Some of the most comforting verses of the Bible are found in Acts 15:36-40:
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.
Now before you decide I’ve lost my marbles, let me explain.
The first time we hear of Barnabas, he is selling property to give money to the early Christian church (Acts 4:36,37). The next time, Barnabas is introducing a newly converted Saul of Tarsus to the timid apostles who aren’t sure his conversion is real (Acts 9:26,27). By the third mention, Barnabas and Saul are about to embark on what will forever be known as Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:2,3).
Barnabas is an upstanding Christian. Saul, now Paul, emerges as a leader who will spend his time, energy, and life professing Jesus.
And by Acts 15, these brothers in Christ can’t see eye to eye. As is so often the case in Scripture, we don’t get the full story. We get just enough. Barnabas defends his young cousin Mark, who had deserted them on the first journey. Paul sees Mark as a liability and refuses to work with him. These men who love the Lord and are dedicating their lives to serving him go their separate ways.
I hope you have lived a conflict-free life. I hope you’ve always seen eye to eye with the people in your church. I hope your large extended family of mostly professing Christians spends the majority of days in kumbaya mode instead of beast mode.
But for the rest of us, there’s Acts 15. God included this in the Bible so we would understand that two all-in-for-him men couldn’t work it out, at least for a time. In truth, Barnabas is never mentioned in Scripture again, except in reference to Mark.
Here’s what we know. In 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul asks for Mark, who is helpful to him in ministry. In his letter to the Colossians and Philemon, Paul mentions Mark is with him.
Mark, who was at one time cause for debate, over time became Paul’s ministry partner. The liability became an asset.
And that’s good news. Because families don’t have to stay broken forever. And those we couldn’t work with in the past become older and wiser—as do we. The problems that seemed monumental back then may become cause for little more than a cringe as we mature.
Kingdom work requires all hands on deck. Disagreements arise. Feelings naturally get hurt. Families who love each other and love the Lord sometimes need a two- or three- or four-year break.
But God has a way of working—subtly, patiently—with all his people, especially when we remember to pray for everyone, even those who for a time may be on the frenemy list. Move on, working on whatever kingdom work God has for you, and wait for reconciliation.
There are no sides in heaven. And I’m guessing the welcome home hugs will not be the slightest bit awkward or reserved or hesitant.