Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 19 2020 - Acts 15:36-16:15 – Disagreement amongst friends

Having read through Paul's letter to the Galatians, we now return to the narrative of the Book of Acts.

The last few verses of Acts 15 make distressing reading. Barnabas had been a great encourager of Paul: he had introduced Paul to the apostles in Jerusalem; he had dragged him out of wounded exile in Tarsus and thrust him into multi-cultural ministry; he had accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey. But now Paul and Barnabas have such a fierce argument that they must go their separate ways. It is a great tragedy.

It would be easy to take sides in this argument. Barnabas, ever the encourager, wants to take Mark with them again so that he may regain confidence in ministry. Barnabas will not give up on people – particularly those in whom he has recognised a gifting of the Spirit. Paul is focussed on the task before him. He is concerned for the churches to whom he ministered so briefly during his first missionary journey. He knows the difficulties these young Christians will be facing and is intent upon returning to them and encouraging them to go on with Christ. He seems to have been so single-minded in his mission that he simply will not risk taking along with him someone who had put his hand to the plough and then turned back.

It is a tragedy that these two good men, who had been such close friends, fell out in this way. They both had clear visions and good motives, but they had such differing views of Mark that they simply could not work together.

But God has a way of turning such tragedies to his own advantage. There are now two missionary teams going out from Antioch rather than one; Barnabas and Mark go one way, Paul and Silas go another. What’s more, Paul is soon to take on another young trainee in Timothy who will be a key helper to him in the years to come. None of this lessens the sadness of the breach between Paul and Barnabas, but it does demonstrate that God uses even our faults and failings to prosper the work of the kingdom – though this never excuses them.

And there is one pleasing footnote to this tragedy. Later, when Paul is in prison, he speaks with affection of Mark who has proved useful to him in his ministry (2 Timothy 4:11, see also Colossians 4:10 and, in another context, 1 Peter 5:13). The heart which Barnabas had for Mark and his painstaking encouragement of him bore fruit. And perhaps also Paul’s persistence with timid Timothy was also the fruit of his time learning from Barnabas.

When Christians fall out it is the cause of great sadness, but God works even such things  to further his own purposes.

Up to this point, Paul had been ministering in the area of Asia Minor, but now, having encouraged the churches among whom he had previously ministered, he is clearly directed by the Holy Spirit to cross over into Europe. First he is kept from travelling into Bithynia in the north of Asia Minor, then he receives a message in a dream to travel across to Macedonia and minister there. The gospel is on the move from Asia into Europe.

Lord God, thank you that you use even our faults and divisions for the furtherance of your kingdom. Nevertheless, help me always to maintain the unity that the Spirit has created by labouring to live at peace with my brothers and sisters in Christ. May I always grieve over the self-inflicted wounds in your body, the church. Keep me from anything that might give the opponents of your kingdom cause to point the finger and mock the Saviour. Above all, help us, the fellowship of your people, to display the transforming power of Christ and to make him known.

Peter Misselbrook