Acceptance – there is a lot of thing in life we just have to accept, and things we should never accept. Knowing the difference is the challenge. This is true in many things including strained relationships. Before my days leading a Celebrate Recovery the “Serenity Prayer” seemed a cliché. Now, after having repeated every week for thirty-seven weeks, the words have sunk into my soul and I realize their incredible power.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
It’s that wisdom to know the difference – that is what keeps us on our knees.
Many years ago my husband wrote an in-depth Bible study on the life of the Apostle Paul, and since then I have been especially captivated by the many human and God-inspired facets of this sinner turned saint. Paul was indeed a “people person.” Although many of his adventurous and dangerous ministry endeavors were circumstances he had to face alone, there were at the same time many close people in his life and they played some important roles.
Of particular interest is Paul’s relationship with Barnabas. This was a close spiritual and destiny-joined relationship. In Acts 13 the Holy Spirit spoke to a small group and said:
Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” Acts 13:2b
We’re not just talking about two great believers who became friends. God put them together and gave them a common destiny, a calling to accomplish in unison, a glorious partnership to complete a specific ministry. And together they made tremendous strides for the gospel.
Consider some of the things which occurred in the relationship of Paul and Barnabas, and how these experiences have a bonding effect when people go through them together:
- Road Trip! Paul and Barnabas not only traveled together, they did so in a place and time where travel was primitive against today’s standards and time-consuming. Think about some of the bonding that has taken place on family road trips, and why we tend to travel with those with whom we feel a closeness.
- Common successes! Paul and Barnabas worked together in boldly proclaiming the good news, and people listened and were converted. Think of how a team grows together when they are working well together and they are on a winning streak.
- Persecution! Nothing brings two people together as much as having opposition.
- Prayer! Real, heart-felt prayer, and much of it is an intimate activity as two people join their souls in seeking the Almighty and clinging to His promises, direction and provision.
- A Shared Goal! Paul and Barnabas were passionate about the ministry God had entrusted to them.
Ponder what a deep spiritual relationship Paul and Barnabas enjoyed.
Until, they had a major disagreement. That’s a polite word for an argument.
The two agreed to revisit all the cities where they previously preached. Then, Barnabas suggested they bring along his cousin John Mark on the journey. Paul didn’t like the idea. He felt so strongly that the two agreed to separate – with both Paul and Barnabas choosing different traveling companions and they split.
The Expositors Bible Commentary explains the situation in these terms:
The fact that Luke does not gloss over the quarrel between Paul and Barnabas shows his honesty. Yet far from letting the disagreement harm the outreach of the Gospel, God providentially used it to double the missionary force, with Barnabas taking Mark and returning to Cypress (cf. 13:4-12)…Paul’s selection of Silas to accompany him on his return visit to the churches was wise…Silas was a leader in the Jerusalem congregation.” by Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III
Could it be that God would allow people of this spiritual stature and depth of relationship to disagree so that their effort might be “doubled”? It’s a curious thought. It is clear in later Scripture that Paul and Barnabas reconciled, and that is key. The “Son of Encouragement” – Barnabas and the major writer of the New Testament certainly knew much about relationships. Yet, they were human and at one point in time struggled with each other.
What can we learn from this incident in the lives of Paul and Barnabas?
- Even the best of friends and ministry partners can have vastly different convictions.
- As Luke reported the event honestly, it does no good to gloss over the incident just as if nothing had occurred.
- If people are committed to not harming the outreach of the Gospel, God can use even these circumstances for the ultimate good and God’s glory.
- If there is a strong disagreement and separation among such people, they are to keep working at reconciliation. It is vital.
Relationships are mysterious, but God gives us examples in Scripture – some to imitate, and some to learn from and not repeat. No one likes strained relationships, especially with people they love and respect. Any ministry worker would look up to and seek to be like someone as a Paul or a Barnabas, human though they were. Their example gives us hope when we are less than perfect, when we have strong convictions that we both think are God-inspired, and also the example of reconciliation at a later point on the journey.