Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. (verse 37-39)
This is one of those places in the scripture where we appreciate the transparency. We see that heroes of faith, like Paul and Barnabas, are human, along with the rest of us. They had a falling out. Indeed, it was so severe it changed the course of ministry. These two partners in mission went their separate ways, not strategically, but in anger.
There are several things to note:
(1) Most importantly, the Lord is not thrown off. The forward movement of the gospel continues, even in the midst of needless quarrelling. The Book of Acts from this point on follows the ministry of Paul, so we don’t get a follow-up report regarding Barnabas. But clearly the Lord continues to use Paul, together with his new partner, Silas. More people come to faith, more churches are planted, more ministry is carried out. Presumably the same was true for Barnabas and Mark. The Lord is not thwarted.
(2) The roots of the disagreement are entirely understandable.John Mark had gone on the first missionary journey as a helper, but had bailed halfway through. Paul felt it was unwise to trust him a second time. Barnabas, true to his nature as an encourager, wanted to give the young man a second chance. Plus, Mark was his cousin (Colossians 4:10), so he had family loyalties and compassion in mind. We can see both sides.
(3) But, pressing further, it’s ironic that Paul is so adamant about withholding further grace from Mark. After all, he’s the apostle of grace, not to mention the fact he himself had been given a huge (indeed eternal) “second chance” on the Road to Damascus. What’s more, Paul, too, had experienced grace from Barnabas’ own hand when he’d stepped in alongside Paul and drawn him into the circle of fellowship in Jerusalem, when no one else was willing (Acts 9:27). Paul seems blind to the irony.
(4) But grace prevails. A decade or so later, Mark is once again side by side with Paul in ministry. Indeed he’s a huge support while Paul himself is imprisoned. We catch a brief sighting of the fact from Paul’s letters to the Colossians and Philemon (Colossians 4:10, Philemon 24), Paul claiming him as a “fellow worker.” What’s more, he later urges Timothy to bring Mark with him when he comes to visit, saying, “he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Clearly there has been forgiveness and reconciliation on both parts, leading to a deep bond of friendship.
(5) And what part did Barnabas have in this further unfolding story? I imagine his supportive encouragement of Mark went a huge distance in building this young man into a faithful servant of Christ. He was valued by Barnabas. He became valued by Paul. And, of course, he has been valued by the church in all the centuries since, having gone on to write the Gospel that bears his name – Mark.
It turns out that even when human foibles throw a spanner into the works, the Lord is able to further his kingdom. Wonderfully.
Lord, thank you for your ongoing grace in the midst of the trips and stumbles, disagreements and quarrels, misunderstandings and short-sightedness of your people. Thank you that you continue to work all things together for good.
Even so, I want to embrace more of your perspective earlier, in the very heat of conflict, rather than holding to my own. Fill me with grace and wisdom. Let me be an agent of peace and reconciliation. May it be for your glory. Amen.
Reflect: Is there a circumstance of disagreement and disunity that has separated you from a fellow follower of Jesus? If so, bring it again to the Lord. Seek his perspective. Yield to his grace. Ask him to bring restoration.