And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Acts 15:39a
The church is beautiful, but it is a conglomeration of people, which also makes it messy. Even in the early church, we see two disputes: a macro dispute over salvation (a deal-breaker theological issue) and a micro dispute of differing opinions between two people. There are timeless lessons here when we are faced with both.
Back at Antioch from Jerusalem, the matter of salvation settled and communicated, Paul suggests he and Barnabas return to visit the churches they planted to check on them. Barnabas wants to take John Mark, but Paul argues against it. After all, Mark had let them down on their last missionary journey. Both dig in their heels, “and there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.” Barnabas takes Mark and heads to Cyprus. Paul takes Silas and heads in an entirely different direction. Luke doesn’t say who was at fault…perhaps neither was. Perhaps Barnabas, the encourager, felt his calling in this season was to be an encouragement to Mark. Perhaps it was time to move on; to divide and conquer...no longer one ministry in one place, now two ministries covering even more territory. And on Paul’s new journeys with Silas, Timothy – who becomes like a son to Paul – join them.
Unlike the issue of circumcision for salvation, this was no deal-breaker dispute. Though they didn’t resolve it, they didn’t drag the church down with them. They didn’t let it derail them or cause church friction. They didn’t go out and bash the other, instead, they went out and furthered the Gospel message. They remained united in cause and message, though separated for a time. We see later in Paul’s letters that he ministers with Mark, and even specifically asks for him in his last recorded letter.
Issues of salvation are always worth the fight, but personal preferences and callings may lead us down different paths, which we must walk in love for our brothers and sisters, not as a platform to hurl insults and create disunity. We need discernment about when to dig in our heels and when to agree to disagree. And ALWAYS we need to look to GOD'S WORD.
Questions: How can we be careful to not treat all disputes equally and to know when to fight and when to agree to disagree?