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People and Personalities – Acts 15:36-41


People and Personalities

Acts 15:36-41

Personality clashes in churches are nothing new. 

Back in Acts Luke records the history of the early church, warts and all.  When a huge personality clash split the first missionaries up, Luke faithfully records it, makes no attempt whatsoever to cover it up, or airbrush it out of history.  He records it for our benefit and our learning…

1 A Good Intention.  Acts 15:36   

Good intentions

Let’s remember what has transpired so far.   When Paul’s first mission trip ended the missionaries made their way back to Antioch in Syria, where they were soon to be confronted by a controversy, when some people from Jerusalem, seemingly with some official sanction, began to warn them that it was impossible to be a Christian without first becoming a Jew. Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to present the case for salvation by grace alone.  When they arrived a great council was held, and after arguments from each side, it was decided that the scriptures taught that the Gentiles were part of God’s eternal plan of salvation for all nations, and the no further burden should be laid upon them, except that they should exercise some basic courtesy and discernment when they were with their Jewish brethren.  The decree was carried personally from Jerusalem to Antioch by representatives of the Jerusalem elders, Judas and Silas, and the result was rejoicing among the brethren.

But Paul has an adventurous spirit and his second missionary adventure is about to begin.  He proposes that both he and Barnabas should return to Asia, and visit all the churches where they had preached, and see how they are getting on.   Not to seek reward or thanks from the Christians, but to build them up and encourage them n the Lord.  It seemed like a good idea at the time!

2 A Grievous Contention.  Acts 15:37-38 

Theres a problem, and it’s a huge clash over personalities, in fact it’s a problem that so frequently gets reflected and repeated in the modern church too.  Families!  It’s a…

  • A diplomatic minefield.  Family loyalty in the Lord’s work.  Remember that John Mark first appeared on the church scene in Acts 12:12 as a boy in the home of his mother, who owned the home where the church was meeting for prayer.  Now Barnabas and Mark were related and when you are dealing with family relationships in a church, there can be serious problems.   How many people have fallen out with other Christians or a church because a family member has strayed, and they have taken his side, even though he is clearly in the wrong?  It’s a minefield, and what is about to happen among the missionaries.  
  • The reward of unreliability.  Barnabas wants to take Mark with them on the journey.     Acts 13:3  Paul doesn’t want to take him a second time.  He had ‘not gone to the work.’  Perhaps Paul was simply remembering in the words of Jesus, in Luke 9:62 Or perhaps Proverbs 25:19 
  • The depth of disagreement among brethren.  Now notice the great animosity that developed between Paul and Barnabas…. The contention became so sharp that they parted from one another!  They fell out over the matter.  Neither man would back down and the result was a serious breach among servants of God.   
A division among brethren can imperil the church

In some sense this gives us hope, for we look upon these men as the fathers of the church. These great men are sinners, just like us!  They have faults, like we do, they are just men, not heroes, and just as God used them to further his kingdom, so he uses us. 

3 A Godly Commendation. Acts 15:49-40  

I wonder how this disagreement would have affected the local church at Antioch?  Contention among leading brethren within the church always spreads and always affects the local assembly and the overall witness of the church. Splits and schisms are serious.   Would individuals in the church at Antioch have started to take sides?  Notice the subtle difference in the way their departures are recorded:-

  • Barnabas and Mark. Their departure seems to go almost unnoticed by the church – certainly there is no record of a commissioning service, or even of an endorsement.  And they sailed to Cyprus, where there had been little accomplished on the first journey, and where little seems to have been achieved on this trip either.  There was no record of a thriving witness on the island before AD322.   But Cyprus was a natural choice for Barnabas, for it was where he grew up, (Acts 4:36-37) and perhaps Barnabas felt more comfortable confining his work to the synagogues, among the Jews and proselytes – which would be good in itself, but would not be the specific vision of the Antiochene Church who were the hub of gospel outreach to the Gentile world.
  • Paul and Silas.  Now notice the contrast.  Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God.  Luke records that Paul and Silas left on their mission with the approval and blessing of the local church, something he does not record for Barnabas and Mark.

There is one more thing we should note regarding this commendation.  They were commended by the brethren to the grace of God. The church at Antioch took the most important step to protect and reassure the missionaries – they commended them to God, who in his grace and favour would look after them.  Shouldn’t we?  When loved ones are facing situations outside our powers of intervention and control, should not we place them in the hands of the God who alone can go with them, wherever they go, watching over them and protecting them, even when they walk in the valley of the shadow of death!


The rift between Paul and Mark wasn’t permanent.  We always ought to be temperate when we have to criticise others, for who knows that in later days we may have to revise our opinion of them.  Mark must have  repented of his earlier indiscretion, see:  2 Timothy 4:11, and in Colossians 4:10.  Consider also the providence of God in this matter, for Mark was restored 1 Peter 5:13 andthe Gospel was spread further, for one missions team became two.

© BobMcEvoy November 2020

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