Thanks for joining us for worship this morning. If you’ve got your bible with you, you’re going to want to be in the book of Acts 15:36-41. We’ve traveled through stories of the bible, from the Old and New Testaments and asked the question: “What If I Stumble?” Perhaps we can learn what we might expect from others around us by looking at the way “stumblers” were treated in the scripture. What did the early church do when people clearly fell off the Path? What did the person who stumbled or fell do? Up until this point we have addressed individual’s sins and stumbling mainly against God.
With Peter, he betrayed Jesus…yet he accepted the fresh start presented to him and he became a leader of the Early Church. For Judas, he tried to obtain a fresh start by merely returning his blood money, rather than changing his heart. He trusted in the religious to solve his guilt problem for him and didn’t trust in Jesus to do so. He died not accepting forgiveness. In the Old Testament, Samson was so full of himself it was a wonder there was any room left for God to work in and through him. But with his final moments, he commits his life and death to Yahweh and to the destruction of his enemies.
Last week we bounced back to the New Testament era to explore a potential turning point in the faith: what would happen if someone successfully faked holiness? Ananias and his wife Sapphira lied to God, pretended to be “all in” with Jesus when they were NOT and they fell down and died right in front of Peter. Because their imposter status was exposed, great fear of the Lord broke out…even among the faithful. People outside the church began to look in and wonder. These people serve a God who doesn’t mess around.
Today we are staying in the New Testament. There’s one conflict that baffles me, and perhaps it baffles you too. It is the conflict between Paul and Barnabus. In a moment I’m going to present to you a short skit highlighting bits and pieces of the story taken from Acts 15. You see, anytime there is conflict, no matter the severity, some people will always try to make it worse. But the main question I want to ask is, “Can Christians agree to disagree…and it not be a sin?”
Go with me now, to a place of roving reporters and anxious anchormen, and a bible character who’s never been on TV before.
New Testament News
SKIT: News report – Characters: Anchor, interviewer on the scene, Paul.
An Investigative journalist tries to find and stir up a conflict that’s…not there.
Anchor Manny El: Good evening and welcome to New Testament News. Formally “Today’s Torah Tidbits.” I’m your host, Manny El and boy do we have a doozy of a top story. Tonight we get into the most heated disagreement of its time: Paul vs. Barnabas. Paul, formally known as Saul of Tarsus, a.k.a. Saul the guy who wanted to kill or jail all the Christians. Paul, you may be aware of this, had a radical experience with the Lord and it changed the direction of his life. Or did it? To see if Paul is up to his old Saul like tricks again we’ve got our “man on the street” reporter, Owen Lots ready to interview Saul…er…Paul in Cilicia.
Owen Lots: Thank you Manny. It’s a hot night and I’m just outside this home. Now authorities in the area know that a group of believers meets here quite frequently, but presently they are not beating down the doors. Presumably because the hosts invited them to the meal and time of worship each week. We’re waiting outside for the service to finish to see if we can get a word with….yes…Here he is.. Paul…of Tarsus. Man formerly known as…
Paul: Ok ok. You don’t have to do all the names everytime. What can I do for you?
Owen: Well I’m Owen Lots for “New Testament News” and I’d like to ask you about your “sharp disagreement” with Barnabas.
Paul: why’d you put it in “air quotes”?
Owen: I just sense there’s something more than just a “Sharp Disagreement.”
Paul: We’ll, you’d be wrong. The situation is so very ordinary. I’m sure your…”viewers?” wouldn’t care about a disagreement between a couple ministers.
Owen: Oh, please indulge us. I heard you haven’t seen or spoken to Barnabus since he left with that other guy…
Paul: John Mark
Owen: Yes, John…Mark. JohnMark…If that’s his real name. Wasn’t he the cause of all this kerfuffle?
Paul: Sort of. You see John Mark was a good helper on our first missionary journey…while he was there. But at a certain point he decided to leave. Just up and abandon us.
Owen: I bet that made you furious! Here you are risking your life to bring the gospel to people and there goes John Mark, abandoning you.
Paul: I wasn’t shocked by his departure. I had seen signs of his wavering but he stuck with us until one day in Pamphylia. We continued the rest of that journey without him.
Owen: And you say “we…” who’s “we” again?
Paul: No. The missionary leadership consisted of myself and Barnabas.
Owen: Let’s get back to that “Sharp Disagreement.”
Paul: Again? “Air Quotes?”
Owen: The Sharp Disagreement was about John Mark…but from your story, he was long gone.
Paul: Yes. I hadn’t wished he left us but he did. Barnabas and I came to Antioch and sometime later started planning another mission journey.
Owen: And that’s when the trouble began between you and Barnabas.
Paul: You could say that. You see Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance at joining us on the journey. I was not exactly “keen” on the idea.
Owen: ehh….”Air Quotes”
Paul: I had nothing against either one of them. I just did not think it wise to bring John Mark with us. What’s that expression? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool Me twice, shame on me? John Mark left us and didn’t continue the work. I was not interested in inviting that kind of person on another missionary journey.
Owen: Why do you think Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark? I mean, he left you both.
Paul: You’re going to have to ask Barnabas for sure, but He is a bit more trusting and forgiving when it comes to these things. They also are family, so there’s that.
Owen: So what exactly did you say in this “heated discussion?”
Paul: I believe you mean sharp disagreement. I honestly don’t remember. I probably reminded him of how if John Mark left us once, he might do it again. Barnabas reminded me that we are to be forgiving and that he trusted John Mark. In the end, we decided it was best if we went our separate ways.
Owen: Sounds spicy! To forgive or to be wise…which one of you was right?
Paul: I think you’re missing the point.
Owen: Oh, I’ll get to the bottom of this “Furious Argument”….
Paul: Sharp. Disagreement.
Owen: Whatever it is…I’m going to uncover the truth. Reporting from Celicia, I’m Owen Lots with New Testament News. Back to you, Manny.
Manny: Thanks Owen…that was very “informative.”
Ok, so just in case you missed some of the details, let’s look at Acts 15:36-41.
36 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.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 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. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.Acts 15:36-41 NIV
What was the Conflict?
The first thing we come to is that Paul and Barnabas have a disagreement. Barnabas wants to take John Mark, Paul doesn’t think it wise. It says in Acts 13:5b that “John was with them as their helper.” What a nice thing to have people who assist you in doing ministry. We have that here of course.
I’m grateful when my daughters are able to help with the computer, playing our digital music. I’m grateful for our Sunday school teachers, Donna and Bev. I’m grateful to Jacki who does so much to make sure our church yard is well kept. Right now we are surely grateful to our contractor, Randy. He’s such a blessing to us and a help in ministry right now. I’m thankful for each of you here today. Sharing a message from the Lord and leading worship in song is so much more enjoyable with others to participate in it. Helpers. Look for the Helpers.
John Mark was a helper. Until…he wasn’t.
We don’t know why he left, but it didn’t seem to sit well with Paul. Paul wasn’t interested in traveling with someone who might leave them again.
Some of the reading I was doing this past week on this story suggested Barnabas was partial to and forgiving of John Mark because they were related. The scripture doesn’t say any of that, only that Barnabas and Paul have this sharp disagreement
There’s no way to know, but I wonder how heated the disagreement became? It’s important to note that Paul and Barnabas never saw each other again. They selected their new ministry partners and off they went. Barnabas took John Mark, of course. Paul takes Silas. They all went separate ways.
A Case for Biblical Reliability.
We don’t know who was right or wrong. We don’t know if there was a right side at all. But one thing is clear because of this interchange: it reinforces the bible’s reliability. “How’s that?” you say…
If Luke were attempting to give a rosy picture of the church, shiny PR material to get people to sign up…he would have left this argument out. “Everyone agreed on the right thing to do and so they did it.” This conflict between the two church leaders actually highlights their humanity. They aren’t always so quick to forgive. They aren’t always shrewd and cautious.
They had a disagreement and it didn’t get cut from Luke’s early church history. They never resolve the conflict, so far as we know, it just motivates them to start a new chapter in their ministry story. New partners in the work and new locations to travel.
I would suggest that this split between Paul and Barnabas was actually a good thing for the gospel. Beyond the biblical reliability, it forced these two powerhouses of ministry to spread out.
Who Was Right?
The parting of ways between Paul and Barnabas should be a reminder to us that just because someone disagrees with us, it doesn’t make them wrong and a sinner. It also doesn’t make us right and a saint. They each made a judgement call and then stuck to their convictions. It’s important to note that this is NOT a disagreement about theology. This was a simple administrative disagreement. A Judgement call.
Sometimes we make it a matter of sinner and saint and we become the former while believing we are the ladder.
The classic “Disagreement about the color of the church carpeting” is just that…a simple, administrative-like disagreement. It’s about flooring! But when a person stews over that disagreement, starts to believe the worst in the one who opposes them…(rather than trying to see it from their point of view) it becomes a spiritual matter. The person who is stewing on hurtful thoughts about another’s spiritual status just because they disagree…that person is missing out on the blessings of God.
What was the result?
Back to Barnabas and Paul…What was the result of their split up?
Barnabas, as we learned last week, is the name given to someone and it means “Son of Encouragement.” He was an encouraging partner to Paul as they ministered together. He encouraged and gave John Mark another chance to minister to others with him.
John Mark goes on to write what is believed by many scholars to be the earliest written account of the ministry of Jesus. He wrote what we know as the Gospel according to Mark. Even though he wasn’t a disciple himself, tradition holds that he was present when Jesus was arrested.
“A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.”(Mark 14:51-52 NIV)
Because this detail is only in Mark’s gospel, it has led us to infer he was talking about himself…he was the young man. Again, embarrassing things happening to people show their humanity and give weight to the accuracy of scripture.
Paul and Silas have a real Jailhouse rock! Not only do they go around strengthening the churches in Syria and Cilicia, when they are prosecuted and jailed, God works a miracle. They sit in the cell, worshiping in chains, an earthquake shakes all the chains loose and opens the jail cell doors. The Jailer tries to kill himself but Paul reassures them no one has left the jail. The Jailer and his household are baptized into the faith that very night.
They had many other exploits, but that one sticks out in my mind.
In 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul is at the end of his career and he seems to know…the end of his life. He calls for Mark to come to him.
“11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”2 Timothy 4:11 NIV
This Helper who was helpful until he took off…became helpful again in Paul’s eyes.
Unity and Peace with others is so much more than never arguing. If you never disagree or argue, chances are you don’t care much about anything enough to voice your opinion and thoughts. In the church, we are made of imperfect, human people. There’s no need to hide our flaws. No benefit to sweeping them under the rug. Just as those things are evidence of scripture’s reliability, we are regular examples of why Jesus died on the Cross.
He died for even me. With all my imperfections. My opinions. That very well might lead to “Sharp Disagreements” or “heated arguments.”
He died for you. With your thoughts on the best way to do ministry. Your ideas of grace or your ideas of caution. He died for you, even when you insist you are right, even if you might not be. He died for you.
Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross brings us together. The ancient practice of partaking in the Lord’s supper, as a reminder of what he did for us. And what he continues to do, even in spite of us. And what he desires to do in the world through us.
We may not always agree on everything And that’s ok. But we can agree on this: Christ died to set us free from sin.