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Saul loses a friend

Have you ever had an enriching friendship that you had come to rely on dissolve in just a couple of hours, never to be the same again?

Today we’re going to see that happen to the Apostle Paul.

Paul had been friends with Barnabas for over 15 years. As a young believer Barnabas had helped Paul be accepted in the church in Jerusalem.

A decade later Barnabas recruited Saul to help him teach the Antioch church. They had successfully planted the very first churches across Southern Galatia together.

In today’s passage it is now 49 AD, and the men have been friends for 13 years.

They had just achieved one of biggest victories in the entire 1st century church. Barnabas and Paul, Peter and the Apostles, James and the Elders had all stood together at the Jerusalem Council and rejected the Judaizers legalistic demands.

Paul and Barnabas and others from Jerusalem, including Silas, had delivered the council’s words to churches throughout Syria and Cilicia. After that, Silas stayed in Antioch with Paul and Barnabas helping teach the church there.

Paul and Barnabas had worshipped together, fellowshipped together, prayed together, ministered together, shared Jesus together, travelled together, no doubt laughed and cried and we know they had disagreed before.

They had been friends for years, but in one sharp disagreement it appears their friendship unraveled, and as far as we know in the Scriptures the relationship never fully recovered.

We’re going to look at the loss of Paul and Barnabas’ friendship today, and also look at a few things to get us ready for the “before, during, and after” of disagreements among Christian friends.

Read Acts 15:36-41           Saul loses a friend                          Let’s Pray

Not all good ideas are God’s ideas                                                       V. 36

In verse 36 we read that after some days of ministry in Antioch, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back to the baby Christians in the baby churches, and see how they are doing!”

That was a perfectly fine thing to do, and it may have been exactly what God wanted them to do.

But we do not read what we did back in chapter 13, about the whole thing coming out of a time of prayer and them hearing God speak to them.

Let’s be careful here – Acts is a narrative book of the Bible, telling us some of what happened. They may have prayed as fervently this time, and it’s just not recorded. But…

There is a tendency for Christians who have seen God do great past things to pray less during present planning. When we do, we often go forward with our ideas rather than pray enough to make sure they are God’s ideas.

Praying out loud together helps us better communicate with God and with each other, and get us on the same page. And as we will see in a moment, Paul and Barnabas were not on the same page.

I also want to note that based on the needs throughout the Roman Empire, by this time Paul and Barnabas should have been thinking of leading separate teams anyway.

Sometimes we get so used to doing ministry with our favorite people we neglect how shaking things up a bit can mean two teams or classes instead of one, with more opportunities to being along younger leaders.

I am convinced that if we are not proactive in prayer and planning about such things, God will often allow some difficulty to bring to pass what we did not do proactively through prayer and planning.

Paul and Barnabas disagree over John Mark                                    V. 37-39a

We have intense words in verses 37-39a

Barnabas was determined to take along John Mark; Paul insisted they do not.

When determined squares off with insisted, there is often going to be an impasse for a while! Or is that just my marriage?!

Let’s identify John Mark.

We first read of him back in Acts 12:11-12               

Read Acts 12:11-12

That means John Mark’s house often held prayer meetings, and Mark got to know great Christian men like Peter. He had wound up for a time in Antioch, perhaps living with his cousin Barnabas (we learn that in Colossians 4:10).

Read Acts 13:4-5

John Mark had been Paul and Barnabas’ assistant as they set out on the first missionary journey. He was with them as they travelled through the island of Cyprus. According to Acts 13:13, when they got to Southern Galatia, John Mark sailed home to Jerusalem.

Look again at Acts 15:38

From this we learn that John had not just sailed home on that first journey, he had quit. When the going got tough, he had wilted.

Paul insisted, “For the sake of the ministry we can’t afford to take the chance he will blow it again!”

Barnabas determined, “For the sake of a potential minister we can’t afford not to give him another try!”

Both were dug in to their perspectives, and both were right in a way.

Paul was more concerned about the integrity of the potential ministry, whereas Barnabas was more concerned about the development of the potential minister.

Of course Barnabas also had family reasons not to give up on John Mark. He was his cousin.

Maybe part of what was happening for Paul was that he had forgotten that this was Barnabas ministry – helping those who would not otherwise be accepted be accepted. Once upon a time Barnabas had gone out on a limb for Paul.

This happened to me once!

I was looking sideways at Doug Barr and some loser he was reaching out to. And the Holy Spirit said to me, “Reminds me of another loser Doug Barr went to bat for!”

This is a hard one when you look at it, because both sides need to be thought about when ministry teams are formed.

The wrong person in a ministry position can do lasting damage. But by its very nature ministry training is on the job training. Leaders will disagree about exact approaches here, and when individuals are or aren’t ready for an assignment. Sometimes that will mean different ministers and ministries working with different people as they try to follow God’s call and their gifting.

I ache when I read the first part of verse 39 –

The contention became so sharp that they parted from one another.

I see nowhere in the rest of the New Testament that indicates that Paul and Barnabas ever spent time together again.

Both loved Jesus; both were used of God greatly; just not together!

Some of us in this room have had something similar happen, and unless something changes, that separation will remain until we both are in Heaven.

It’s heartbreaking. It confuses other believers. If not dealt with it can lead to bitterness and divisiveness. So in just a moment I will talk about what to do before, during, and after a sharp disagreement with a friend.

God doubles the impact despite the disagreement                                   V. 39-40

Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus.

Things must have gone much better for Mark on this journey, because John Mark became a ministry machine. Later he also travelled and ministered with the Apostle Peter (I Peter 5:13), and by God’s grace he later also travelled and ministered with Paul.

His greatest accomplishment was the Gospel of Mark! We would not have the third gospel if Barnabas hadn’t gone to the mat for John Mark!

Paul an Silas became a team, and at their first stop in Galatia, Timothy joined up and became another son to Paul in the faith.

The work for God doubled because there were now two missionary teams instead of one. Oh that they had done it proactively rather than reactively. But the Lord works in mysterious ways.

Before you disagree with a Christian friend – cultivate a James 1:19-20 mindset.

My beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.                                                                                                      -James 1:19-20

Those may be the most overlooked verses in all the New Testament right now!

People are quick to express their opinions these days before they listen and understand and process biblically.

I love things like Facebook, but I hate how some of us use it!

We are quick to get angry and speak, but hardly ever listen.

Won’t you try to cultivate a James 1:19-20 mindset.

The secret of listening is to use both…eyes!

To ask good questions! To ask a person if you understand what they are trying to say. To build bridges to understanding rather than walls of division.

Obviously your walk with Jesus helps you do this. Being prayed up and filled up with the Holy Spirit allows the fruit of the Spirit to shine through!

The Lord’s prayer is so helpful –

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be your name (Relationship)

Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. (Purpose)

Give us each day our daily bread (Physical provision)

Forgive us our trespasses, as forgive those who trespass against us (Spiritual relationships)

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Spiritual readiness)

During your disagreement with a Christian friend – diagnose the disagreement correctly

The old saying –

In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

Is this a Bible essential we need to agree on for fellowship?

If so, the one rejecting God’s word needs to repent.

Paul and Barnabas had disagreed before, and Barnabas knew he was wrong, and had accepted Paul’s rebuke.

If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.            -I John 1:7

Is this a matter where our differing convictions mean we must take different approaches going forward?

If so, our split needs to be as amiably done as possible.

That’s what was happening here – There were now going to be two teams.

The goal would be to split amiably, but I love the Bible’s honesty – it looks like this was anything but an amiable split.

Of course most issues are simply non-essentials that we need to agree to disagree on.

Like Euodia and Syntyche’s fight in Philippians chapter 4. They were told to “agree in the Lord” and restore their fellowship.

After your disagreement with a Christian friend – Resolve and Restore everything you can, daily practicing forgiveness

Jesus really gave us the model to follow on this in Matthew 18

Go one on one first, win your brother back!

Ask them to forgive you; forgive them when they ask for it.

Too many professing Christians are done with other Christians and their churches when they have a conflict. And for the rest of their life they trash the other parties. That is so at odds with what Jesus and the first church leaders told us to do, and modeled for us!

Paul later wrote in Romans 12:18

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”                                                                                                            -Romans 12:18

We have already seen in a previous message that Paul made sure in his own writings and in Luke’s book of Acts that Barnabas be presented well.

“Mr. Whitfield, do you think we’ll see Mr Wesley in Heaven.” 

“No, I imagine he will be so close to Jesus that we will only see blinding light ahead!”

Paul taught and modeled resolving and restoring everything we can now before it has to be done at the judgment seat of Christ.

Why don’t we read of that happening with Barnabas?

I believe Barnabas died before it could happen.

We do know that Paul became a co-worker with John Mark. He goes out of his way to make sure the relationship had been restored –

Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him).                                                                                                       -Colossians 4:10

Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.                                                -2 Timothy 4:11

Is there anybody out there you need to ask to forgive you, to seek reconciliation with?

The sum of our faith is that Jesus made reconciliation for us, and of all people we ought to model reconciliation within the body of Christ!

Let’s Pray!