Handling Conflict: What Paul and Barnabas DIDN’T Do

Once in a while, Christians don’t get along with one another. (Probably doesn’t happen in your congregation, but you’ve heard about it, right? Wink.)

The end of Acts 15 provides insight on how Christians are to relate to one another when there is a difficult disagreement. The final six verses of the chapter recount the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas regarding John Mark. Paul and Barnabas wanted to travel together to visit churches that they had established. Barnabas wanted John Mark to accompany them, while Paul was opposed, because he had deserted Paul and Barnabas on an earlier journey. This led to a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas causing them to part ways—Paul and Silas traveling through Syria and Cilicia and Barnabas and John Mark sailing for Cypress.

Saint Luke, writing under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, does not make a judgment about who was right and who was wrong in the controversy. It is also significant what Paul and Barnabas are not reported to have done. There is no evidence in the account that they blamed each other or tried to gain others for their particular side. There is no evidence that they spoke evil of one another or, for that matter, did anything to “win at all costs.” Nor is there any report that either one tried to make a suspect theological case for their point or accuse the other of heresy.

What is reported in the text is that they parted ways as harmoniously as possible under the circumstances and continued their mission. It is evident that the mission was too important to be impeded by a controversy, even one that seemed significant in eyes of Paul and Barnabas. The result of the situation is that God’s Word was heard in more places than otherwise would have been the case, with the likely end that more people were saved. God has a unique way of bringing good things out of evil situations and realizing his mission through his people, even when sin gets in the way (Romans 8:28; Genesis 50:20). Paul and Barnabas found a way to work together, even in the midst of their disagreement.

Perhaps we should, too.

By: Rev. Jon Braunersreuther
Mission and Ministry Facilitator, Area D

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