Text: Acts 15:36-41
Theme: Strong disagreements can lead to stronger impact.
Key verses: “After some time Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.’ Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed to Cyprus. Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.”
What I believe God said to me: My people are going to disagree. No two persons will ever agree on everything together. Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp” disagreement. Sharp implies painful, contentious, loud, pointed, pronounced. This was more than a spat over spilled milk. This matter with John Mark was deeply concerning to both of them, and they were unmoving in their opinions and feelings about what to do. Paul’s perspective was fundamentally different from that of Barnabas. Paul saw John Mark’s leaving as “deserting” them, and he held that against John Mark. Barnabas, on the other hand, wasn’t bothered by it. In fact, he may not have perceived JM’s leaving as desertion at all. Clearly, they interpreted JM’s motives in very different ways. What’s more, Barnabas probably had the gift of mercy–something Paul did not have. Even if JM potentially deserted them, Barnabas was more quick and willing than Paul to forgive him and put that incident in the past. So, which one was right? Nobody really knows. They both had good reasons for feeling the way they did. They were both operating within their spiritual gifts, while also looking through the lens of ministry impact. Barnabas was thinking how taking JM might help their ministry. Paul, on the other hand, thought JM could hurt their ministry. I want you to notice a few important takeaways from this story. First, Christian leaders will have disagreements. Do not be put off or disillusioned when you see it happen, and don’t expect every dispute to be resolved easily. Some disputes, like the one between P&B, won’t be resolved quickly and may never be fully resolved. Some disputes will be so “sharp” that they will cause dear friends to part ways. Sometimes they can’t even agree to disagree. In extreme cases–as with P&B–there is no common ground or desire for agreement. Secondly, know that disputes, no matter how pronounced or divisive they may be, can still lead to good. The conflict between P&B resulted in two teams instead of one. Thus, my Kingdom was more greatly impacted. More people heard the Good News through the two ministries than could have through only one. Church splits often start from sharp disputes between church members. Granted, they often disagree out of ill-will and ill-intent, and they aren’t always led by the Spirit. They can act like anything but true Christians who love each other. Nonetheless, in the end, two churches are the result, and in time, both of those congregations can heal and grow and go on to reach twice as many people with the Gospel. Third takeaway: Never give up on failed or broken relationships in the past. Think of your cousin whom you haven’t seen in 30 years. Think of how you’ve recently been reunited. What happened between her family and yours so long ago is water under the bridge and not even worth bringing up. Your love for each other has now been renewed, and you’re grateful to have her friendship and camaraderie restored. That may have been how Paul felt. Paul may have reconciled with both Barnabas and John Mark. At the very least, we know he mentioned them both positively in his letters. Toward the end of Paul’s life, he even called John Mark “useful” to him “in the ministry.” So you see, Dwayne, all things really do work together for good to those that love me and are called according to my purpose for them. That is a promise that even works within the disturbing and painful parameters of disputes. Expect some disputes to arise and some partnerships to be parted. But also look for the potential good for my glory that could come from them in the long run.
What I said to God: Thank You for helping me concentrate today and focus on what Your Word says about this important topic. Help us accept the reality of occasional disputes. Help us be man or woman enough to stand up for what we believe in. Rather than cowing down and wanting to brush everything under the carpet, help us be people of conviction willing to go to the mat for what we believe in. At the same time, may we look on the concerns of others and put ourselves in their place. May we always look for ways to resolve matters peacefully. And if we can’t resolve them, please help us to love the people behind the disputes, in spite of our differences. For as Your Son said, they will know us by our love…