Summary: Paul and Barnabas came to a parting of their ways. Was this a good thing or a bad thing? What lessons can we learn?
WHEN CHRISTIANS PART
Paul and Barnabas had been a team. It had been Barnabas who had first taken the young Paul under his wing. When everyone else in Jerusalem was afraid of the young Christian because of his history of persecuting the church, it was Barnabas who took him and who introduced him to the church. When Paul was sent home to Tarsus for a number of years, it was Barnabas who came and got him and brought him Antioch.
It therefore seemed only natural that Paul and Barnabas should operate as the first missionary team. They had been chosen by the Holy Spirit and commissioned by the prophets and teachers at the new Antioch church and they had been sent on their way. The ministry had proved to be an amazing success. The gospel had been preached throughout the cities and even before the proconsul of Cyprus. Churches had been planted in the face of persecution and had created rumblings as far back as Jerusalem.
A PLANNED VISIT
And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are." (Acts 15:36).
The days between the first missionary journey and this one had not been idle. Paul and Barnabas had been forced to travel to a council in Jerusalem to make a defense of the gospel before the church. The controversy had been sharp, but the church had come to the agreement that Gentiles do not need to become Jewish in order to be recognized as a part of the church.
Now that this controversy is behind them and they are back in Antioch, they begin to plan for a return trip to the churches they planted in the first missionary journey. They had preached the gospel and had planted these churches; now they wanted to make certain that the churches were growing properly.
This tells me something of the Christian life. The Christian life begins with a single step. It begins with faith in Jesus Christ and in the sacrifice that was made upon the cross. If you have never come to Christ, then you need to take that first step. But the Christian life doesn’t stop there. The Christian life is likened, not to a single step, but to a walk. It consists of a continuation of steps.
A CAUSE FOR DISAGREEMENT
And Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. (Acts 15:37-38).
A problem arose when it became time to select the mission team for the return trip. The problem centered around a young man named John. Though his name was John, we are told that he regularly went by the name of Mark. John is a Hebrew name. Mark (or MarkoV as it appears in the Greek text) is the Greek form of a Latin name. It seems to have been fairly common for the Jewish Christians to adopt a Greek or Latin name so as to better reach out to those people groups.
John Mark had been a part of the first missionary team in taking the gospel to Cyprus. He is described in Acts 13:5 as their "helper." If Paul and Barnabas were the two lead missionaries, then he was the junior missionary. He was the assistant. The problem is that he had not completed his missionary assignment. He had gone with Barnabas and Paul through Cyprus, but when they had read the mainland of Anatolia, he had turned back. Verse 38 says that he had deserted them in Pamphylia. The Greek word used here is apostanta (aorist participle of afisthmi). It is the word from which we get our modern term "apostasy."
We don’t know why it was that John Mark had turned back. He may have had reasons for doing so. But Paul did not think they were adequate. He did not wish a repeat performance.
Barnabas, on the other hand, felt differently. He wanted to give the young man another chance. After all, he had given Paul another chance. Why not John Mark?
Barnabas likely had another reason for wanting to bring Mark. It is not mentioned here in the book of Acts, but in Colossians 4:10, Paul refers to Mark as the cousin of Barnabas. John Mark was family.
There is a tendency for most of us to overlook the faults of family. Why is that? Perhaps it is because we know the background to those faults. Or perhaps we have just learned to live with that person, faults and all. Or perhaps it is because we see the ties of family as stronger than the faults.