Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 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. They had such a disagreement that they parted company. Acts 15:36-39a
Why would Luke record this uncomfortable, and perhaps unflattering, episode? Undoubtedly, part of the reason is that Luke is a historian who takes seriously his responsibility to accurately report facts. But on a different level, I suspect that the purpose of this passage is to teach me something. Here are a couple of insights I have picked up as I have pondered the meaning of these verses:
1) There is room for honest disagreement within the body of Christ.
No evidence suggests that the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas was between “right” and “wrong”. In fact, Paul later comments about the value of Mark in his ministry and requests that Mark be brought to him (2 Tim 4:11). We know Paul’s path bore fruit from the continuing account of Acts after this episode. It certainly sounds like the path chosen by Barnabas and Mark also bore fruit. Honest disagreement between two mature believers resulted in both still effectively serving God.
2) God accomplishes his purposes through different types of people.
The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas appears to be rooted in differing priorities. Paul valued his mission too greatly to risk it by including someone (Mark) who had let him down previously. We learn throughout Acts that Paul was always task-oriented, sticking to the plan, whether the plan was to round-up and imprison believers (as he did before his conversion) or preach the Gospel to Gentiles. Barnabas valued Mark and his continuing development too greatly to abandon him at this time. As a matter of fact, when we first are introduced to Barnabas we learn that his name means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). The kingdom of God has room for both task-oriented and people-oriented personalities.
A recent disagreement I had with another believer that resulted in “parting company” highlights my struggle in learning these lessons. I am ashamed to say that part of me screamed out for vindication. I wanted the world to see that my position was right and the position of the other party was wrong. Paul’s example, by reconciling with Mark and affirming his value in spite of their earlier disagreement, is an example for me.
Lord, may I be more like Paul in his humility. Strip me of the pride that requires me to be “right” all the time. And may I be more like Barnabas. Help me to be a “son of encouragement”, especially given my tendency to place the value of the mission above the value of your children. Amen.