Paul, Barnabas, and Mark

In this writing, we will examine the means by which we may avoid unnecessary [and unfruitful] alienations among and between believers, especially disagreements grounded in equally sincere convictions about what is holy, proper, and wise in a particular instance or course of action.

These differences arise due to differences in understanding or discernment, are wholly expected and normal to our Christian walk, and are permissible by God.  They need not derail our focus upon Christ or become bitter roots that poison the body of Christ by creating offenses and divisions.

While Satan has no power to create such disagreements, he does attempt to use such occasions to gain access to the hearts and minds of believers (1 Peter 5:8).

However, even when this does not occur, differences in conscience in one area among believers can prevent believers from working together in other ways that are wholly desired and approved by God, leading to divisions by practice that undermine the cause of Christ and misrepresent the nature and character of God to the world.

We cannot be both wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove unless we avoid the pitfalls of bitterness and isolation (Matthew 10:16).

Of course, there certainly are alienations that occur in believers lives for wholly understandable and proper reasons, as the following circumstances exemplify:

Ordained divisions, authored by God, which are simply a revealing of who is and is not of Christ.  The condemnation that falls upon Christ, subsequently (through our close alliance to Him), falls upon us also (Romans 15:3).  The children of disobedience has nothing in common with children of light (Ephesians 2:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 5:5):

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.  For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.  And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.  He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.  (Matthew 10:35-36).

Alienations that occur due to offenses which occur in the hearts of others, as a consequence of our determination to follow Christ, obeying the call of His kingdom:  

And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.  Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.  (Luke 9:59-60)

Alienations that occur when a believer turns away from God.  These are our most difficult alienations, which come as betrayals: 

For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him:  But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance.  We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.  Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.  (Psalms 55:12-16)

However, there are also times when a lack of understanding, knowledge, and wisdom leads to unnecessary disputes among friends:  this is the case in the example that the Lord gives us of an alienation among friends in the lives of Paul, Mark, and Barnabas.

Originally, these brothers were co-laborers in a missionary work, joined together by God through the Holy Spirit’s bequest and unction (Acts 13:1-3).  However, in the midst of their journey, one brother [John, also called Mark] departs from the work (Acts 12:25, 13:13).  Apparently, Paul is at odds with Mark’s decision [perhaps, considering it premature or a desertion of the trio and the work of God].  Consequently, when Paul and Barnabas are later preparing to embark upon another, similar mission, a disagreement arises between the two:

And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.  And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.  But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.  And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; and Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.  And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.  (Acts 15:36-41)

Notice, the disagreement is so “sharp” that they can no longer function together as co-laborers in the work of God.  This is despite all of the following facts:

  • Paul was completely committed to the work of God.  This was the man willingly gave up his body as a living sacrifice, saying, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church,” (Colossians 1:24).
  • Barnabas was completely committed to the work of God.  He sold all of his possessions and gave his money to the body of Christ for support of his brothers and sisters; he held nothing back from God (Acts 4:32-37).  It was Barnabas who bore witness on Paul’s behalf to Jerusalem believers and convinced them of Paul’s conversion, giving proof of his ministry (Acts 9:27-28).  The Lord chose him [because he was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and faith] to encourage the new saints at  Antioch (Acts 11:20-24).  Like Paul, he functioned as a teacher, prophet, and apostle (Acts 11:26).
  • Moreover, these brothers were called together by God for the work of Christ’s ministry, as Barnabas was inspired to seek Paul’s assistance in ministering to the new believers at Antioch where they worked together for an entire year (Acts 11:25-26).

Barnabas and Paul were intimately acquainted, as brothers in the faith and followers of the Lord Jesus, faithful in all points, and approved by other faithful brethren.

Yet, despite their long and trusted association, they were willing separate rather than violate their convictions–for Barnabas was unwilling to desert Mark–and Paul was unwilling to embark upon the work with Mark.

Who then was at fault?

Moreover, why doesn’t God give us more information concerning the details of Mark’s departure; why do we have no indication of whether it was Barnabas or Paul who was in error?

Here’s what we do know:

  • Several years later, while writing to the saints at Corinth, Paul uses Barnabas as an example of faithful service to God, esteeming him as an elder in the faith  (1 Corinthians 9:1-6).
  • Some 12 years after their disagreement, Paul heartily commends Barnabas in his letter to the Colossian saints (Colossians 4:10) and notes Mark also as a faithful companion.
  • Prior to his death [when he knows he will be executed–2 Timothy 4:6], Paul makes an extraordinary request of Timothy:  “Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry,” (2 Timothy 4:11).  What is all the more striking is the context in which Paul’s request is made:  “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica … ” (2 Timothy 4:10).  Why would Paul turn to Mark for support in the midst of his difficulty, given their past association in Pamphylia and the pain of Demas’ defection?  Apparently, a full reconciliation had taken place between them.  
  • There is no evidence in the scriptural record of Paul ever denouncing Barnabas, calling his faith into question, or denouncing his spiritual walk [practice].  This is particularly striking, given that Paul was willing to withstand the other apostles to their face (Galatians 2:12).
  • Moreover, there is no evidence in the scriptural record of Barnabas ever questioning Paul’s heart.
  • Notice, the disagreement between the two centered on discernment, not doctrine.  They simply disagreed on the basis of personal conscience and determined to act upon those convictions without sowing discord into the body of Christ.

There is a lesson in all of this for the body of Christ.

7 thoughts on “Paul, Barnabas, and Mark

  1. Without adding additional content to what you have thoroughly covered here Mark, I will just make two brief statements and then ask two related questions myself which you are of course free to comment upon:
    “Who was at fault?” (within the context of these verses it does not say which I take to mean it isn’t relevant.
    Moreover, “Why doesn’t God give us more details of Mark’s departure?” (Maybe because this isn’t as relevant as below:

    1. What does God command as it relates to the “one another’s in Christ?
    2. To what degree are we free to choose how and with whom we serve?

    Hint: 1 Corinthians 10:23, 24; 11:1

    Ultimately I cannot control the actions of other people, nor would I want to. It is my responsibility however, to live in a manner worthy of Christ and His gospel with the hope that other believers will follow my example and attitudes. How others react to this stance is irrelevant as I’m called to be faithful despite what others may or may not choose to do.

    Thanks for writing Mark. I never tire of your articles, the truth contained in them or you friend, on a good or otherwise difficult day. Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit behind the scenes and among those you may or may not know.

  2. We are free to disagree and allow God to judge. What we are not to do is to attempt to enforce our conscience upon another. When we violate this tenet, inevitably, it is because we are defending God [defending the truth]. The cause is Christ’s, not our own. He needs no defense. Moreover, believers do not have to agree. The agreements we have with one another should be authored by Christ: and if so, they are not formed through the strength of our will, but are spiritual works. Most of the problems that exist in the body of Christ are caused by believers who are trying to solve problems for God. Only God solves problems; men are incapable. Of course, this wisdom is the result of repeated failures, which is a continual dying to self that takes place daily and the process of sanctification that takes place through sufferings. When we are engaged in bitter disputes, we ‘personalize’ God [form an image of God in our minds to suit our sins that justifies our righteous indignation]. This is foolishness. I know because I have done it many times. I’m stopping.

    • Yes Mark, I’ve gone that route of trying to solve God’s supposed problems myself. Quite hilarious looking back now. That’s one of the reasons I’ve never told anyone to stop going to church as this could afford my flesh an opportunity to boast had others followed my direction or me. I can and do share my own personal testimony/experience in these matters……but that allows room for the Holy Spirit to convict both the hearer (in relation to the truth) and me (in relation to my willingness to die to those things I might otherwise attempt to control).

      We all know how much we prefer to be around and associate with others who are like ourselves (whether that be in belief, practice or even temperament) but that affords us little opportunity (benefit therein) to embrace the cross and die daily to the very things that irk us so in others. Someone once said, “Truth is not that fragile” and I think that’s a wise reminder in the delicate balance between truly encouraging another brother or sister to grow in Christ and one’s defending the faith once delivered.

      If we were to truly believe that the embracing of the cross brings life in others- “So death worketh in us, but life in you,” we would be far more patient and longsuffering with those around us. The fact is, we don’t want to believe this because it puts the onus and responsibility upon our spiritual state for the well being of others more than it does the failure of others toward us (or the perceived failures).

      Believe this: Dying to myself is another manner in which I become my brother’s keeper. No, it’s not really me doing it but the grace of God in me…….my sufferings for your sake, in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24-29)

      He is so much more capable than I, and far more willing too.

  3. Here is the relevant verse: “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation,” (James 5:12).

    We should strive not to enter into condemnation [the snare of ego-centric struggles].

    We avoid all these problems by simply trusting God.

    • I agree with this added observation:

      The text you quote above is a summation of sorts in relation to the verses which precede this…..the examples being the farmer who waits patiently for produce (verse 7), the endurance of Job (verse 11) and especially the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord (verse 10).

      Can we even begin to surmise the degree of patience the prophets of old had to have in relation to their brethren who were not just sinning but living in outright rebellion? Would you or I even want to deal with such people or would we rather just run as fast as we could in the opposite direction? It’s no wonder these were blessed who endured (verse 11).

      But here is where our willingness to be patient and endure must lead, the reason for which we persevere with others to the end where possible-

      “The Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” Although Job and many others did not see, we have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings (first His dealing with us and our own failures personally) and hopefully through us in others as well.

      All saints have individual responsibility to act (he must pray, he is to sing) but there is also a corporate responsibility (he is to call upon the elders, he is to confess) through which the necessary healing takes place.

      This is the one, though no different than the common man, whose prayers shut and opened the heavens and stopped the mouth of lions. As Paul, Barnabas and Mark discovered, the real blessing wasn’t in what was initially accomplished through them, but in the outcome of the Lord’s dealings once they were brought back together.

      May we be that man.

  4. My point with James 5:12 is that I believe we can avoid swearing, meeting the technical standard of the verse, while still violating its spirit [which is to not go beyond what God has authored].

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