Most, if not all, sincere Christians will at some time experience conflict with another brother or sister and a healthy dose of patience and humility will usually mend the rift. But not always.
There are times when Christians reach a standoff just as Paul and Barnabas did. Here were two missionaries, one an Apostle, who had been directly commissioned by the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel as a team.
“Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Acts 13:2
This dynamic duo had witnessed so many conversions among the Gentiles throughout their journeys together that the news “brought great joy to all the brothers” (Acts 15:3). And yet, their disagreement over whether to take John Mark along was so sharp that the Greek word "paroxusmos" indicates “their partnership dissolved not amicably but with violent emotions”.1
There is reason to suspect that this waterloo was not an isolated event and may have merely been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Earlier, Paul had a major problem in Antioch when he publically rebuked Peter for kissing up to the Jews and distancing himself from the Gentiles. Peter’s duplicity had rubbed off on the other Jews who were with him “so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” (Gal. 2:13). Added to that, John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin so family tension likely played into the equation.
Matthew Henry“Neither would yield, therefore there was no remedy but they must part. We see that the best of men are but men, subject to like passions as we are. Perhaps there were faults on both sides, as usual in such contentions. Christ's example alone, is a copy without a blot. Yet we are not to think it strange, if there are differences among wise and good men. It will be so while we are in this imperfect state; we shall never be all of one mind till we come to heaven.”2We know that the story of Paul and Barnabas ended well because Paul later wrote in Barnabas` defense (I Cor. 9:6) and spoke affectionately of John Mark as a co-laborer. (Col. 4:10).But what can we glean from this account? Irreconcilable differences with other Christians happen sometimes. Right or wrong, I think it’s important to keep in mind that those who belong to the body of Christ, regardless of earthly discord, from an eternal perspective are still unified through the blood of Christ. The church is currently in a state of being sanctified and perfected and in the end Christ will “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle.” (Eph. 5:26-27).
Our Lord did not waste one precious word when He prayed,“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” John 17: 22-23Christ’s Kingdom will advance in spite of our differences on secondary matters or our inability to work together harmoniously at times. Leaving room for the grace of God to work in our lives and in the lives of those with whom we disagree, will go a long way in bringing peace to disrupted relationships.Chris Brauns“While it was sad that Paul and Barnabas parted company in this manner, and while they may not have handled the situation perfectly, it is significant that they both continued on for Christ. The Lord’s work went forward.…Christians must make every effort to resolve all differences. But we should not be surprised when we come to an impasse. We live in a fallen world, and imperfect people cannot always sort everything out. When we do come to an impasse, we should:
- Accept that impasses happen. If Paul and Barnabus came to one, then we might as well.
- Fix our eyes on Jesus and continue on. We must not quit.
- Say less. Without gossip a quarrel dies down.
- Submit. We must respect God-ordained authority.
- Wait. Time heals wounds that emotions and reason cannot.” 3
- The MacArthur New Testament Commentary - Acts 13-28; Moody Press, 1996; Pg 82 .
- Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary; Acts 15
- Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns; Crossway, 2008 Pg.183, 186