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Conflict in the Mission (Acts 15:36-16:5)

Nov 18, 2022 By: Damien Garofalo Topic: Sermon Devotional Series: Acts Scripture: Acts 15:36-16:5)

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. (Acts 15:29-40 ESV)

Does God ever use internal conflict to accomplish his purposes?

In short, yes: God uses all things to accomplish his purposes. If he used the sins of Joseph’s brothers to save Israel and used the betrayal of Judas and cowardly acts of Herod and Pontius Pilate to give us his Son for an atonement for sins, then clearly God can use anything.

The above-mentioned acts, however, were clearly sinful. And we have considered how division within the church is likewise sinful, dangerous, and tragic. But can it be that some conflict – even if it leads to parting ways – is not in itself sinful, and God can use it to multiply kingdom efforts? Our text in Acts 15:29-40 indicates that this might be the case. 

Paul and Barnabas wish to go back and encourage churches they helped to establish, but they are at odds with one another over whether or not to bring John Mark along with them. Previously, Mark had abandoned the mission. Apparently, Barnabas is ready to restore Mark whereas Paul no longer trusts him. Neither man would yield to the other, and two teams instead of one are formed.

Who is correct? Was Paul being needlessly stubborn and unforgiving? Was Barnabas being naive and undiscerning? The Bible does not tell us. In fact, the Bible doesn’t indicate that either man was wrong.

Each man had valid reasons to feel the way that they did. But unlike the previous episode in which the Apostles needed to rebuke the Judiazers for their false gospel, this was not an issue over which to break fellowship. True, two teams formed, but there is no indication that the church split, that one team considered the other team apostate, or that any bitter feelings were harbored. In fact, later in the New Testament, we see all these relationships restored!

The Christian life is filled with both high-level, life-or-death decisions and matters of differing perspectives. Last week’s passage dealt with the former and this week’s passage deals with the latter. What do we do when we disagree with a genuine believer over a matter that scripture doesn’t explicitly address? This Sunday’s text gives us some insight. 

In addition to the wisdom gleaned from the event, our hearts are encouraged in how God used this conflict for his purposes. Because the teams split up, Paul would meet Timothy, one of his chief sons in the faith. God accomplishes his purposes in mysterious ways! To him be all the praise!