Editor’s Note: This series of posts on Acts 15 is written by guest teacher David Hundert. Thanks, David! The series of five posts begins here.
Saying “goodbye” is rarely easy, especially when it comes on the heels of brokenness. Maybe you’ve experienced one of those goodbyes. As we continue the story of Acts 15, the Apostle Paul has a goodbye like that.
Let’s take a moment to review what have we seen so far in Acts 15. Men tried to cause division within the church at Antioch. The church responded by asking for help from church leadership in Jerusalem. There the apostles and elders called a council to respond to the dispute. At the council, both sides said their piece, and a biblical answer, acceptable to both parties, was reached. The council then issued their findings in the form of a letter, and they sent the original committee from Antioch back, with two additional members from the leadership council, to present its decision to the Church in Antioch as well as to the Christians in that part of the world.
I have been so blessed to be a part of the EC Church, because like the interaction between Jerusalem and Antioch, the EC Church is firmly rooted in following biblical standards and tries to apply Scripture to every situation that may arise. Like the early Church, our denomination’s leadership will send delegates to a congregation and to our annual National Conference to help sort out the tough issues and find a biblical solution.
In the process of finding their resolution, and as a good example for all of us, when the disagreement arose in Antioch, the Jerusalem council’s solution was delivered with, and was evidently full of grace. They council could have issued an edict and it would have driven the church apart. Instead they found a solution that worked for everyone.
So how does the chapter end? With another disagreement! Read Acts 15, verses 36-41, and we learn that, “Sometime later,” Paul suggests to Barnabas that they revisit all of the towns where the Word of the Lord was preached. However, John Mark winds up as the center of a conflict between the two.
First off, it is possible that Mark is Barnabas’ relative (see Colossians 4:10, although ancient sources dispute if the Mark mentioned in Acts 15 is the same Mark mentioned in Colossians 4:10). Barnabas wanted to take him along with them, but Paul didn’t want him to come, because Paul felt as though John had abandoned them in Pamphylia during their first missionary tour (see Acts 13:13).
Second, it is possible that there was an additional source of tension between Paul and Barnabas. Paul would go on to write in Galatians 2:11–13 of an incident that took place in Antioch. Evidently, after the Jerusalem Conference, Peter and Barnabas gave in to pressure from “certain men from James”, and they withdrew from the table of fellowship with the Gentiles. Paul sharply confronted Peter on that occasion for his “hypocrisy” and was none too happy with Barnabas for following Peter’s example. Even though Paul had now been sufficiently reconciled to Barnabas to request his companionship on this mission, there may have been a lingering wound.
Regardless, Paul did eventually become reconciled to John, and mentioned him as a coworker in several of his letters referring to him as “Mark”. And standing in the background was Barnabas, always the encourager, showing faith in Mark, when the others had lost theirs, and ironically for Paul, eventually redeemed him. Barnabas and Mark then departed for further work on Cyprus.
Though disagreements are regrettable, at least in this instance there was a fortunate outcome. Now there were two missions instead of one. Paul needed a suitable replacement for a traveling companion, so he chose Silas.
For this journey, Paul had pretty much made the decision to go, on his own. However, just like the first mission, he had the support of the Antiochan church and was commended by the brothers and sisters there to the grace of the Lord, for his new journey. Paul and Silas headed north from Antioch by foot and visited the churches of Syria and Cilicia along the way. Since the “apostolic decrees” were originally addressed to all the churches in Syria and Cilicia, one would assume that Paul and Silas shared these with them. This is all the more likely, since Silas, was one of the two originally appointed by the church in Jerusalem, to deliver the decrees.
What we see in this story is that God can always redeem even the most difficult situations. Is this a case of Paul or Barnabas being stubborn? Unwilling to forgive? Possibly? Should they have handled their disagreement better? Possibly. Disagreements can be complex and conflicted. What will it look like for us to be people who choose humility and forgiveness?