Just as the seasons of our lives come and go, so do the people who walk in and out of them. As I look back on my life as a Christian, I have had many brothers and sisters in the Lord come into my life and out of my life. Some have stayed; some have departed and gone their own way. But in the end, through it all, the Lord has been my constant companion and friend. We all have theserelationships in our daily lives. We have family and friends that we have been close to, but things change, they go through trials, you go through trials and you both change. Sometimes these changes in our lives bring about differences or bring about different directions. You may have been walking on the same path together, but now both of you are faced with a decision, one must go to the left and one must go to the right. So what do we do when these relationships take a different path, or when one must go a different direction? This was something that was on my heart this morning as I woke to the words of Acts 15.
“Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.’ Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” Acts 15:36-41
When you first read these words you probably think that Paul was right. John Mark had deserted them, and his reasoning for not wanting him to go with them was valid. Paul had ever right to be concerned with John Mark deserting the work again. But then again, you may think that Barnabas was right. Barnabas was an encourager. He encouraged and strengthened people wherever he went. He saw the good in people and wanted to help everyone he could. This is one of the reasons why Paul and Barnabas were such a good team. One kept the other humble, and one kept the other honest. But I think we are missing the point if we only look at this passage of scripture and see the argument. I think if we try and focus on who is right and who is wrong, we miss the bigger blessing that is buried in between the lines.
We all have those brothers and sisters in the Lord with whom we are close to, but sometimes things happen that take us on different paths. Some commentators say that Paul was right; some say that Barnabas was right, but once again, I think we are missing the point if we focus on that only. You may have had a disagreement with a brother or sister in the Lord and this has caused a difference of opinion. Who is right and who is wrong in this instance? The Lord isn’t seeking to justify one as right and the other as wrong. What the Lord wants us to see is that only He is right, and His way of doing things is beyond our comprehension. I believe that this division or separating of their ways happened because God had two separate plans for each of them. Barnabas and John Mark traveled to Cyprus where they shared the gospel and ministered to others. Paul also took Silas with him and traveled to Derbe and Lystra where he met Timothy.
As I read these words I am reminded of Romans 8:28 which tell us that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Perhaps the separation happened so that Timothy could be taught and discipled by Paul. Perhaps certain events in Paul and Barnabas’s life would not have come to fruition had they stayed together. But the blessing that we find is that God used them both. Not only did Paul go on to minister and share the gospel, but Barnabas did too. The point is not who was right and who was wrong, the point is that God had a purpose and a plan and both men were a part of it.
“Who was right? It really doesn’t make much difference. Perhaps both men were right on some things and wrong on other things. We know that John Mark did ultimately succeed in the ministry and that Paul came to love and appreciate him. Good and godly people in the church do disagree; this is one of the painful facts of life that we must accept. Paul looked at people and asked, ‘What can they do for God’s work?’ while Barnabas looked at people and asked, ‘What can God’s work do for them?’ Both questions are important to the Lord’s work, and sometimes it is difficult to keep things balanced.” (Warren Wiersbe; The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, pg. 372) The blessing that we need to see when relationships separate or go different ways is that no matter what God is in the midst of it all. He is working in each one and through each one for His purposes and His good pleasure.
Many times we are faced with difficult decisions that lead us in opposite directions, but instead of seeing the blessing of God in the midst of it, we try to determine who is right and who is wrong. God did not look at what happened between Paul and Barnabas and pick a side. He instead used this for the furtherance of His gospel. Where there were only two before, there were now four sharing His love and His gift of Salvation through Jesus Christ with the world. There is no perfect family. Even the family of God is dysfunctional because we are all still walking around in these bodies of flesh. No matter how spiritual we may be, no matter how right we think we are, we must not allow these contentions to divide us. Paul and Barnabas go their separate ways, but I think it is important for us to see that even though they went their separate ways God used both of them for ministry.
All of us have at some point in our lives experienced the separation of relationships. The point is not to make yourself right and them wrong, the point is to see the goodness of God and His desire working in the midst of it all. I have had many people in my life take a different path than the one God has me on- but that does not mean that I do not love them, that I do not pray for them, or that I do not desire to keep a relationship with them. Paul did have a relationship with John Mark in the years to come, and I am sure that he and Barnabas never stopped being friends. They loved Jesus too much to allow differences to come between them.
I do not know where you are at today, or what relationships you have had that has gone through a separation. But I do hope that through these words the Lord has given me that you would see the blessings of His grace and His purposes in those moments. I pray that today you would see that even though you may be on a different path than your brother or sister in the Lord, it doesn’t mean that you are right and they are wrong, or that you are wrong and they are right. It only matters that God is in the midst of you both, working out for His good and His glory the next steps in your lives. May these words give you comfort and encourage you to keep walking the path God has for you, and may you come to rejoice for the path your friend is walking too. In Jesus Name, to Him be the glory, honor and praise. Amen and Amen.