This is the conclusion of a six-part series on Acts 15.
Conflict is inevitable for a church which operates without the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit (Acts 15.36-41). It was God’s will for Paul and Barnabas to separate and take new partners as they headed out on another missionary journey. However, it wasn’t God’s will Do for them to be contentious with one another?
When we read the last paragraph of Acts 15, we and are even more convinced that we are reading the very words of God. If a man came up with this account, he would never cast Paul or Barnabas in such a negative light. But all things are naked and open before God the Holy Spirit.
Beginning a second missionary journey is a good thing. Barnabas wants to give John-Mark another opportunity to be help. After all, the difficulties during the first missionary journey were very great. Listen to what Paul himself tells us about it in 2 Corinthians 11.23-27:
Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness…
While the contention was sharp, Paul and Barnabas eventually agreed to disagree on taking John-Mark. They didn’t stay contentious and bitter or else they would not have been able to effectively minister. The big mistake both made is that they didn’t seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We know this without a doubt because the Spirit may lead us in different directions, but He never does so through sharp contention.
Paul wanted helpers that wouldn’t cave under great pressure. Barnabas wanted to restore John-Mark to useful ministry. Both men have a point, but they were wrong in assuming that God wanted them to stay together. God’s will was for them to split in two teams. Paul and Silas would tackle the difficult aspects of the second missionary journey; Barnabas and John-Mark would go to Cyprus, a place where John-Mark would more readily learn how to stand for Jesus Christ.
God’s will is to lead us as we pray and reason together with loving, kind words. We must learn to operate as a church under the watchful eye of God. We must be constantly fed and led together by the Holy Spirit. How can we put ourselves in a place where this kind of cooperation flourishes?
- Remain dependent. God guides the humble in justice; the humble He teaches His way (Psalm 25.9).
- Learn from God. God instructs and teaches the church in the way it should go (Psalm 32.8).
- Feed on His Word and will. God will guide us with His counsel, and afterward receive us to glory (Psalm 73.24). God must open our eyes in order that we might see wondrous things from His Word/law (Psalm 119.18). “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30.21).
- Receive daily mercy and refreshing. God has mercy on us and thus will lead us and guide us to springs of water (Isaiah 49.10).
- Be filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is here to guide us into all truth (John 16.13). Those led by the Holy Spirit are sons of God (Romans 8.14). If you are led by the Holy Spirit, you are not under the law (Galatians 5.18). The Holy Spirit illumines the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make us wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3.15).
The glory of God and the purity of doctrine are maintained during times of conflict in the local church only through the practice of biblical separation and biblical unity. While conflict is inevitable in a local church, it is deserved when the church leadership and congregation fails to seek guidance from God. The Holy Spirit gives a responsibility to each of us in order to resolve inevitable conflict within the church.