Lessons from a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas

WHAT happens when sincere believers with similar concerns for the faith have differences in opinion? Has one heard “God’s will” while the other has not because he wants to pursue a different track? Is one right and the other wrong?

An incident recorded in the book of Acts helps us to reflect on these questions.

Acts 13 presents the first occasion when a church sent its members on a mission to preach the Good News to a foreign community. After a remarkable spread of the Good News, upon the return of Paul and Barnabas, the church rejoiced over God’s great work and blessings through their ministry.

Then in Acts 15 we read of the beginnings of a second mission to be undertaken by the same believers at Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.

However this time, the scriptures tell us of the eruption of an acrimonious disagreement between Paul and Barnabas.

So deep was the disagreement that it led to the parting of ways between them and with each taking on a separate mission.

Two mature Christians, with very similar convictions, who previously worked well together and supported each other, but who now could not see eye to eye on how to conduct their next mission.

They had differed over who they should take with them on their mission journey.

Barnabas wanted to take John Mark, who had accompanied them on their earlier trip but Paul was adamant not to have John Mark because John had left them prematurely on that trip. So, Paul travelled with Silas and Barnabas travelled with Mark on their separate mission journeys.

The book of Acts goes on to tell us that Paul had a successful mission that entered into the new areas of Greece and Macedonia in Europe. So, obviously God had blessed his ministry.

There is no record of the journey that Barnabas and Mark made. Should we conclude that Paul was right and Barnabas was wrong in their disagreement because of the results? Was Paul guided by the Holy Spirit while Barnabas was not?

However, scripture indicates that Paul’s estimation of Barnabas remained undiminished after their dispute as Paul referred to Barnabas as an outstanding apostle. There are also suggestions in scripture that Paul and Barnabas may even have worked together again on other activities, despite the dissolution of their initial collaboration.

Furthermore, Paul’s view of Mark changed with time. When writing to the believers in Colossae, Paul vouched for Mark as a fellow worker, a person who was a source of comfort to him personally and urged the Christians to welcome Mark and to listen to him.

Towards the end of Paul’s life, when he was in prison, Paul called for Mark to be brought to him because Mark was “useful” to him in the ministry.