Read Acts 15:36-41
36 After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” 37 Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. 39 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40 Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care.41 Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there. (NLT)
It can be upsetting for followers of Jesus to witness conflict and disagreement among their community. Some churches are so preoccupied with infighting they have no time or energy to get on with their real job of bringing the good news of their faith to the world.
Our passage today reminds us that even in the ‘good old days’ of the early church there was dissension. Paul and Barnabas were both sincerely trying to serve Jesus but saw things differently. Paul didn’t want to give John Mark a second chance, whereas Barnabas was prepared to do just that.
We can speculate that temperament played a part here. Barnabas may have been the sort of guy to be more tolerant of failure. Paul might have had a firmer approach. So often our conflicts are a product of temperament rather than doctrine or strategy.
What is encouraging about this episode is not shown in our text. But towards the end of Paul’s life, he asks for John Mark to come to him as he has proved helpful in ministry. It seems the earlier conflict had been resolved. A reminder to us that while conflict may be unsettling, it need not persist.
The mark of a healthy church is not that it has no conflict, but that it resolves conflict in an honest and timely way.