When To Contend, Part 2of2, Pastor Phil Sessa

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Acts 15:39, “Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another “

This account is the famous argument that took place between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark. In part 1 of “When to Contend”, Paul and Barnabas were in agreement and contended together against the Judaizers (Acts 15:1 – 5). However, now in Acts 15:39 they had such a disagreement that they ended up going their separate ways. So the question remains who was right in this contention, Paul or Barnabas? They had worked together for so long. It was Barnabas that took Paul under his wing, and helped the disciples to receive Paul, as they previously knew him as Saul the murderer of those that were part of the Way. Acts 9:26-27 says, “26 Andwhen Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road.” Barnabas validated Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus to the Apostles that were fearful of him, and they obviously took trusted Barnabas, whose name means the son of encouragement.

However, despite the fact that Barnabas took Paul under his wing and I believe discipled him, Paul would not exactly take on Barnabas’ level of encouragement at that time in his life. Barnabas was probably very patient and gracious toward Paul, but Paul did not seem to have the same attitude toward one, John Mark. Barnabas and Paul’s disagreement was over whether to take Mark on the second journey. He had deserted them on the first journey and Paul was not willing to risk the same thing happening again. However, Barnabas was not prepared to journey without Mark. Therefore the question remains, which was right, Paul or Barnabas?

One must examine both men in order to respond to this question as there is something to be said in favor of both men. On Paul’s side is the fact that Luke records no sanction or disapproval. The brothers in the church commend him to God’s grace as he leaves on the journey. Luke writes positively about the immediate effect of the journey – churches are strengthened. At the start of the next chapter Timothy enters the picture and we know from the rest of the New Testament that he goes on to play an important part in the work. It almost seems as though he takes Mark’s place.

On the other hand Barnabas disappears from sight. However there is a clue to his vindication in Paul’s final letter where he writes to Timothy (2Timothy 4:11) about the usefulness of Mark. He wants Timothy to bring Mark to Paul in Rome. That is a significant reference. It demonstrates that change had taken place in Paul and, presumably, also in Mark. Paul had not held a grudge that he wrote Mark off indefinitely. We can only imagine that Mark had grown and learned about perseverance. I don’t think it is unreasonable to think that Barnabas may have played a key role in this growth. It is typical of Barnabas to open doors of opportunity to others; he did it for Paul, both in Jerusalem and at Antioch, and his refusal to abandon Mark kept the door open for him.

Paul’s eye was on the success of the mission; Barnabas had an eye for the recovery of wounded soldiers (perhaps there was an added dimension in this case as Mark was a relative). Both kinds of people are needed in the church. If the church was filled with people whose eye were only on the mission, much work would get done but the path would be strewn with hurt and heartache from the wounded that get left behind. If the church was filled only with those who wanted to move at the speed of the slowest or “weakest link”, how much new ground would be broken, or when would the mission ever get carried out? With both kinds of people – including in leadership – both areas can be taken together. Where do you tend to lean more toward? How do you treat those that lean more toward the opposite direction? How have you dealt with this type of conflict in your circles?

But the story of Paul and Barnabas shows that it is not easy. They were unable to minister together at this stage. Since these two kinds of leaders are so different, conflict is more or less inevitable. However, were it not for the grace of God, conflict would be hopeless.

Acts 15 is along the lines of the story of Joseph and his brothers. God does not allow the brothers off the hook for their sinful behavior, but it recognizes the overruling sovereignty of God. It cannot have been pretty to watch Paul and Barnabas disagree sharply; who knows what illusions were shattered at Antioch that day? But God got His work done. The mission advanced. Timothy came into the picture to become one of Paul’s disciples. And the work of healing, restoration and strengthening was done in the life of Mark. Although they chose to contend with each other, the Gospel went forth, and God was glorified at end!
Inspired by Source: http://coastalpastor.wordpress.com/2008/05/14/who-was-right-paul-or-barnabas/

Until the nets are filled… blessings Pastor Phil

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One thought on “When To Contend, Part 2of2, Pastor Phil Sessa

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