Acts 15:38

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Saturday, 8 April 2023

But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Acts 15:38

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

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The previous verse noted that Barnabas had determined to take John Mark along on the missionary journey that Paul and he were planning. With that, it now says, “But Paul.”

An immediate contrast has arisen in the direction they should take concerning the matter. At this point, anything is solvable, but beginning with this note of dissension a red flag is thrown up concerning what will come of the matter. As for Paul, he “insisted” concerning his point of view.

The Greek is an imperfect verb signifying “to account as worthy.” In other words, it might be said, “Paul found it worthy to make his case.” The verb, being imperfect, means that he didn’t just speak up, but that he continued to speak. Barnabas would give his thoughts and Paul would counter with his. It is like two grindstones spinning against one another, rubbing each other down.

Paul’s argument was “that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia.” The wording is important. First, the word translated as “had departed” is aphistémi. It signifies to depart, but it is connected to the word we translate as apostatize. That is probably how Paul took it based on the rest of what is said.

Second, the word translated as “the one” actually ends the verse in the Greek text, thus placing it in the emphatic position. It strongly marks out John as an irresponsible partner. One can see Luke interviewing Paul and saying, “So, tell me what happened between you and Barnabas?” In response, Paul would have said something like, “I saw it worthy to tell him that he who withdrew from us in Pamphylia and who didn’t go with us to the work… we shouldn’t take THAT ONE!”

When this was recorded in Acts 13:13, no note of why John had departed was given and Luke provided nothing negative in his recording of the event.

However, it can now be determined that John’s departure was something that Paul had considered unacceptable. He had carried the thought of it with him ever since. It can only be speculated upon, but because John was Barnabas’ cousin, Paul may have not said a word about the matter to Barnabas. But now that they were faced with the prospect of another journey where the same thing could happen again, it was intolerable to Paul that John should be included in the plans. This is because he “had not gone with them to the work.”

Paul saw the missionary trip as work, not an adventure. He saw it as something that was necessary for the saving of souls, and he was willing to expend himself in the process. John Mark, for whatever reason, did not share this same drive. The event came shortly after the conversion of the Gentile Sergius Paulus and Paul’s acceptance of the name Paul, which is used from that time on.

Mark may have taken offense at the thought of evangelizing Gentiles, a task that Paul seemed wholly devoted to undertaking. It is speculation, but it fits with the chronology of what occurred as well as the decision rendered by the council concerning Gentiles. Whether this or something else, whatever motivated him, John was not grounded enough to remain in the mission field. Paul found that unacceptable.

Life application: What appears to be the case is that Paul has kept a matter that truly upset him pent up within himself. There are times that this is necessary, such as information that is considered personal and confidential between clergy and those they tend to. However, if there is a matter that is festering between friends or those who are closely connected within the church, keeping something like this pent up may turn into a disaster as it continues to seethe below the surface.

Paul has allowed a matter to continue in this fashion for an extended period of time. Only now that the issue of John joining the trip has come into focus has Paul been faced with it becoming an issue. If he had talked with Barnabas about it over the many months of their travels, things would have been handled differently now.

When you have something that is bothering you that could later erupt, it is best to not hold it in. Barnabas probably had no idea that Paul was so offended by the matter. That seems apparent from his suggestion of bringing John along again. He was probably caught totally off guard by Paul’s words. This could have been avoided, and it will lead to a real eruption between the two of them.

Prayer and conversation are key points that have been lacking over this matter. Don’t allow the same to happen to you if it is within your ability to correct perceived offenses early on.

Lord God, there are really annoying people out there who go out of their way to upset others. But, for the most part, offense comes about unwittingly and unintentionally. When an offense has taken place, help us to attempt to work it out with Your wisdom, through adherence to the word and with prayer. Help us in this, O God. Amen.