Study No. 18 - The ‘Wiles’ of the Devil Chapter 15:36 - 41
In our last study we read about a most serious situation developing in the Church of Antioch, Syria. It was so serious, in fact, that they saw the need for outside help. They reached out to the apostles in Jerusalem and asked them to listen and make a ruling about the problem. It was dealt with in an orderly manner. The apostles found it wise and necessary to write their decision in the form of a letter, send it by the hands of trusted individuals who would also ‘say the same things’ as what the letter contained, and then the comment was made in the letter … the ones who have come to you from Jerusalem with this divisive teaching, were not sent by us. They had no right to say what they did, and to make it worse, they had no right to claim that we had sent them.
The extent of the subversive attack
We talked in the previous lesson also about the extent of this disruption and division, and that it was not isolated to one church. Paul discovered that these individuals have been all through Galatia, going from church to church and ‘re-teaching’ them. This is brought out in the letter that Paul wrote to the Galatian churches shortly after coming back to Antioch from Jerusalem (Gal 2:1,2).
A couple of high points in Paul’s letter:
- This ‘new’ teaching is a different gospel altogether. There is no other Gospel. Whoever it might be that introduces a new gospel … Let them be accursed!!!
- These men who came to you with this ‘new teaching’ regarding circumcision … actually had to ‘sneak’ in – they were not sent by nor endorsed by the church in any sense at all. (Ga 2:4)
- Even Peter had retained some of the Jewish Supremacy attitude – even though he knew better, and prior to the meeting in Jerusalem had a ‘run-in’ with Paul about it. (Gal 2:11-21)
- Barnabas even was affected by Jewish Supremacy (Gal 2:13)
Question – Did Paul’s letter to Galatians correct the problem?
This question evidently was on Paul's mind as well.
Ac 15:36 ¶ Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, [and see] how they are doing."
In this section of Acts we have:
1. The decision to visit the churches of Galatia.
- The decision is Paul’s initiative.
- Barnabas agrees but wants to bring Mark with them
- Paul does not agree to bringing Mark, who had deserted them during the prior tour.
- The decision is stalemated. (37-38)
How do we get along with other believers, (in a close working relationship) when the potential for disagreement in procedure and direction exists?
Here in Acts we have the account of what they did.
- Both refused to budge
- They parted company
- They agreed to disagree?
If we were treating the book of Acts as a teaching/doctrine book (similar to one of the Epistles), we might try to adopt their practice or solution. But the book of Acts is not a teaching book but an accurate record of the history of the early church and the record of the spreading of the gospel into the whole world. However we CAN learn from their situation, even if it means NOT doing what they did. We will talk more about this in the last part of this study.
Second Missionary journey
a. Barnabas takes John Mark, travels over the same circuit that he and Paul had traveled originally. We have no record at all of what they found on the island of Cypress, or of just how far they traveled or when they returned. Nothing at all is mentioned regarding this trip. Later in scripture, however, we do find several references to Mark. The first is a mention by Paul while he is in a Roman prison, that Mark is there with him. Aristarchus is said to be a ‘fellow prisoner’, so Mark likely could have been Paul’s personal ‘valet’.
b. Paul chooses a man named Silas. This is the same Silas who had resided in Jerusalem, and then after the ‘council’ which met to solve the Jew-Gentile thing, he was one of the ones sent to affirm the message of the Apostles regarding the issue. He decided to stay on at Antioch and happened to still be there when Paul suddenly needed a new traveling companion. Silas also goes by the name ‘Silvanus’ in scripture. Traveling North and West from Antioch, the team ‘strengthen’ churches in Syria, then in Cilicia. We pick it up from there in the next chapter.
The Dispute between Barnabas and Paul
Regarding the dispute and solution that Paul and Barnabas experienced … if we should not necessarily copy their behavior … what would you have done? Or better still, what is a believer supposed to do?
Is it possible that Paul and Barnabas ‘dropped the ball’ here? They have recently seen a huge dispute settled in a wonderful way. Could they not have … or should they not have sought for a better solution?
Let’s take another look at the procedure that was used in our last study … to settle the dispute regarding imposing Jewish rites upon Gentiles as a requirement before they could be saved, and see whether some or all of these steps or principles could have been used to come to an agreement.
1) If an issue is a matter of practice and preference – learn to concede (Romans 14:1-23, 15:1)
2) If it affects the message that leads to eternal life …. Fight. Jude says 1:3
3) Seek independent, unbiased help.
4) Do not malign the opponents nor discuss the issue with anyone who is not part of the solution.
5) Allow for both sides of the issue to be presented and heard.
6) listen to the counsel of those who are appointed to conciliate.
7) Sometimes compromise is a good word.
8) Graciously accept the wisdom that is given.
9) Follow through with fixing the issue … applying the wisdom and reinforce the truth in such away that this problem does not return.
If they had looked at number 2 they would conclude that this is not a matter that affects doctrine … especially the doctrine of salvation. So number 1 says … concede. I don’t think making a concession was in Paul’s or Barnabas’ thinking at all.
They probably could have benefited from seeking outside help. But look at the ramifications here:
Would they seriously go to the apostles about something like this? That would look very petty. If not to the apostles, then to whom would they go? After all, they are themselves ‘church leaders’. They should be able to deal with it.
And what is the issue really?
Barnabas wants to take his nephew, Mark. Paul does not. Why? Because he deserted them last time. With Paul it is … One strike and you are out!
Barnabas wants to take him … He is more like “three strikes and you are out”.
His reasoning might be something like:
“Paul, let’s give him another chance.”
Paul’s reasoning …
“No! We need someone we can count on. Churches are giving good money for this trip … we can not justify spending it on someone who was a quitter last time. Mark needs to learn a lesson here. Going to war for God is not some kind of picnic.”
“He says he is sorry for last time.” “No!”
“It won’t happen again.” “No!”
“)He really WANTS to come” “No!”
“I gave YOU a chance when nobody else would.” “I don’t care. Doesn’t apply here.”
“He’s my nephew and I’m taking him” “Seriously? Go by yourself then.”
What are Barnabas’ reasons for insisting on taking Mark?
-Barnabas is a believer in giving people a chance and a second chance. He is the encourager. He believes in people when no one else will.
-Mark is his sister’s son. Mark perhaps admires his uncle which in turn causes Barnabas to like Mark.
-Barnabas may have promised his sister, and he wants to make good on that promise.
- To refuse Mark now, Barnabas reasons, might really offend him. We have talked about forgiveness and the love of God, and if we do this to him now maybe it will affect his walk with God the rest of his life.
Why is Paul so adamant in saying ‘No!’?
Perhaps Paul was very inconvenienced when their ‘helper’ ditched them. It may have created a difficulty that angered him for many miles. Anger over his desertion could have turned into a full-fledged strong dislike for the boy. If he ever saw him again it would be too soon.
Paul may have been one to want to teach a good lesson. People need to learn to not “put their hand to the plow and then look back” (Jesus’ words in Luke 9:62).
“Jesus said, any man who is not willing to take up his cross and follow me, is not worthy of me. He likes the travel and the sights, but Mark was unwilling to bear the cross. He is unworthy as servant-minister. He needs to recognize the meaning of commitment. He is well aware of Ec 5:4 ¶ When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed— and Ec 5:5 Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.
Blessed are the peacemakers …
(Note: to be a peacemaker, it is usually best to wait until you are asked.)
Pr 26:17 ¶ He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears.)
Had they talked with James, he may have said,
“Judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)
Later in Paul’s ministry God gave him the words in I Corinthians 13 …
1Co 13:4 ¶ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
James may also have asked them to stop and be quiet before the Lord and said, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
At any rate, we must conclude that in MOST cases there is fault to be found on both sides of those in a ‘dead-locked’ dispute. It is always right to pray for wisdom and to extend mercy and grace. It is always right to apply scripture (Scripture is God speaking … we must let Him speak).
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, (2Ti 3:16)
So Barnabas take Mark and travels from church to church, beginning on the isle of Cyprus.
Paul takes Silas and travels overland to Asia minor, from church to church.
There is a positive ending.
God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. We are not God. We make mistakes in our relationship with other believers that turn out badly. I am reminded of the sad commentary of how Joseph was treated by his brothers, ended up sold as a slave to Egypt. But in the end Joseph said to them, "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. (Genesis 50:20)
How did God take this division between two loving brothers and bring about some kind of good out of it?
In the long run
1. More places get visited
2. More hands are employed
a. John Mark received valuable experience from this trip and grows into a man of God.
b. Silas is ‘new’ to this kind of work He is mentioned is several of Paul’s letters and we come to see how he, too, grew into a valuable worker in God’s kingdom.
(The concluding verse likely applies to Barnabas and Mark as well.)
And he (Paul) went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (v41).
In this study we see Paul replacing Barnabas with a man named Silas. In the next section we see him replacing Mark with a man named Timothy.
Scan through the books of First and Second Timothy and list some of the qualities, positive or negative about Timothy and comment on the potential that Paul sees in him and note the affection that he has for this young man.