What About Disagreements?

Who is comfortable with relationship conflict? Let’s be honest, most of us don’t because either we are unequipped to handle it well or we fear negative outcomes associated with it. Our education system does not teach us healthy conflict resolution. If you were raised in a non-confrontational culture or family, the default is to avoid or run away. 
The truth is that we  all experience differences and disagreements in our relationship with others because God has created us with unique personalities. As we grow in the likeness of Jesus, we will always be sharpening each other and God uses differences to teach us to live in harmony while learning to live in community.
The ultimate good news is that our Lord left us with a great manual on relationships through Bible accounts that openly shows that conflict is a normal part of life. No one is perfect and God’s ultimate goal for us to be reconciled just as He reconciled with us by sending Jesus.
In Acts 15, God gives broad and small strokes on how conflict should be resolved and He shows His sovereignty in working everything for good to bring a good outcome though might seem negative to start with. 
From verses 1- 35, Paul and Barnabas together resolve conflicts on foundational theology and doctrinal issues between legalistic Jewish Christians and new Getinles converts with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  It was settled with the Jerusalem council which became a great milestone for the church to agree on foundational doctrine –  salvation is by grace and faith alone, and not by works (circumcision) because of the irrefutable evidence that the Holy Spirit has been given to the Gentiles 
After this great victory for the church, in Acts 15:36-41, we see that Paul and Barnabas entered into a conflict based on differences of opinions and leadership styles. What seems to be a division between key leaders over a small matter, God used to change the history of the church, and shows us that He is a God who works together for good to those who love him, and He is a God of second chances.  Let’s dive deep and glean lessons from this passage.
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.”  Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.  They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,  but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.  He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. 

Acts 15:36-41 

Context around this passage:
Paul and Barnanbas had ministered together for a decade by bringing the Gospel to the Gentile world. They established churches as they were sent out together in Acts 13:1 becoming key church pillars of the Gentiles. Just before this, it was Barnabas who persuaded the 12 disciples to include Paul into the circle of leadership as he saw God’s call on his life. Barnabas not only encouraged Paul by mentoring him, becoming the best of friends in the ministry. In their first missionary journey they had brought John Mark as a helper, Barnabas’s cousin. However, along the way, John Mark decided to return home to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13) , leaving the mission for reasons unknown to us, as the writer Luke omits details. Perhaps, John Mark being young and inexperienced found the journey challenging and not seeing any immediate results, he left both Paul and Barnabas early on.  
What did Paul and Barnabas agree and disagree upon?
After settling theological disagreements with the Jerusalem council, both Paul and Barnabas agreed on continuing the pastoral work by returning to churches they planted to see how the congregation are doing – a second missions trip!  However sharp disagreement arose when Barnabas was determined to take John Mark as helper, but Paul insisted not to as he had deserted them at Pamphylia, “and had not continued with them in the work”. 
Their disagreement this time was not over a doctrinal, moral, pride, motivation or sin issue, but rather a difference of opinion, leadership style and specific calling of God .
Paul being the great leader thought it was important to have a team member who can be trusted, dependable and unafraid of hard work and persecution, and he thought Mark was not fit for the work. Barnabas being a gracious mentor and knowing his young cousin John Mark needed to grow in maturity, he wanted to give him a second chance, just like he had given to Paul. Both had good values but different perspectives. 
Jesus chose Paul as pioneer and missiologist who expanded the Gospel to Gentiles, and ended up writing one third of the new testament. Truly he was called to build the Kingdom of God.  On the other hand, Jesus gave Barnabas the call to encourage potential leaders by mentoring so they become all God wanted them to be.  
What did they do about their disagreement?

Though neither were wrong, both departed ways to seek what the Lord had put in their hearts. Paul took Silas as companion to Syria and Cicilia, while Barnbas took John Mark to Cyprus. Even though Barnabas was not mentioned again in Acts, it was clear that Paul respected Barnabas and spoke well of him which shows their relationship was on good terms (1 Cor. 9:6). Verse 41 points that God’s will prevailed as the churches were strengthened after this separation.

What about John Mark? 
Barnabas gave Mark a second chance and mentored him. However when Barnabas was martyred for preaching the Gospel, John Mark returned to Rome and connected with the Apostle Peter who became his spiritual father. This young inexperienced man now becomes Peter’s scribe and spiritual son. He recorded all the apostle’s eyewitness accounts of Jesus and thanks to him we have the Gospel of Mark, which is thought to be written before the other Gospels. 
Later on, Paul recognized the growth in Mark and considered him a trusted helper in the Gospel. Paul in the last days of his life deemed him “helpful in his ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).  Mark even spent time in prison with Paul (Colossians 4:10) and he mentioned him in his Epistles (Philemon 1:24).

So what can we glean from this when we are in conflict?

  • God is sovereign and He intends to work out His purpose even through conflicts. The separation of Barnabas and Paul allowed for both to cover different areas with the Gospel in their distinct journeys. (Romans 8:28)
  • God wants us to “Major on the majors, and minor on the minors” –  Both Paul and Barnabas were on the same page when it came to the call of God to spread the Gospel. Their mindset was – “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”  (Ephesians 4:1-6)
  • We see that conflict is natural and it is okay to agree to disagree without compromising God’s truth,  mission and purpose. Romans 12:18 says If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 
  • Every person comes with a different value and perspective, so seek out to understand each other before making a decision for the greater goal. 
  • Pray and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and understanding when in conflict. We do not see neither Paul nor Barnabas pray about this situation, and we wonder if the separation was not as drastic if they had prayed about it. 
  • God is a God of second chances. Barnabas showed grace and built John Mark up and God eventually used John Mark mighty in His Kingdom. 
  • Separation sometimes is good (except in the case of marriage relationships) and can bring good outcomes. 
God’s ultimate desire and outcome of any conflict is reconciliation. We see that both Paul, Barnabas and John Mark reconciled. Today if you are in conflict with someone else, I encourage you to take steps to see the conflict through God’s eyes and trust that he will work things out for the good and he will give you a second chance, if you were the cause of the conflict. And, if you are at odds with God, know that it was through Jesus that God reconciled us to Himself, and not counting our offensive sin and disagreements against us by accepting Christ in your heart.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says – We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.