Acts 15:39

Sunday, 9 April 2023

Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; Acts 15:39

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The previous verse revealed Paul’s insistence that John Mark should not be taken along with him and Barnabas on the next missionary journey. With that, it now notes, “Then the contention became so sharp.”

The word translated as contention is paroxusmos. This is the first of two times it will be seen in Scripture. It signifies a paroxysm; a provocation that literally jabs someone to the point where he is forced to respond. Words such as provoke, incite, and so on will give the active sense of the matter. The other use of the word is in Hebrews 10:24 where it is used in a positive sense where believers are implored to motivate one another toward love and good works.

As for Paul and Barnabas, one would say something that cut so deeply the other couldn’t let it go and responded with his own cutting words. It is the type of argument that leads to words that may never be forgiven and wounds that may never heal. Because of this, it says “that they parted from one another.”

Of this, Matthew Poole dubiously equates this to the parting of Abraham and Lot as is recorded in Genesis 13, claiming they kept the unity of the Spirit. The words now do not bear this out. Their fellowship was torn apart, and the Spirit would have to deal with them individually as they proceeded in their own directions. Because of this, it next says, “And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus.”

Barnabas was from Cyprus (Acts 4:36) and it is where he and Paul set forth on the first missionary journey (Acts 13:4). Thus, it is the natural direction that he should go to have the most impact on his next missionary travels. Taking along John Mark shows Barnabas’ ability to overlook whatever Paul perceived as a permanent factor of disqualification.

This is the last time that Barnabas is mentioned in Acts. The record Luke lays down from this point on, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, is directed to the ministry of Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. Any further record of future impact that Barnabas may have had on the church is left to secular history. In Scripture, he will be directly mentioned two more times. The first is in 1 Corinthians 9 –

“My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock?” 1 Corinthians 9:3-7

He will also be mentioned again in Galatians where Paul notes that he was led astray, just as Peter was, by the Judaizer who came to Antioch. That is an event that probably occurred during the events of Acts 15, although some see it as having occurred during Acts 18, something less likely. Of the events now taking place, John Gill says –

“…thus as soon almost as peace was made in the church, a difference arises among the ministers of the word, who are men of like passions with others; and though it is not easy to say which was to blame most in this contention; perhaps there were faults on both sides, for the best men are not without their failings; yet this affair was overruled by the providence of God, for the spread of his Gospel, and the enlargement of his interest; for when these two great and good men parted from one another, they went to different places, preaching the word of God.”

Life application: Regardless as to whether Paul and Barnabas ever reconciled again or not, the Spirit inspired Luke to record the events in Acts for us to consider what occurred. There was a sharp dispute between two men who had expended themselves for the gospel and who would continue to do so.

This is a fallen world. We all have limitations and buttons are bound to get pushed. When they are, our response may set us at odds with one another, even to the point of never fellowshipping together again. And yet, Paul does not later hint at the events that occurred or claim that Barnabas is not to be trusted. Rather, his comments in 1 Corinthians 9 (noted above) indicate that Barnabas was a trustworthy, selfless worker for the Lord.

Somehow, those in Corinth will hear about Barnabas even if there is no record of him traveling there in Acts. This means that Paul probably spoke well of him to the Corinthians, describing the person he had traveled with on his first missionary journey. In other words, just because they could not agree on working together any longer, Paul continued to speak highly about Barnabas. Let us consider doing this as well should we divide from another over some difference in opinion.

Heavenly Father, we are limited beings. We don’t have all the information, we only have so much power and stamina, we may get riled up or offended by events that occur, etc. Because of this, differences are bound to arise between us. When such times come, give us wisdom and discernment in how to handle such things. May we not spitefully hurt others simply because we can. Help us in this, O God. Amen.