When Paul and Barnabas decided to go on a second missionary journey together they ran into some problems. I think we can learn something from them about how to handle the problem of differing opinions in the Church. Barnabas wanted to take his cousin John Mark along with them on the journey. Paul did not think it wise to take him because John Mark had deserted them on their first missionary journey.
Who was right in this situation? That is hard to say. From a distant vantage point, one can see both points of view. Barnabas wanted to give his cousin a second chance. Paul didn’t want to potentially sacrifice the success of their mission and the lives that could be won to Christ. This difference of opinion led to an impasse. Maybe if Barnabas had appealed to Scriptural precedence for a second chance, like the second chance that God gave Jonah to go to Ninevah, maybe Paul would have been won over. Or maybe if they had discussed the matter with others in the Church at Antioch Paul’s heart could have been softened, or Barnabas could have compromised. But the only solution Paul and Barnabas came up with was to part company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for his home country of Cyprus once again. Paul chose Silas and left, with the commendation of the Church in Antioch, for Syria and Cilicia.
What we need to see here is that even when we face the problem of division in the Church, God can use those divisions to bring about his own good purposes. We shouldn’t use this fact as an excuse to pursue divisiveness. Division is almost always the result of sin on someone’s part. Jesus prayed for unity among his disciples and we need to pray for and aggressively pursue such unity. But when we can’t see our way forward together–God can even use our divisions.
How did God use division in the case of Barnabas and Paul? Well, it was better for Paul and Barnabas to part peaceably rather than stay together and fight. And God used this division to reach more people with the Gospel. Instead of just one missionary team going out, two were sent. One to Cyprus, the other to Asia Minor and eventually to the European continent.
Within some twelve years, Paul had reconsidered his attitude toward John Mark. When Paul wrote to the Colossians and Philemon Mark was obviously with him for Paul sent greetings to the Colossians and Philemon from Mark. And he told the Colossians: “You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him” (Colossians 4:10). Perhaps as much as five years later, when Paul was languishing in a dungeon in Rome, he wrote to his protégé Timothy and said: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). This same John Mark became an associate of the Apostle Peter and was, most likely, the author of the second Gospel. There are times in our lives when we need to look back on previous problems and seek reconciliation and forgiveness just like Paul did.