Your Change of Heart, My Change of Heart (and Paul’s change of heart)–Acts 15:36-41

God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.

In our last post from the book of Acts we saw that the early church had disputes, and, we learned about the process the early church used to settle disputes. If you’re interested you can learn more here: Circumcision, Christians, and Christian Disputes–Acts 15:1-35.

In today’s post we’ll look at another dispute. A “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas.

Acts 15:36-41

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Acts 15:36-41

Paul and Barnabas are just coming off a dispute about whether or not Gentile believers should be circumcised and made to follow the laws of Moses. Paul and Barnabas resolved the matter by bringing the disagreement to the Apostles in Jerusalem. The Apostles sent Paul, Barnabas, and two other men back to Antioch where they shared the letter outlining what was expected of Gentile believers.

After some days, Paul says to Barnabas: Let’s go back to the brothers in every city where we shared Jesus and see how they’re doing.

But Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them. And Paul thought it would be best if they didn’t take John Mark along, because he had left them in Pamphylia during their last mission trip. (Acts 13:13)

And there arose a sharp disagreement. They each felt so strongly about their respective positions that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed to Cyprus. And Paul took Silas along to Syria and Cilicia.

Another Disagreement, A Different Outcome

So here we have a second dispute within the church in Antioch, and this time the disagreement was between the two founders.

The first thought that came to mind when I read this was, “Which one was right?”

But after some study and after thinking about it, I realized they both had sound logic behind their positions.

Barnabas is saying: Yeah, sure, John Mark made a mistake when he left us in Pamphylia but who doesn’t make mistakes? We all make mistakes. Let’s give him another chance. To Barnabas’s point, John Mark would go on to pen one of the gospels, the book of Mark, probably the recollections of Peter who would later disciple John Mark. Can you imagine being discipled by Peter and being commissioned by God to write one of the gospels? What an honor.

And Paul is saying: The work is too important and too dangerous, so, you know, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to take someone along who’s not the right person for the mission. Seal Team Six couldn’t take everyone who wanted to go with them on their mission to take out Osama bin Laden. These are tough decisions but they’re decisions that have to be made.

Both Paul and Barnabas have a point.

So I don’t think it’s so much a matter of who was right and who was wrong. I think what we can learn from this is the way the dispute wasn’t settled.

They didn’t settle the dispute about John Mark the way they settled the dispute about circumcision. And the result was a sharp disagreement. To be fair to Paul and Barnabas, it’s likely that it wasn’t practical for them to journey to Jerusalem again so they could bring this second matter before the Apostles. But like any father, our Father in heaven doesn’t want us to be in opposition toward each other. “By this all people will know we’re his disciples, if we have love for each other,” Jesus said. (John 13:35)

Some Bible teachers have said God wanted them to separate so they could cover more ground. Of course that’s possible but on the other hand: God uses everything. When David wound up with Bathsheba for a wife as a result of his sins, God made their child Solomon Israel’s king and he used Solomon to bring peace and to bless Israel and the entire region. He even used Solomon to write scripture.

So if Paul and Barnabas had decided to do things Paul’s way, I believe God would have used them to accomplish great things for His kingdom.

And if Paul and Barnabas had decided to do things Barnabas’s way, I believe God would have used them to accomplish great things for His kingdom.

Of course, what happened was, they separated, and, of course, because God uses everything, God used them all to accomplish great things for His kingdom.

Paul’s Change of Heart

It’s fascinating to me to see what Paul wrote after these events in Acts chapter 15 occurred. Sometime after his disagreement with Barnabas, Paul wrote this: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)

And at the end of his life, regarding John Mark, Paul wrote:

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.”

2 Timothy 4:6-11

Bring John Mark, Paul wrote! For he is very useful to me for ministry. The exact opposite of his opinion at an earlier time in his life during Acts chapter 15.

Finally, I can’t help but wonder if Paul didn’t have these events from Acts chapter 15 in mind when he wrote 1 Corinthians 13:

“And I will show you a still more excellent way,” Paul begins. (1 Corinthians 12:31) And then he writes:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:1-7

Love “does not insist on it’s own way,” Paul wrote!

Did you catch that?

All this was written by Paul after his disagreement with Barnabas in chapter 15.

Your Change of Heart, and My Change of Heart

So here’s the thing: Why wait until you have a sharp disagreement?

We can learn from experience but it can be someone else’s experience. It doesn’t have to be our own experience.

So why not learn from Paul?

I’m pleading with own my inner man right now, and I’m pleading with your inner man too, or inner woman:

Wherever you can, don’t insist on your own way.

Go the way of love.

“Father, we’re pleading with our inner selves right now and we’re pleading with You! Please change us. Make each one of us a person who does not insist on their own way. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit and help us to go the way of love.

“In Jesus’ name we ask this of You.


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One Comment on “Your Change of Heart, My Change of Heart (and Paul’s change of heart)–Acts 15:36-41

  1. Pingback: The Birth of Jesus and Jesus’ Rights — Luke 2:1-21 (and Acts 16:1-5) | God Running

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