After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new 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. (Acts of the Apostles 15:36-41 NLT)
Until this moment, Paul and Barnabas have been inseparable as fellow workers in the ministry.
Both of these men were fine, godly men, yet they were also human. As humans, we are prone to differences.
Looking back to Acts chapter 13 will remind us that John Mark (Barnabas nephew) was an assistant to them in their first missionary journey. He was raw and young. He could be considered an apprentice (someone who trains under another to learn a trade). While serving in this capacity, he (John Mark) deserted them as they were just arriving in the region of Pamphylia (south central Coastal area of Asia Minor, the land now known as Turkey). He returned home, apparently, for no legitimate reason.
This was still an obvious concern of Paul as Barnabas suggested to take John Mark on their second journey through the cities they had previously been to in the first journey. This caused a significant dissension between these brothers in Christ. It appears that Barnabas thought John Mark needed a second chance. Perhaps Barnabas had spoken to his nephew and/or observed his growth in Christ Jesus. Since he was his relative, it is certainly possible that he would know more about this young man than would Paul. Barnabas, by definition, means encourager. Barnabas was a tender heart and a compassionate man. Paul, on the other hand, appears to be a more rigid, regimented man. He may have been a good drill sergeant. His background as a Pharisee required discipline and dedication. These characteristics could have influenced his view of John Mark. We can only speculate. Either way, the result of their contentious conversation was separation in their work. I do not believe that these men had less respect for each other, only that they could not agree on this controversial matter to the extent that it separated them in their direction of ministry. This is a difficult thing to consider when you think about the maturity of these men. How could they separate without resolution? It is a difficult passage.
Simply put, we all have moments in our Christian life where we have differences with other believers, even fellow workers in ministry. We need to work for resolution in every way possible. When no resolution is reached, we must be sure not to carry bitterness or any other contaminating, sinful attitude into our decided direction.
This story simply verifies that we are in a human, fallen world, even in church ministry. We must strive to live in love and fellowship in all possible ways (see Romans 12:18). When we must go out separate ways, let's not carry the garbage of hatred, bitterness, malice, or any other evil. We cannot minister in the name of Jesus when our spirit is grieved by the fleshly conduct of sin.
I believe that Paul and Barnabas maintained respect for each other and, perhaps later, came to a more agreeable position concerning John Mark. Paul asks for him in 2 Timothy 4:11 "Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry." Sometimes we look back on our lives and realize our mistakes. We all make them. Let's make sure we don't act or react harshly and too quickly. Let's remember that Jesus is patient with us when we desert Him. He still loves us.
One last thing: though we fail Him, let's learn from our mistakes and let Jesus make us better.
Life is too short to carry hold grudges and not forgive. Think of how many times Jesus forgives you!!! Remember “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15 NLT)
Rev. Curtis Norris