When Division Is More: A Look at Acts 15

Division in church is bad. Everyone will tell you that. I won’t disagree, but I would like to point out that perspective is everything.  And in Acts 15 division led to multiplication and growth.

So should we condemn the process when it results in positive outcomes?

Division in church is not what God wants. But I want to look at the text from a recent sermon at New Hope and talk about why I believe division among members might be impossible to avoid, why it doesn’t have to have negative results, and how it can even *gasp* have positive results.

Dissension on the Team

Let’s put this story in context. This happened after the big convention in Jerusalem to discuss if circumcision should be required for Gentile converts.

Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.  And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. – Acts 15:35-36

Apparently, both Silas and John Mark returned to Antioch after the meet-up in the Jewish capital. Paul and Barnabas kept working together at their sending church, and God laid it on Paul’s heart to go on another missionary journey.

He wanted to encourage the new churches they had established on their first trip. Barnabas agreed it was an excellent idea. To me, it’s clear that God was laying this on their hearts.

But what happened next was a disagreement. How could two people who are following God disagree?

First of all, it’s important to note their disagreement wasn’t doctrinal. Doctrine is doctrine. There is no room for interpretation or compromise when it comes to what God’s Word states.

Secondly, God had given these men different missions. This is clear because He told Paul he would be a minister to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15) . And we know that Barnabas is an encourager, a person who comes alongside others and helps them achieve their potential (Acts 4:36).

God Working in Hearts

These are God’s men. I’m not saying they handled this disagreement perfectly. Sometimes, we mess up. I talked about Mark’s mistakes last week.

But, it seems clear, that their difference of opinion was motivated by God working behind the scenes in their hearts.

And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. – Acts 15:37-38

Barnabas felt the Spirit leading him to encourage young Mark. Mark had made a mistake, but Barnabas knew there was great potential in him. He wanted to give the “boy” (most definitely a man by this time, but you know how an older relative always thinks you’re a kid) a second chance.

Maybe Paul thought Barnabas was biased by their familial relationship. Maybe they argued. All we know for sure is that Paul did not believe Mark was who God wanted on the team for this second missionary journey.

I do believe it’s clear that the mission to return and encourage the young churches was from God. And that Paul was the person God wanted to do this.

If both Paul and Barnabas were being led by the Spirit, how come they argued?

Being right doesn’t always mean we handle situations in the best manner.  Even if we’re godly like Paul and Barnabas.

The next verse, Acts 15:39,  tells us their was contention between these two godly men who had been friends and partners for several years. Indeed, the disagreement was so sharp it caused them to go separate ways.

What does “separate ways” mean? I don’t believe this means they weren’t friends. I don’t think they never spoke to each other again. Why? Because these men understood the importance of unity.

If harsh words were exchanged, they apologized. They didn’t let their differences become something problematic for the church.

I can “prove” this by what happened next. They kept working for the Lord and spreading the Gospel.

When we let our humanity rule in these situations, one or both “offended” parties will quit church. They’ll spread their anger to all their acquaintances. What should be a simple clash of personalities and opinions becomes a church split or something even worse.

That didn’t happen. What happened is that God got His way.

Division Means Multiplication

Division – as in the opposite of unity – will always deplete the body of believers. That didn’t happen in Antioch during the first century.

In math, division and multiplication are inverse operations.  This mean they are exactly the opposite of each other.

It’s nice to know that math works a bit differently in God’s Kingdom. He divided this successful missionary team. And on the other side, He turned one team into two.

Barnabas took Mark to Cyprus. They preached the Gospel. Mark grew into a mature Christian, and he stayed the course for their trip.

Paul paired up with Silas, and they returned through Asia to confirm all the churches there.  Believers were encouraged, and God opened the doors into Macedonia for this duo. The Word of the Lord increased.

Now that’s the kind of multiplication only Almighty God can bring from a disagreement between two of his men.

I hope today’s post gave you a different perspective about this story. I don’t believe I’ve added anything to what the Bible says, and I know my thoughts came from personal experience and revelation guided by the Holy Ghost.

What do you think? Can an argument with a friend happen if both of you are listening to God’s will?

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