Divide and Multiply

After the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:4, 5), Paul and Barnabas wanted to go back through the cities of the first missionary journey to strengthen the believers and see how they were doing (Acts 15:36). When the Spirit of God moves we need to be in a position to not only hear from Him but to act in obedience to His call. If we don’t, we will be miserable. One encouragement for me is that God does not use perfect people, but flawed ones like you and me.

On this second journey, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark (Acts 15:37) but Paul sharply disagreed (Acts 15:38) because of John Mark bailing on him back in Pamphylia (Acts 13:5, 13-14, 15:38). So Barnabas took Mark and Paul enlisted a young man named Silas (Acts 15:40); basically two teams going out rather than only one.

The story is deeper since Mark was more than just a fellow believer, he was Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10). Blood was thicker than water, they were a team, and Barnabas was still the “son of encouragement.” Strong emotions can bring on sharp disagreements, and both men were upset at this argument. Disagreements tend to cause people to take sides. I wonder if someone always has to be right or has to be wrong. Sometimes we just disagree.

Both men are assumed to be under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit cannot have two separate opinions, can He? Regarding John Mark, I suppose the Spirit could have said “yes” to Barnabas and “no” to Paul, both following the Spirit’s direction. As a result of this disagreement, these two preachers became four. While the Bible is clear that unity is a value that needs to be in the church, sometimes God wants to divide in order to multiply. People in churches today argue over worship styles and music, but does someone have to be right and the other have to be wrong? Why not both, not two services can reach even more people.

I discovered a four item checklist for resolving conflict:

  1. Identify the real source of the argument (Job 16:3): In Job’s case, the question is basically, “What’s wrong with you? Why do you keep arguing?” The Message puts it this way, “I’ve had all I can take of your talk. What a bunch of miserable comforters! Is there no end to your windbag speeches?” Ask the Holy Spirit to shed light on the true source of the disagreement. Sometimes God will reveal selfishness or an unwillingness to change. The Holy Spirit reveals our motives.
  2. Submit the issue to God (James 4:7): Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you. Do not let sin or anger give the devil a foothold in your life. Ask God to remove all worldliness and selfishness and watch the issue come down to size.
  3. Resist the temptation to sin in your anger (Ephesians 4:26-27): While anger is not a sin, what we do in our anger is often quite sinful. Sin that comes out of anger will create regrets over what we said or what we did.
  4. Pray for the other person involved (and maybe pray with that person): Philippians 4:6 invites us to pray about everything. Imagine the enemy’s defeat by two quarreling believers down on their knees in prayer, praying for God’s glory.

Application: None of this is easy. Don’t let fear or difficulty keep you from doing what will bring God the most honor. Think about how you have handled disagreements over the past few months: at work, in your marriage, with your kids. What could have made the situation win-win rather than “I win” and “you lose?” Have you ever felt like John Mark, when someone perhaps did not want you on their team (on the playground or in the board room)? Have you treated others poorly just because they might disagree with your opinion or decision? Sometimes people just have to agree to disagree, and then let it go. Seek the Spirit’s guidance on the direction you need to take.

Have you ever took a John Mark under your wing to bring encouragement and restoration to them? Paul may not have wanted John Mark on the team for this second journey, but at the end of his life, Paul recognized how valuable John Mark was to him (2 Timothy 4:11). Mark even spent time in prison with Paul where they apparently bonded together during this difficult mission (Colossians 4:10). Thank God that our Father is a God of second chances. Let’s give others that same opportunity.

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