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A. John Mark
This dispute caused “sharp disagreement”. Did tempers flare? Yeah, I think so, from the Greek used here. The word in the original here doesn’t connote an orderly, reasoned discourse; these guys went at it. Remember, these were men, men who would not be fully-sanctified until they got to Heaven. God created each of us as emotional beings; sometimes, we exercise our passions in ways that go beyond the bounds of the glory of God, that get out of control—and it’s likely that these two flesh-and-blood guys said some things in some ways that they each came to regret later. Unity in Christ doesn’t mean uniformity, and in this fallen world, it doesn’t always mean agreement, by any means.
And we won’t have all of our sharp edges worn off until we get to Heaven. Martin Luther said of himself, “I am rough, boisterous, stormy, and altogether warlike, fighting against innumerable monsters and devils. I am born for the removing of stumps and stones, cutting away thistles and thorns, and clearing wild forests.” Yet God used Luther mightily to reclaim the precious truth of salvation by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ.
What was the basic bone of contention? The issue involved the fitness of John Mark to join the journey. Paul knew well the rigors of the journey, the many uncertainties which lay ahead, the likelihood of persecution and opposition. Paul had seen John Mark fail during the first go-round, and likely saw this as stemming from one or more character flaws. We all know the pain of placing trust and confidence in a person who ultimately fails us; we all know that when this happens, we often have to carry extra burdens, work doubly-hard, shoulder more responsibility. From Paul’s perspective, did it make sense to trust John Mark again, when he’d proven himself inadequate?
On the other hand, Barnabas, which was a nickname meaning “Son of Encouragement”, was a guy who on many occasions ministered that encouragement to others. He had done so with Paul, right after Paul’s experience with God on the Damascus Road, accepting Paul when others would have turned tail and run the other direction. Now, he stands up for his cousin, John Mark, a young man in whom he undoubtedly saw many fine qualities, perhaps qualities that Paul had missed. God is a God of second chances—and third and seventeen-hundredth chances; shouldn’t they give John Mark, who was apparently willing and had undoubtedly offered words of reassurance to Barnabas, a second chance? And how much good might it have done John Mark to spend some time hanging around with Paul and Barnabas?
Do we put the needs of the mission first, or the needs of the individual? This isn’t always an easy call to make, and it’s of no use to say we ought to err on the side of grace, because it’s still a question of “grace toward whom, the individual or the group?”
So who was right, and who was wrong? Some people feel a need to vindicate Paul in every decision, as though everything he did was right. I don’t feel that need. At the same time, does the fact that Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement mean that one was right, and the other wrong? Is someone always wrong when we disagree? Paul didn’t seem to think so; read Romans 14. Dave Mason sang, “there ain’t no good guys; there
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