I want to clear something up (that was possibly clear to everyone all along except me):
“After some time Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Lets go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the 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 for 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.” 15:36-40
This piece of Scripture is not giving approval to conflict or stubborn behavior. It gets a little misused that way, and so I want to take a closer look:
John Mark bailed on Paul and Barnabas earlier when he was having second thoughts about sharing the gospel with Gentiles (non-Jewish people). I have a hard time breaking social norms in the name of the gospel too, so I’m willing to give the guy a break on this. Barnabas was too. Paul, praise God, is an extreme guy with a strong personality. God uses this about him for miraculous, large changes in the church and we are still benefitting from them today through the letters he wrote. But here, he gets a little dogmatic.
Barnabas extends grace to his friend, loyally defends him and off they go to do good work. (How awkward was this conversation for John Mark, by the way? Yikes.) The best part of this story is written later, at the end of 2 Timothy. Paul is at the end of his life, writing a letter to his protege, Timothy. He tells him that everyone has left and only Luke is with him, in his vulnerable state. “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” Scholars agree that “Mark” mentioned here is John Mark. So in the end, the guys made up and continued working together in ministry.
I’m thankful this narrative gets included into the book of Acts because it acknowledges relationship turmoil and more importantly, reminds us that God works within it. Paul and Barnabas part ways, but God uses them to cover more ground and encourage even more believers than if they had stuck together.
Conflict happens. When it does, I hope I’m like Barnabas: covering my friends well by quickly forgiving, extending grace and sticking by their side.