Monday, March 4

Choosing Sides

15:36After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit the brothers and sisters in every town where we have preached the word of the Lord and see how they’re doing.” 37Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark. 38But Paul insisted that they should not take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work. 39They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus. 40But Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended by the brothers and sisters to the grace of the Lord. 41He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

16:1 Paul went on to Derbe and Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek. 2The brothers and sisters at Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him. 3Paul wanted Timothy to go with him; so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4As they traveled through the towns, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem for the people to observe. 5So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.

6They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia; they had been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. Passing by Mysia they went down to Troas. 9During the night Paul had a vision in which a Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” 10After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Act 15:36 - 16:10 (CSB)

This section of Scripture hurts my heart to read. I am a peacemaker at heart, so conflict always makes me uncomfortable, but the split between Paul and Barnabas feels particularly tragic. Barnabas was Paul’s first champion, the one who introduced him to the Jerusalem church and convinced them that Paul’s conversion was genuine; they had traveled together for years preaching the gospel, experiencing the highs of seeing Gentiles receive Christ and the lows of almost being stoned to death. Then they split over whether or not a young man named John Mark should travel with them.

John Mark had joined Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey in Acts 13, but after only a short time and without explanation, he left them and returned to Jerusalem. Because he deserted them, Paul refuses to bring Mark with them again. To Paul, Mark did not desert them personally, but deserted the work. The work of preaching the Gospel was everything—the only thing—to the man who would later write that to live is Christ. Barnabas, though, is “the son of encouragement.” Mark is Barnabas’s cousin, but he also saw potential in Mark as a preacher of the Gospel and wanted to encourage that calling. Perhaps Mark had failed, but someone needed to offer him grace and the chance to learn, grow, and change.

My human side wants to choose sides, because surely in a “sharp disagreement” there has to be a right and wrong side. Yet Luke does not pass judgment on this disagreement. He reports the fight and the outcome without commentary. Paul was right to prioritize the work. Barnabas was right to prioritize encouragement. These were their individual gifts, their individual callings. Harboring anger, resentment or judgment is not biblical or godly; conflict, though, is not necessarily unbiblical or ungodly. Conflict that hinders the work of the Church is unbiblical, but in this instance the conflict results in more lives saved: two sets of missionaries set out, in opposite directions, each with a younger protégé.

Paul chooses Timothy. Paul has Timothy circumcised, which seems contrary to all Paul preached regarding circumcision being unnecessary. Timothy’s situation was unique, though; his circumcision was not about salvation, but about acceptance by the people to whom he would preach. Because he had a Greek father, Timothy had not been circumcised, but because he had a Jewish mother, he had been raised with the Jewish faith and Scripture. To better preach to the Jews, Paul ensured that Timothy would be seen as fully Jewish.

Perhaps you noticed one other person joins the team in this section: Luke himself. In 16:10, Luke writes, After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. No grand announcement, but a subtle shift from the third person to the first. Luke is part of the team (which also explains why Acts focuses on Paul and not any other missionaries for the last half of the book). Luke is not an unbiased reporter in this story, and He does not pretend to be. He is part of this great work God is doing. 

Timothy does not stay with Paul through all his travels, but he becomes Paul’s dear son in the faith who eventually takes over leadership of the Ephesian church. Paul wrote him letters of encouragement and instruction, two of which we have in 1 & 2 Timothy. 2 Timothy is Paul’s last letter before he died, and as he closed his last letter, asking his dear Timothy to visit, he also wrote, Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry. Luke stays by Paul’s side through the rest of his travels (a doctor being a useful companion for a man prone to getting himself stoned and beaten), and is the only one with him at the end. But Paul does ask for one more person. Mark. Yes, the same John Mark, who has now become useful to Paul in ministry. Mark had matured and become an apostle in his own right. This Mark would become the author of the first gospel ever written, the book of Mark, which served as source material for both Matthew and Luke’s gospels. 

The men we meet in this small section are human, prone to disagreement. When it came to choosing sides, though, they committed their loyalty not to another human but to the Gospel and their callings, and eventually became responsible for over half of the New Testament. That’s a side worth choosing.


Reflection

Have you ever been part of Church conflict, tempted to choose sides? Human conflict is inevitably more complicated than we ever know, so let us commit ourselves to the Gospel and our callings. A sound guiding principle should always be: If the Gospel is hindered or the Church is hurt, we are not acting biblically. In the Church, there should be no choosing sides. Just choosing Jesus. That may sound trite, but human allegiances will eventually fail and leave the Gospel behind. Following Jesus might lead people in different directions, like Paul and Barnabas, but the Gospel will still be preached. And we might just find ourselves back together in the end.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, keep us united in our allegiance to you. When disagreements arise, do not allow anger, resentment or judgment to control our thoughts or behaviors, but only commitment to our callings and respect that others’ giftings and passions might be different—and all our good when put in service to You. Help us navigate the difficulties of being human and working with other humans by seeking Your wisdom and offering Your grace. Amen.

Pick Four More Activities

Need more details? Tap here.

  • Listen and Worship.

  • Pray a Psalm.

  • Read a Book.

  • Retell the Gospel to Yourself.

  • Take Some Notes on Today's Devotional.

  • Pray for Yourself, Your Family, Your Church, and the Lost.

  • Memorize a Verse.

  • List Five Things You're Thankful For.

  • Encourage Someb

Megan NessonComment