Missionaries—we think of them as some of the most spiritual men and women on the planet. Our churches lay hands on them, and then they go out to a foreign country, proclaim the Gospel, and teach those who believe. Every three years or so they return and give reports on the lives they have seen changed through Jesus. What we don’t want to hear about are their fights that can divide teams. When we do hear about these conflicts, it can cause us to doubt the power of Jesus to maintain love between brothers and sisters in his family. It shouldn’t.
Paul and Barnabas were the first cross-cultural missionaries sent out by a church in the first century. We’ve traveled with them on their first missionary journey and witnessed the establishment of the churches in cities like Antioch of Pisidia, Lystra, and Derbe. They gave glowing reports on the power of God’s grace to change even pagan Gentile lives, but when Paul came up with a plan to return and check on the new baby churches, Barnabas radically disagreed with him about who should go along.
“After some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let’s return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the Word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.’ And Barnabas wanted to take John called Mark with them. But Paul thought it best not to be taking with them one who had deserted them at Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to accomplish the work.
A sharp disagreement erupted, so that Paul and Barnabas separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus, and Paul chose Silas and, after being commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord, traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” Acts 15:36-41
What amazes me about this report concerning the first missionary conflict is that we don’t read about long meetings conducted by the leaders of the church trying to resolve the conflict between Paul and Barnabas. Counseling is one of my gifts, and this means that I would want to get Paul and Barnabas together, allow them both to express their views, work through both of their personality issues, struggle with them toward reconciliation, and then send the team out again. This is not at all what we read in the text.
Sometimes conflicts about personnel can’t be resolved. Paul and Barnabas were both spiritual men. They both had a legitimate position about John Mark, and instead of getting bogged down in hours of debate, the Holy Spirit divided them and sent out two missionary teams instead of one.
I need to learn that the mission of getting out the Gospel of grace and strengthening the believers in churches is too important for me to allow personal disagreements to take me away from the task.
LORD, thanks for the reminder from Luke that I must not get bogged down trying to solve intense conflicts over who serves where and in what positions. Sometimes time is needed to heal conflict, not my reconciling techniques.
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