Our reading today is Acts 15:36-41.
We like a good spat, when two sides fall out, we find it fascinating and want to know more. We’ve had a very good spat for the last 18 months or so with the England cricket team and one of its most successful players Kevin Pietersen or KP as he is known. All sides agree that KP is one of the best batsmen of his generation but it seems, he is very high maintenance, always wanting to be treated differently from the rest of the team. This behaviour was tolerated for a while but when KP, who was born and brought up in South Africa, was revealed to have texted some of the South African players during a match (against South Africa), saying nasty stuff about his own captain he was deemed to have crossed the line and KP was sacked from the England team. To make matters worse, he was using Blackberry messenger! (That’s an iPhone v Blackberry joke). Even after all this, he was reinstated a few months later only to be sacked again in early 2014. The fans of course, want to see KP play but the captain and coaches have obviously decided that at 35 with an attitude problem and a dodgy knee, KP is a luxury the team cannot afford. England’s biggest rivals, the Australians, are thoroughly enjoying things, often appearing in interviews with ‘helpful’ advice. With the Australians favourites to dominate in the 5 match Ashes series this year, it could be a long summer for the people in charge of the England team. The spat looks set to rumble on.
There’s a sort of spat in today’s passage, which of itself is not that unusual, there are plenty of arguments recorded in the Bible. What marks this one out is that it involves two men who had worked together for years, were probably close friends and were both giants of the Church – Paul and Barnabas.
Luke tells us that it was Paul who wanted to revisit the churches that had been established during the first missionary journey. The problem arose when Barnabas wanted to take John also known as Mark but; ‘Paul did not think it wise to take him’, owing to Mark’s performance on the first journey when he had deserted them when things got tough (13:13). Just to add a little more heat, Mark and Barnabas were cousins (Colossians 4:10). Paul and Barnabas had just been instrumental in resolving a really difficult and divisive problem so you would think they could sort this, but no, it was a sharp disagreement that resulted in this successful missionary partnership breaking up. For me, it shows the honesty of Luke’s writing and the New Testament as a whole, it would have been easy to forget this little detail and ‘spin’ it to give a positive slant. There are some lessons that we can take from this.
Firstly God was glorified. God wasn’t in the argument, he is always good and righteous but the argument did not surprise him and he used it so that instead one team there were now two. That isn’t an excuse for division; it would have been so much better if these two great men could have resolved their differences and prayed together. But it does show that even when we fail God is still in control.
Secondly, for me, Paul was wrong. I don’t find that an easy thing to say, Paul is one of my heroes and I understand his reasoning completely, where was Mark when Paul was being stoned and left for dead in Lystra? Probably in his mother’s house in Jerusalem (12:12). Paul was happy to label Mark a failure and move on but God was not. Mark went on to write the Gospel that bears his name and years later became a trusted mission companion of Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and yes you’ve guessed it, Paul (Colossians 4:10). In his final letter as he is about to die, Paul made a request of Timothy;
“Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11)
Perhaps people have labeled you too but it’s what God calls you that counts
Your love reaches the deepest part of me,
Defines who I am and who I’ll be (From Your Love Reaches – Jamie Rodwell)