After some days, Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we have proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
This account of a deep disagreement between Paul and Barnabas proves to spell the end of a wonderful friendship. When Paul first tried to join the disciples on his arrival in Jerusalem and met with suspicion, Barnabas persuaded them to trust Paul by giving a full account of Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road, and introducing Paul properly to the followers of Jesus. They had worked together to spread the Gospel for some time. Sadly, after they went on separate missionary journeys, they never saw one another again.
The important thing to come out of the disagreement was that both men kept focussed on doing the will of Christ. Perhaps even more work was done as they both embarked on separate missionary journeys. How can this short passage speak to us today?
There seem to be four points.
Firstly it helps put disagreements in perspective. Neither Paul nor Barnabas were distracted from their main purpose of spreading the Gospel. God guided them both to continue to serve him separately. In church fellowships there can, for all of us, be difficult decisions to make but, if we continue to follow God’s call, it can and, on occasion, will take us in different directions.
Barnabas gave John Mark a second chance and don’t we all need that from time to time? God celebrates us for who we are rather than for what we have done. Barnabas helped God in giving Mark a second chance. They returned to Cyprus to work while Paul and Silas visited the mainland cities of his first campaign. Mark responded to Barnabas’ help and later won the respect of Paul and Peter. Years later, when Paul was in prison and needed support and encouragement, he sent a message to Timothy: “Get Mark and bring him with you.” Mark had matured to become an experienced disciple.
This would probably not have happened without Barnabas. He was sympathetic to Mark, his nephew, and gave him the encouragement which he needed, as we all do. Would that all churches could realise the crucial importance of this attitude. We all find it easy to criticise but how much better to give love and encouragement to all those whom we know or meet in our Christian communities and outside?
It is true that, if Paul had not been firm, Mark might never have seen the need to change, to find increased strength and persistence in God’s service. However, Mark needed the patience of Barnabas. Without him, Mark might have been lost as a follower and witness to Jesus.
We, too, can help others as Barnabas did, and, in doing so, increase our faith and love for one another. May we look out for those who need support in their faith, show patience always and always give encouragement and a second chance.
Loving God, we ask for your help and encouragement. May we always give those we meet encouragement and guidance in your name. May we in return receive the same from others we encounter. We thank you for your enduring love which gives us strength each day, and helps us to be faithful followers. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
Hilary Jackson is a lay preacher in NW Synod, now living in North Yorkshire.