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Paul and Barnabas argue about John Mark

Paul and Barnabas disagree about John Mark

At the monthly elders and men’s meeting of the Antioch church of Christ:

Milalai: “Brethren, we have received a letter from Barnabus stating that he and Paul have had a sharp disagreement about whom to take on their next missionary trip.”

Dionysius: “Yes, I managed to talk to Paul personally about that matter as well.”

Milalai: “Barnabas feels that perhaps Paul is becoming legalistic in regards to the standards that he is imposing upon others.”

Dionysius: “That’s strange. Paul said that Barnabus had become too liberal in his acceptance of erring brethren.”

Milalai: “Well, Barnabus told us that there is nothing wrong with Mark. He said that Paul is just being unrealistic.”

Dionysius: “From what Paul told me, though, I think that there are valid reasons to question Mark’s faithfulness.”

Milalai: “Are you saying that you believe Paul rather than Barnabas?”

Dionysius: “Why shouldn’t I? Look at the success of Paul’s ministry.”

Milalai: “But if it hadn’t been for the goodness of Barnabus, Paul would have never been accepted by the church. Do you not remember that he used to persecute Christians?”

At this point, an argument breaks out in the elders and men’s meeting of the Antioch church. The group is polarized over the issue. The Jewish brethren are more inclined to accept the word of Barnabus while the Gentile brethren are more accepting of Paul. The meeting concludes without the issue being resolved.

Months pass. The editor of “Sanctifying Truth” has sided with Paul. Meanwhile, the editor of “The Way, Truth, and Life Quarterly” has steadfastly supported Barnabus. The Antioch church of Christ has divided. Some of the brethren, mostly the Jewish Christians, have stayed together under the name of the “Antioch church of Christ.” The Gentile brethren have formed the “Syrian church of Christ.”

Unfortunately, Paul and Barnabas have become so consumed with defending their innocence and upholding their faithfulness while decrying one another that they have decided to postpone any future missionary trips indefinitely.

Thanks be unto God that this was not the attitude of First Century brethren. If it had been, you and I might not be in Christ today. Let us read what the inspired account of these events record:

But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. 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.” Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 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. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:35-41 ESV).

Realizing that the Antioch brethren had just settled one potentially divisive situation (cf. Acts 15:1-32), Paul and Barnabas did not trouble the church with their disagreement. Barnabas went ahead and took Mark and went to Cyprus. Paul took Silas through Syria and Cilicia. The result was that twice the work of the Lord was accomplished. That Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement did not permanently sever their relationship and that they even became reconciled is seen in several passages (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:6; Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11).

If Paul and Barnabas could manifest this kind of a spirit then, why can we not do the same now? Though we cannot permit error to go unchecked in the church, we cannot bite and devour one another either (cf. Galatians 5:15). An erring Christian is to be treated as a brother so that he will repent (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:14 and 15). Once we realize this we can, like Paul and Barnabas, accomplish twice the amount of the Lord’s work than what we currently undertake because of pettiness.