By Russ Ramsey
Relationships are complicated, aren’t they?
Sometimes I think if I just could manage them correctly, all my friendships would be devoid of conflict. But that’s not true. You know that, right?
Conflict is part of relating to others, and not all conflict is born out of sin. In fact, some of it comes from God desiring to do something in your life that He does not plan to do in another’s.
Paul and Barnabas found themselves in conflict, and it separated them. But before we search for who’s to blame, let’s look at it.
Earlier, these two men had been set apart by their church to take the gospel to the Roman Empire (Acts 13:1-3). They had already completed one missionary journey, and now they set out to plan a second. That’s when we get the unsettling news that Paul and Barnabas were parting ways over whether Barnabas’ cousin, John Mark (Col. 4:10), who’d left them on the first missionary journey, could come with them on the second.
Paul knew this journey would only be harder, so he said “no”—apparently regarding Mark’s leaving as, at best, an indication of weakness or, at worst, a form of desertion. They would, after all, return to the same cities they’d previously been thrown out of, even stoned in. Lives were at stake here. Paul needed his team to have clear eyes and committed hearts.
But how could Barnabas tell his own cousin he couldn’t come? This wasn’t in Barnabas’ chemistry. He got his name, “Son of Encouragement,” for his willingness to believe the best in people. Barnabas believed in John Mark so strongly that it led to a “sharp disagreement” between him and Paul, which led to their separation (Acts 15:39).
The Apostle took a stand for the intensity of the mission. The Son of Encouragement took a stand for his cousin. We can’t be too hard on either of them for this. Our strengths are often our weaknesses too. Still, their conflict carried with it this consequence: Silas would go in Barnabas’ place.
This is the classic struggle over choosing which to put first—relationships or the work at hand. Sometimes we have to make that choice. Barnabas had invested so much in Paul, yet Paul’s work was to the Gentiles throughout Rome.
What would you have done? The principle Paul applies here is that the call to do what Christ had set Him apart to do was prime. Anything that jeopardized that mission was second to the mission itself. This is consistent with Paul. He was one who contended for the gospel to be heard among the nations.
Later references in 1 Corinthians 9:6, Colossians 4:10, and 2 Timothy 4:11 suggest that Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark went on to consider each other as co-laborers in the gospel, but this split had to have hurt all three.
Where are you wounded from a relationship strained by mission, loyalties, or some sort of change in call?
Everything God does is motivated by His perfect love. We can rest in knowing that even when His call means relationship are strained, we can trust Him. Because God has decreed by His wise providence that a life spent making His grace known is richer by far than a life spent pursuing comfort.
Written By Russ Ramsey