Today, we have a complicated passage, mainly in its application. The interpretation of the passage is pretty simple: Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement over whether they should take John Mark with them on their missionary journey. They couldn’t come to an agreement, so they decided to take different people and go their separate ways. The challenge comes in answering the question: who was right in the disagreement?
The interesting thing is that Luke doesn’t really give an answer to that question. On one hand, Paul is trying to protect the integrity and effectiveness of the trip by not taking someone who has not shown to be faithful in the past; Barnabas is being patient and loving with a young man who needs to grow up, and wants to give him a second chance. Both sides of the arguments make sense and both seem to be made from a heart of love.
There’s a few things we can take from this:
1. Disagreement can happen with godly friends. Paul and Barnabas had been friends and ministry partners for a long time. They both felt very strong about their viewpoints. And we do not see any sin or unkindness towards each other. It is possible to disagree strongly and not sin. It’s about your heart.
2. God used disagreement for greater ministry effectiveness. Paul and Barnabas didn’t allow disagreement to keep them from their mission, rather, their mission was actually multiplied. Who knows, God could have caused this disagreement just so that they could have greater ministry impact? Nonetheless, God clearly used these men in multiple places to advance the gospel.
3. Reconciliation is possible. While we don’t see explicit evidence of Paul and Barnabas ever doing ministry again, we do see evidence of Paul and John Mark being reconciled. Toward the end of his life, when many had abandoned him, Paul asked Timothy to send for Mark: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11, ESV) Paul was able to reconcile with Mark, and likely Barnabas, which shows even more the power that the gospel should have in our relationships with people.
By: Graham Withers — Pastoral Ministry Apprentice