36 “And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:36–41)
The godly resolution at the Jerusalem Council unifying Jewish and Gentile Christians stands in stark contrast to the disunity which occurred between Paul and Barnabas some time thereafter. While it is a sad episode in the lives of two giants in the early church, it is also a testimony to the truth of God’s Word. The Bible portrays God’s people as real human beings who are not perfect. God’s people sometimes do not get along.
The dispute between Paul and Barnabas began innocently enough. Most church disputes and arguments do.
Following the Jerusalem Council, and the subsequent delivery of the council’s recommendations to the Gentile believers in Antioch (Acts 15:22-35), Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Barnabas must have thought it was a great idea. In fact, he wanted to take along with them his cousin John/Mark (Colossians 4:10).
You may remember that this is the same John/Mark who initially accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their First Missionary Journey (Acts 12:25; 13:1-5), but later deserted them and went back home to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Barnabas, whose name means son of encouragement (Acts 4:36), sought to do for John/Mark what he had previously done for the newly converted Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:26-30; 11:19-26). He sought to be an encouragement to Mark, who most likely needed to be encouraged.
However, Paul was not having it. He thought it best to not take John/Mark with them on the trip. Why? Luke provides us with the answer. “Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.”
We will consider the outcome of this disagreement between these two brothers in Christ when next we meet. Sufficient it is to say that schisms and divisions occur all too frequently in churches today. However, God can, and does, work through them. God’s purposes are never thwarted by human failure and human sin.
Soli deo Gloria!