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By Jon Shonebarger

It was a first century “dream team,” joined together by God for a special mission. A partnership that would be gloriously blessed of God, with tremendous fruit borne from their labor. Both men had been personally called by the Holy Spirit to accomplish the work of this special calling. Both were ordained by their church in Antioch, and sent to the foreign mission field as a team. Both men were filled with knowledge of the Scriptures, with a heart-filled passion, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Together they experienced acceptance of their gospel message, as well as opposition, rejection and persecution. They were bold partners in ministry; preaching, defending the truth and supporting one another’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Together they returned home to Antioch, to teach and preach there for a season. What a glorious missionary journey it had been! The record was written of their remarkable teamwork and joint labor for the Kingdom of God. The ministry team was Barnabas and Paul.

Submitted photo
Jon Shonebarger

When the time came for a second missionary journey, Barnabas and Paul made decisions about who would accompany them. Barnabas was determined to take John Mark, who had been with them at the beginning of their first journey. However, John Mark had quit in the midst of the journey and returned home. Barnabas wanted to give John Mark a second chance. Paul vehemently disagreed with this possibility.

The Scripture states that, “…the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other…” (Acts 15:39). Wow, this “dream team” broke up and went their separate ways! How could this God-ordained team break up? Why couldn’t they reconcile their differences? Why couldn’t they strike a compromise? How could they let their personal preferences and stubbornness get in the way of what God had ordained? How could they allow the devil to get in the way of the details? How could two mature men of God not work out their differences and successfully move forward? These and many other questions perplex Bible students through the years.

Barnabas was known as a compassionate man. A man with a tender heart for those who had stumbled. He had a personal heart for John Mark. The Scripture does not say why John Mark had quit the first mission and returned home. Could it have been homesickness? Could it have been fear? Could it have been a sweetheart? Could it have been discouragement? We will never know. However, John Mark had obviously resolved the issues from the past and was recommitted to the job of which he had originally surrendered.

Paul had no desire to take a quitter on this second journey. The mission was a serious calling for Paul and it required grit and resilience. After all, Paul had been stoned and left for dead on the first journey! This was a man’s job. Nobody without guts and grit were going to be on Paul’s team. There was no place for reconsideration. End of discussion!

As we reflect upon this split, we can discuss who may have been right and who may have been wrong. Yet, there are significant lessons to be learned from this breakup. First, both Barnabas and Paul would faithfully continue in the ministry, but with new partners. God’s sovereignty is clearly demonstrated. God wanted the gospel to go forth, on the mission field, and it did, regardless of men’s decisions. Secondly, God uses flawed men (and women) to accomplish His purposes. He will also us you and me! Third, God continues to work on the hearts of His servants (Paul) through the course of their lives. Paul, in the final days of his life, called for John Mark, and Paul testified that John Mark was profitable to him in ministry. Had Paul mellowed? Had Paul determined that he was too harsh on John Mark? Had Paul grown in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ?

You and I may face “irreconcilable differences” in our relationships. These may be experienced personally and professionally. They may become bitter and final. Please consider that it is always wise for us to seek help in our conflicts. It is important to observe that neither Barnabas nor Paul sought counsel from the church of Antioch. The elders of the church would have provided guidance and a godly, impartial solution. Paul and Barnabas should have submitted to their decision. We should also consider our potential stubbornness that prevents a solution. As Christians, reconciliation is our goal. Unconditional love is the fundamental principle in all relationships. Let us determine, with God’s help, to resolve all our differences with others and go forward with peace of mind and heart.

Have a great week and remember, God loves YOU!

Contact Jon at jtshonebarger@gmail.com.