“And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.” (Acts 15:39–41, AV)
When I was in college, I had a 1970 Chevy Monte Carlo. The car purred like a kitten. I parked it one night and when I went to get the car to go somewhere, it was gone. It was insured and I began looking for another car. However, at the same time, my dad’s stepsister needed money to pay back taxes on her house. My dad asked me if she could have the insurance money to pay off the taxes. So, I said yes.
The situation with the car is the back story because something happened between my dad and his stepsister after that. To this day I do not know what it was. I have a feeling that it had to do with my dad requesting that my aunt pay back the money a little at a time so I could replace the car. Though I just do not know. Anyway, I never saw my aunt again and neither did my dad. Some sort of contention caused a rift in the family that, as far as I know, was never resolved.
These types of rifts in relationships are quite common in our world. They even happen between believers. However, even though we believers so often fail, God is faithful (2 Tim 2:13). God has a greater plan. His ways are higher than ours (Isa 55:8-9). He even has a greater plan in the midst of our shortcomings. This we see here as Paul and Barnabas come to a place of sharp contention.
After the great victory for the gospel in conference in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas take the letter to Antioch. There is great rejoicing over the assurance the letter brought to the believers there. Paul and Barnabas continue to preach and teach the word there. Then they are led to continue their missionary endeavor. However, there is a dispute regarding John Mark. Barnabas believes that Mark should go with them and Paul vehemently disagrees. The reason is that Mark joined them on their former journey and then deserted them in Pamphylia. The argument was so strong that Paul and Barnabas separate from each other. Paul chose Silas and went one way while Barnabas took Mark and went to Cyprus.
At first glance, we look at this and see a very sad situation. Barnabas was the one who formerly had testified of Paul’s conversion to the elders in Jerusalem, when they did not believe Saul/Paul was a true disciple (Acts 9:26-27). Barnabas was the one who summoned Paul to come help in the ministry to the fledgling church in Antioch (Acts 11:25-26). The church at Antioch sent out Paul and Barnabas together on an extensive and successful missionary endeavor (Acts 13:1-3). Now they were at odds with one another. We look at Paul in this situation, and we jump to the conclusion that he was being harsh, impatient, and unwilling to give Mark a second chance.
Yet, there is good news. God is still in control, even in the midst of our failures. First, we see that now the missionary effort is doubled. There are two thrusts, one by Paul and his team and another by Barnabas and his. Second, Barnabas is the best one to restore and mentor John Mark. We find that Mark, rather than the weak one who previously deserted the team, becomes a faithful servant of the Lord (Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Phile 24; 1 Pet 5:13). Moreover, while Paul is in his Roman incarceration, he sends for Mark, then recognizing Mark’s value as a servant of the Lord (2 Tim 4:11).
We must remember God is faithful even when we are not.