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Tuesday: Ministry Realignment

Acts 15:36-16:15 In this study we see how apparent negatives were turned to positives in Paul’s ministry.
Ministry Realignment

Barnabas—these two great missionaries, apostles, the kind of people you might bring into a pulpit on a missionary Sunday and say to the people, “This is what you should be like”—these two great men disagreed so violently that they actually went separate ways. Imagine that! Barnabas took Mark and went to Cyprus, where the missionaries had gone first on the first journey. We do not hear any more about Barnabas and Mark on Cyprus, but tradition says that Barnabas stayed on Cyprus and died there as an old man. Mark eventually was called by Paul to go to Rome. As far as the other missionary team was concerned, Paul took Silas, another leader in the church at Antioch, in place of Barnabas, and the two of them set out overland to visit the churches of Asia Minor. 

Who was right in this dispute? Was Barnabas right to insist on taking John Mark, or was Paul right to say “no”? I ask the question only to point out that the Bible does not give an answer. There is nothing in these verses to suggest that Paul was right or that Barnabas was right. No doubt we feel a certain amount of sadness that they split up, but even that is not condemned in Scripture. This is just something that happened. Besides, whatever the motivation of the missionaries may have been, there were two good results. First, John Mark got another chance and did prove himself faithful in the end. Even Paul acknowledged it. In 2 Timothy Paul wrote of John Mark, saying, “He is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). He wanted Timothy to bring Mark with him to Paul in Rome. The second good result was that, as a result of this dispute, we find that now, instead of there being only one missionary team, there are two. 

That may not be the best of all ways of getting the work done, but in the providence and grace of God the result is sometimes beneficial. You can have a First Baptist Church or a First Presbyterian Church. The church can have an argument and split, and the result is the Second Baptist Church or Second Presbyterian Church. So there are two churches. As I say, this may not be the best of all possible ways to start churches, but it is one way and God does often seem to bless the two churches. That is what happened here. There was a realignment. So it was Paul and Silas, rather than Paul and Barnabas, who started overland on this second journey. 

The last verse of chapter 15 says that the missionaries “went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (v. 41). Syria was the province in which Antioch was located; these churches would have been to the immediate north of Antioch. Cilicia was the southeastern area of what we call Turkey, where Tarsus was and where Paul had come from. 

Paul and Barnabas had not been in these areas on their first journey. They had come into Asia Minor from the southwest, had gone into central Turkey as far as Derbe and then had retraced their steps. How did the churches in Syria and Cilicia get founded? We do not know the answer to that question, but the fact that there were churches to the north of Antioch indicates that there was other missionary work going on, work that Luke does not tell us about in his history. It may be, since Paul was from Tarsus and there was a time when he lived there before being called to Antioch, that he had himself founded these churches, but we do not know if he did. If he did, he must have been greatly encouraged as he started out on this journey, since the churches he had founded were still there and were growing.

Study Questions
  1. What was the new alignment of missionaries after Paul and Barnabas parted? What were the results?
  2. Locate the areas contacted on a Bible map so you can be more familiar with the missionary travels.

Reflection: How was your church founded? Was it through a schism or was there one founder? How has God allowed the work to go forward?

Prayer: Pray for your church, that its outreach will grow and the work become and remain strong.

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Philip Ryken’s message, “Chariots of Fire.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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