Christians can have some sharp disagreements. Just look at the sheer number of evangelical denominations in our day, or the points of contention within denominations or theological tribes. The current debate over how to biblically address “social justice” is one such disagreement. These kinds of divisions can discourage us, give us pain, and even challenge our faith.
But disagreements among Christians are nothing new. Indeed, the very apostle who exhorted Christians to be “of the same mind” (Phil. 2:2) didn’t always attain that ideal himself.
In Acts 15:36–41, we read the sad story of a sharp disagreement between the apostle Paul and his close companion Barnabas. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark along on their next missionary journey, but Paul disagreed, because Mark had deserted them earlier (Acts 13:13). What made their disagreement so disheartening was the subsequent division that resulted. But the Bible’s purpose in revealing these sad realities is to instruct, not to discourage.
So let’s assess the incident briefly, and then draw some lessons from it.
Who Was Right?
Consider the matter from both men’s perspectives. Paul’s rationale is given in the text: John Mark had deserted his post. Surely such defection was a serious matter (Luke 9:62; Prov. 25:19). What captain would be eager to take along a soldier who’d just deserted his unit on an earlier mission? It certainly seems, then, that Paul was acting according to biblical principle.
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