Dissension & Dissemination – Acts 15:36-16:5

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

April 2, 2006

Dissension & Dissemination

Acts 15:36-16:5

How do you handle conflict? Some people handle all conflict the same way due to the nature of their personality. There are those that always seek to dominate and win and there are others that quickly give in just because they will do nearly anything to avoid it. Most of us, however, will deal with conflict in different ways depending on who the conflict is with and how passionately we feel about the particular issue. For example, if you are the boss and you have a conflict with an employee, you have a distinct advantage to force your decision upon them, though Scripture does admonish you to be just and fair, for you also have a master in heaven (Col. 4:1). If it is the other way around, you have a distinct disadvantage and must be careful to show proper submission to their authority and not be disrespectful (Eph. 6:5-8). What about when the conflict is with someone who is your equal? That brings about a different set of dynamics.

For most of us, if the conflict is over something we care very little about, we will let the other person have their way because the relationship is more important to us than the particular issue. If the opposite is true, we will work hard to win the conflict regardless of how the other person feels. What do you do if both of you are passionate about the issue?

This morning we come to a passage that exposes the conflict between two of the early church’s greatest leaders. Both men have shown great spiritual maturity in the past. Both men have worked together for a number of years. Both men have shown humility and deference to each other. Both men are passionate about the issue that is causing the conflict.

Turn to Acts 15:36. This is one of the many passages that give proof that the Bible was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for man will try to cover his sin or at least present it with excuses. Luke does neither in this passage. Paul and Barnabas are in conflict and they do not handle it properly.

Dissension (15:36-41)

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, [and see] how they are.” 37 And Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. 40 But Paul chose Silas and departed, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Luke does not lay the blame on either Barnabas or Paul. Both are guilty of responding in a less godly manner than should have been expected. In the midst of their failure, we learn something about how we should handle conflict.

The first thing I want to point out is that conflict itself is not the issue. The fact that these two normally godly men are in such conflict shows that conflict is common to all men. The particular conflict here is described as a “sharp disagreement” from paroxusmoV / paroxusmos, which also means contentious or provoke. That is why their actions here were less than godly. Paul later writes in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love is not provoked (verb form of the same word – paroxunw / paroxuno). These two usually godly men were in such conflict that they were contentious and provoking.

The fact that they were in this state is one of the reasons that I believe the list of qualifications for church leadership in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are describing the traits that usually characterize the man and not absolutes. If those lists were absolutes, then Paul and Barnabas would be excluded from being Elders even though they were the ones that had been appointing Elders on the first missionary journey. In addition, Peter would be excluded because of his failure recorded in Galatians 2:11f.

Back in Acts 14:15 Paul and Barnabas told the people at Lystra that they were “also men of the same nature as you.” Acts 15:39 demonstrates the truth of that statement. Yet, that should also be an encouragement to us because it demonstrates that God uses ordinary people like you and me. He does not wait until we are perfect. He uses us just as we are now while he continues to make us holy and blameless before Him by conforming us to the image of His son (Eph. 1:4; Rom. 8:29). Too often we tend to put Biblical characters on such a high pedestal that we forget that they were also just men like us. Ordinary people with strengths and weaknesses who were being used and changed by an extraordinary God.

I cannot stress this point enough because too often I find people that refuse to move forward in ministry because they think that they do not meet the requirements. Are there requirements for ministry? Yes, there are different requirements for different ministries, but perfection is not one of them. God wants to use you according to the gifts He has given you in some capacity now. The only actual requirements to serving God are being a Christian and being willing. If you know Christ as your savior and are willing to serve Him, then He will use you and He will be continually changing you for even greater service as time goes forward.

What would have caused such a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas? There are several factors. The first one is the inherent personality difference between the two men. Barnabas lived up to the meaning of the name applied to him. Barnabas means “son of encouragement” and that is how he looked at other people. When everyone else was afraid, it was Barnabas that first reached out to Saul and brought him before the apostles back in Acts 9:27. In Acts 11:22 it was Barnabas that was sent by the church in Jerusalem to help the church in Antioch when the Gentiles were first responding to the gospel. Barnabas then went looking for Saul to help out with that work. Barnabas was a man that saw people more for their potential than for what they were currently. He was the type of person that placed more value on relationships than on getting any particular task done.

Paul had a different personality. It is not that he could not be encouraging or that he did not value relationships, but he was much more goal oriented. He had things he wanted to see accomplished and he was not always patient with those that were hindering those goals from being reached. He was more concerned about fulfilling the goals God had given to Him and to standing up for truth than the feelings of others. This is what enabled him to be bold in preaching and willing to confront those who fell into error.

Both Barnabas and Paul wanted to return to the cities they had visited on their first missionary journey and encourage the brethren. On that point they were agreed. The dispute was over John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin. Paul did not want him to come because he had “deserted” them. The word for “deserted” here is afisthmi / aphistêmi which ranges in meaning from “leaving” to “apostasy” and various translations range from “deserted,” “departed,” “withdrew,” and “abandoned.” While Scripture does not tell us the exact reason for his desertion, we find here that Paul viewed it as a very serious matter and Barnabas did not. That difference is in at least part to the two different personalities of the men. Barnabas still saw potential in John Mark and wanted to give him another chance and take him along. Paul saw John Mark’s previous actions as a failure that could compromise or at least hinder the planned mission. Who was correct? The scripture does not give us enough information to make such a conclusion. It is probable that both were partly right and partly wrong. Paul had valid reason to be concerned, but Barnabas also had proper insight to see the potential for John Mark who does later prove his usefulness to the cause of Jesus Christ in missions.

Another factor that would also weigh in this conflict is Barnabas’ failure recorded in Galatians 2:13. This book is written by Paul just prior to the Jerusalem Council. He wrote to the churches he had visited on the first missionary journey in the region of Galatia correcting a serious perversion of the gospel that was disrupting these new believers. The particular perversion was the advocation that they subject themselves to the Mosaic law. In Galatians 2, Paul recounts how the same error had come to Antioch when “certain men from James” who were from the “party of the circumcision” and caused some of the believing Jews to “withdraw and hold themselves aloof” from the Gentile believers. This included even causing Peter and Barnabas to join the hypocrisy even though both of them had been major figures in the gospel going to the Gentiles. After this incident Paul may have been more hesitant to accept Barnabas’ thoughts and opinions.

The final result of this dispute that the Barnabas and Paul split up and went their separate ways. Barnabas took John Mark and went west to Cyprus, and Paul took Silas and went north through Syria and then West through Cilicia. It is very important to note that the tragedy here is not that Barnabas and Paul split up. That actually turned out to be a good thing as I will explain in a moment. The tragedy here is the manner in which this division took place. As already pointed out it is not proper for godly people to have such “sharp disagreements.” They could have come to a mutual agreement to go their separate ways without the contention.

How could they have done that? Paul himself tells us in the letters he wrote many years after this incident. Paul grew to be more like Christ as he walked with the Lord over the years. He learned from his errors and always continued to strive to be even more like Christ. That is why he says in Philippians 3:13,14, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The same should be true for us. While the fact that we have not yet reached perfection will always be with us until we are with Jesus, we should never let that truth discourage us or cause us to even waver in our pursuit of holiness. Though we are not yet what we would want to be and long to lay aside this body of sin, yet, we can look back and see the Lord’s hand is changing us into His image. Though we are not all that we want to be, we praise God that we are not what we were either. We must continue to press on just as Paul did toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Here are some of the things Paul learned over the years that would have prevented the sharp dispute that he ended up having with Barnabas. Romans 12:10,11 “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” Philippians 2:2-4, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not [merely] look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” I Cor. 13:4-8 “Love is patient, love is kind, [and] is not jealous; love does not brag [and] is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong [suffered,] 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails.” Eph. 4:1-3 “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Both men could have done better. They did not have to agree about John Mark, but they could have parted ways in an amiable manner. God used both of them anyway. God often uses us in our imperfections. And in this particular case God used the split between Barnabas and Paul to increase the missionary force going out because now there are two teams instead of one. In addition, as we shall see as we continue our study of Acts, the replacement of Barnabas with Silas could not have been better for the particular ministry Paul and Silas end up performing. Barnabas was not a Roman citizen, but Silas was and that fact enabled him and Paul, who was also a Roman citizen, to receive better treatment and a better hearing for the gospel than if they had not been Roman citizens. In addition, Silas was also a representative from the church in Rome so that he could attest to their conclusions concerning the Gentiles. This would have been helpful in continuing to correct the problems caused by the Judaizers that Paul had addressed in Galatians.

Luke does not record what occurred with Barnabas and John Mark after they left to minister in Cyprus because he centers his story from this point on Paul. We do know that some years later Paul was reconciled to them and they were once again co-laborers. In 1 Cor. 9:6, which was written five or six years after this split, Paul makes a comment about how he and Barnabas had the right to refrain from working and earn their living from preaching the gospel, but they did not. They both earned their living with their own hands so that they would not be a burden on those to whom they were ministering. That comment would not make any sense to the Corinthians unless they were familiar with Barnabas and his ministry. Paul’s approval of him is seen in his commendation of him to the Corinthians. In 2 Timothy 4:11, which is written about ten or eleven years after their split, Paul comments for Timothy to “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” Apparently Timothy fulfilled the request because a year later in Philemon 24 Paul mentions Mark as being with him as his “fellow worker,” and in Colossians 4:10, which is written about the same time as Philemon, Paul reminds them about the instructions he had sent concerning “Barnabas’ cousin, Mark,” and that they were to welcome him should he come.

God used the “sharp disagreement” between Barnabas and Paul for his own purposes, and the split that occurred at that time was not permanent. They did reconcile with one another and were able to work together again. We can trust the Lord to do the same things in our own lives if both we and Christian brothers and sisters we have disagreements with will continue to grow in the Lord and seek His will over our own.

Dissemination of the Gospel – Return to Asia Minor (16:1-5)

Selection of Timothy (1-3)

While Barnabas and John Mark went to Cyprus, chapter 16 picks up the story of Paul and Silas as they travel north through Syria and then west through the region of Cilicia as Paul returned to the cities in areas of Phrygia and Pisidia in which Paul had founded churches on his first missionary journey. In that journey Paul would have also traveled through his home town of Tarsus and then up and through the pass of the Cilician Gates in the Taraus mountains. Acts 16:1 (NASB) And he came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, 2 and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek

It is at this point in the second missionary journey that Paul

Paul selects young Timothy to go with them. Timothy would have been in his late teens or early 20’s at this time. This was a man that had already developed a good reputation in the church though he was still young. The fact that he was known and well spoken of in both his own town of Lystra and the neighboring town of Iconium added great weight to the confidence that Paul could have in selecting Timothy to go with him. From Paul’s comment in 2 Tim. 1:5 it would appear that Timothy’s mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois, were saved when Paul was there the first time and that they taught the gospel to Timothy.

Luke also comments that Timothy’s father was a Greek man, but he is not noted as a believer. By Jewish custom, Timothy was considered to be Jewish and it is for this reason that Paul circumcises him. The Jews would not expect a Gentile to be circumcised, but a fellow Jew that was uncircumcised would be a great offense to them. They would have considered him to be an apostate and that would have greatly hindered their ministry to Jews.

There are those that accuse Paul of being inconsistent because of this since Paul was so strongly against circumcision in his letter to the Galatians and at the Jerusalem council. Actually, Paul was being consistent with his teaching in having Timothy circumcised. Paul was against circumcision in the cases of requiring it of Gentiles and when it was regarded as a condition of being accepted by God. Paul was not against circumcising a Jew in order to make him acceptable to the Jews and thus be able to gain a hearing from them. Paul stated his ministry philosophy concerning this in 1 Cor. 9:19-23, “For though I am free from all [men,] I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. 20 And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. 23 And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” As one writer put it, “being a good Christian did not mean being a bad Jew.”

This principle can be simply stated this way. When we can remove an unnecessary offense in order to gain a hearing for the gospel without compromising any of God’s commands to us, then we should do so. Life is not about us and our comforts and preferences. Life is about fulfilling the purpose of our existence and bringing glory to God. It is about telling other people about God, His character, what He has done and what He has declared to be His will and then living according to that will. I don’t want to do anything that is going to block that message from being clearly declared and received.

That is an important point, but it should not be taken to mean that you are to assimilate into a non-Christian culture in trying to win them to Christ. Too many professing Christians are now doing exactly that and consequently they are compromising the very message they are supposed to be communicating. They are being conformed to the image of the world, and a person who lives like the world loses any effectiveness to their witness. They are still to declare the truth about Jesus Christ, but the manner of their life makes it harder for the non-Christian to believe their message. The Christian is in the process of being transformed by the renewing of their minds (Rom. 12:2). We are to carefully evaluate the culture of those we are trying to reach and then either refrain or practice those things that will help in communicating the message of the gospel. In other words, you are to refrain from those things that would be perceived as being ungodly and practice those things that will help them understand that you are godly and are speaking God’s message.

It seems that the common perception in American Christianity is that gospel about getting people saved from Hell. Some then use this to justify questionable and even ungodly behavior under the pretext of trying to win a hearing for the gospel. But that is a perversion of the gospel. The gospel is not fire insurance, though that it is a wonderful secondary benefit. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about salvation from sin and its consequences so that we might be made holy and blameless before Him (Eph. 1:4) as we are conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). As I keep these truths in mind I will have the discernment of what cultural things I should either refrain from or practice in seeking to bring people to Jesus.

Delivering the Decree (4-5)

Luke’s comment in verses 4 & 5 about the ministry Paul and Silas had as they traveled from church to church demonstrated that Paul’s circumcision of Timothy was not some compromise of the gospel message.

4 Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees, which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe. 5 So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.

There is no way that Paul and Silas could have been telling the churches about the decision of the council in Jerusalem if Timothy’s circumcision was a compromise of the message that salvation was by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. As they told the people about the Jerusalem council and the decision of the Apostles and elders that were part of it the believers were strengthened in their faith. They had already faced the same issues which is why Paul had written Galatians. We can safely assume the response in these churches which were largely made up of Gentile believers was similar to the response of those in Antioch. It was encouraging for them to hear the conclusions made by these great leaders of the church. It removed any remaining confusion and the gospel was able to go forward again without hindrance resulting in people being saved on a daily basis.

Among the many hindrances to the Gospel is confusion about the message itself. It is a hindrance in our own time because there are so many that proclaim various perversions of it. Praise the Lord that we do not have to be confused because He has given us His word. We can compare what God has said with the thoughts and proclamations of men to know whether they speak the truth or not. Salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not of works (Eph. 2:8). If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you shall be saved (Rom. 10:9).

The only question that remains is whether you will believe and follow the revelation of God or musings of men?

Sermon Study Sheets


Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.

Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch.

Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up. 2) Count how many times “disagreement” or a synonym are mentioned. Talk with your parents about how to resolve conflicts in a proper manner..


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

How do you handle conflict in general? What if the conflict is with someone who is in a position over you? Under you? Describe the conflict between Barnabas and Saul in Acts 15:36-41? What factors contributed to the conflict? Who was right / wrong in the conflict? Why? How does this demonstrate that these men are “of the same nature” as any other human? Describe the personalities of Barnabas and Saul. What does Galatians 2 say about Barnabas? How could they have dealt with their differences without sinning? What do the epistles teach us about dealing with conflict? How does Paul’s later writings show he had grown spiritually in this area? What was Paul’s relationship like with Barnabas in the years after this division with him? With John Mark? How can you deal with conflict in the future in a more godly manner than you have in the past? How did God use the disagreement and division for His own good purposes? Where did Barnabas and John Mark go? Where did Paul and Silas go? What were differences between Barnabas and Silas that made Silas a better choice for the second missionary journey? Who was Timothy? What was his background? Was Paul’s circumcision of Timothy a compromise of his principles? Why or why not? What was Paul’s philosophy concerning keeping Jewish traditions? How does that principle affect how we try to reach people with the gospel? How do you adjust to a culture without being conformed to it?

Sermon Notes – March 19, 2006

Dissension & Dissemination – Acts 15:36 – 16:5


Dissension (15:36-41)



Dissemination (16:1-5)

Selection of Timothy (1-3)



Delivering the Decrees (4,5)

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