the bust up.
Paul and Barnabas separate - never to work together again. It is reminiscent of the division that occurred between Wesley and Whitfield. The rift between Paul and Barnabas was very, very, sad. It is always sad when the imperfections of good men result in broken fellowship.
However, the work of spreading the gospel went on. God continued to use Paul and Barnabas. God is not as fussy as we are! He isn't easily shocked or surprised at man's imperfections. He doesn't stop using Christians because of flaws in their character or disposition. We are more dismissive and censorious of leaders with weaknesses of character and charm less personalities than ever God is. I can remember a youngish Christian telling me once that he couldn't confide in me because I had lost my temper in a deacon and elder's meeting. If you are looking for the perfect Christian who is there to confide in? Paul and Barnabas had a violent disagreement or, in other words, a stand up row. God used Paul to take the gospel into Europe with wonderful results even though he had been too hard on John Mark and unfair to Barnabas.