Parting and Going Our Separate Ways

Tuesday Re-mix –

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 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. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.  Acts 15:36-40

I honestly cannot even imagine how difficult being on a mission trip with the apostle Paul would have been.  It seems to me you would be hard-pressed to find a more driven, intense “missionary” in the entire Bible than Paul.  He seems to have worked tirelessly through very long days and he seems to have pushed himself and his fellow laborers to extremes.  Being on mission with Paul would not be for the faint-hearted.  So, just between you and me, I don’t blame young John Mark one bit for bailing on Paul in Pamphylia.  I am sure that young man felt utterly overwhelmed by it all.

But oh what I wouldn’t give to have been a fly on the wall during that later conflict between the two teachers, Paul & Barnabas, over this very incident.  Paul would have argued vehemently that the mission field is no place for quitters and that he had no time to be babysitting when he could be out teaching.  He would have pointed out that John Mark literally left them holding the bag when he quit on them in the middle of that mission trip.  Barnabas, ever the encourager, would have argued that everyone deserves a second chance (and he may have even asked Paul if he wasn’t glad that Barnabas himself was the one who gave Paul his second chance at teaching–oh, the irony of this conflict!).  Barnabas would have asked how in the world John Mark would ever grow in his spiritual walk as a leader if someone were not willing to come along side him and mentor him.  Of course, neither Paul nor Barnabas could have known that this young man would eventually write an entire gospel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

While we do not know all the specifics of what Paul said or what Barnabas said through this “sharp disagreement”, we can at least pull some eternal truths out of it for our own application:

Parting and going our separate ways is sometimes the right solution. The results of this split by Paul and Barnabas changed the world.  God brought about some amazing things as a result of it.  New churches were started, many more lives were impacted, and a gospel was written.  I am sure we cannot even begin to fathom all the ways God used this split to accomplish His will.  While I would be very careful about using this example as an easy excuse to run from conflict in your own life, I do believe there is a time and a circumstance when parting and going our separate ways just makes sense and honors God.

There is a limit to how much of our resources we can expend on trying to resolve a conflict amicably.  I have seen churches completely paralyzed by conflict.  Individuals as well.  It can have that effect on us.  We can try and try and try to reconcile our differences and examine ourselves and each other and work to find common ground, but there is a point where we must look at all the ministry we are foregoing in order to do that…we must count the opportunity costs we are paying in order to try to find some common ground.  At some point we may end up realizing that, for now, there does not seem to be any common ground and there is much ministry out there to accomplish and what we must do is split up and get back to work.

Reconciliation is as much about right timing as it is about right hearts.  There is evidence to indicate that Paul and Barnabas eventually reconciled and came together on the topic of John Mark.  Very late in his ministry, from prison, Paul wrote to Timothy and said, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:11.  It seems that a reconciliation did eventually take place.  Perhaps they just needed time to gain perspective, or time to grow, or time for John Mark to grow, or some other time-based reason.  The point is, when the right time finally came along, so did reconciliation, because reconciliation has much to do with timing.  That is an eternal truth.

So, again, I would be careful about pointing to Paul and Barnabas as an easy excuse for your desire to just run from your conflict.  Nevertheless, there is a right time and right circumstances for parting and going our separate ways.  May God grant you the wisdom to recognize it!

© Blake Coffee
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One response to “Parting and Going Our Separate Ways”

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful and helpful post. I have thought about this story and its lessons have provided guidance and grace for situations I have encountered. Another layer of this story are the differing gifts of Paul and Barnabas. I imagine Paul as extremely and amazingly disciplined and devoted, as you noted. I wonder if his strengths and calling were not at work in the story of John Mark. Most comments I have read focus on Paul’s need of Barnabas’ gift encouragement and people skills, not only in his past, but in their ongoing missionary work. Yet I read into this story that Paul’s prophetic clarity and fatherly protection of the new churches and work were part of the reason for his rejection of John Mark for the next missionary trip. I am grateful to the “sons of encouragement” like Barnabas, whom God has used in my life” and I am also grateful for the “Ravenhills” and “Keith Greens” for their stark prophetic clarity. God has used both of these gifts to plow into my weakness and challenge my casual attitudes, yet God’s fire that burns also heals and when I am weak, the comfort and grace and trust of the Barnabas consoles. Both of these thrust and nudge me onward. On another note, I think that the Lord Jesus was the perfect combination of both gifts. The Body is composed of many members, which need one another. Neither Paul nor Barnabas were the perfect gift alone. I think the story of John Mark may reveal Paul’s need for Barnabas’ strength and Paul resisted it and missed it partly because of his own gifts and strengths. We know Paul was the champion of grace in his teaching and ministry. I appreciate your insight into this story. God used this story in my life to understand his grace toward leaders whose weaknesses and failures, like John Mark’s bailing out on mission work, may have caused collateral damage to his relationships and to gospel ministry partners who otherwise worked very well together. God’s grace was enough to bring John Mark back to Paul, and Barnabas was surely a major part of that result. God bless you Blake.