Can Brethren Resolve Every Dispute Between Them?

If all of the brethren who are involved in a dispute will be like-minded, walk in love towards one another, and esteem others as better than themselves, then, yes! (Philippians 2:1-4) All such brethren will eventually be reconciled. However, reconciliation is not always easy nor is it always immediate. 

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.’ Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. 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. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Acts 15:36-40)

Who was right on this occasion, Paul or Barnabas? Is it possible that in some sense, Paul and Barnabas were both right? Maybe Paul and Barnabas were really angry at one another and said some regrettable things at this time. I don’t know that this was the case, but sometimes I feel like we may lean toward that view of this event. About 10 years before his death, Paul uses Barnabas as an example of one who was worthy of receiving wages for the work of preaching in 1 Corinthians 9:6. It is a great story to think that Paul and John Mark were reconciled at or near the end of Paul’s life, but no Scripture demands that their reconciliation was not much earlier. 

However, we must admit that Paul and Barnabas did not work together on Paul’s second journey because they could not agree about whether or not to take John Mark. Let’s consider some important points about this contention between Paul and Barnabas.

It is evident to all who will read the New Testament that in spite of their inability to work together on Paul’s second journey, Paul continued to recognize the work of Barnabas (1 Corinthians 9:6). Additionally, Paul would later instruct the Colossians to welcome John Mark (Col 4:10), and at the end of his life Paul stated that John Mark was useful to him for ministry (2 Timothy 4:11). Whatever happened at the end of Acts 15 was eventually resolved. Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark continued to recognize one another in spite of a sharp disagreement between them in the past. This is possible when we strive for like-mindedness in Christ, walk in love, and esteem others as better than ourselves (Philippians 2:1-4). In fact, it’s not just possible, it is inevitable. It is hard for Satan to come between brethren who put Christ first, but it can happen. We can let our guard down. We can let pride get the best of us, but I submit to you that it is impossible for Satan to keep faithful brethren apart!

Notice also that Paul and Barnabas both continued to be productive in spite of their sharp disagreement. The narrative follows Paul and Silas to Galatia, but Luke tells us that Barnabas and John Mark went to Cyprus. There were Christians there who needed to be encouraged as well, and Barnabas and John Mark went to do that work. Paul and Barnabas did not allow their personal disagreement to interfere with the Lord’s work.  

If Paul and Barnabas could have such a serious disagreement, then it is likely that we will have such challenges with some of our brethren. Paul and Barnabas did not work together for a time because of their disagreement about John Mark. How long were they apart? We can’t be sure. Maybe it was only for the duration of the second journey. Maybe it was much longer. We’ve all seen or heard of certain situations where we knew that it was going to take a little time, a good amount of study, and a whole lot of love to reach a resolution. However, remember that this disagreement between Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark was eventually resolved, and each man continued to try to be fruitful for the Lord in spite of their disagreement.