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The Book of Acts, lessons, commentary and study guide from the church of Christ

Bobby Stafford Conflict between Brethren
Acts: Lesson 33 Acts Chapter 15 Verses 35-41

The Book of Acts

Conflict between Brethren


Paul and Barnabas are sent on what is commonly called Paul’s First Missionary Journey by the church at Antioch.  (Acts 13)  Preaching the Word of God in such places as the Island of Cyprus, and cities such as Perga, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, many became believers and were added to the Lord’s church.  When they returned to Antioch, they reported all that had happened and how the door of faith had been opened to the Gentiles.  (Acts 14:26-27 From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.  Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” NKJV

Paul and Barnabas are sent to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders concerning some fake teachers who were saying that one had to still keep the Law of Moses to be saved.  (Acts 15:22-34)  After this was taken care of, they return to Antioch and stay for some time. 

Text:  Acts 15:35-41


I.  Exegesis of the Text  Acts 15:35  “Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.” NKJV  While we do not know how long they remained in Antioch, it is very likely that Paul wrote his letter to the Christians in Galatia during this period.  If so, the events recorded in Galatians 2:11-14 probably also occurred during this time.  Galatians 2:11-14  Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.  And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.  But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all.  If you being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?"  NKJV  These events may have at least partly influenced what happens in Verses 36-41 of Acts 15.  Paul must have been both disappointed and hurt by Barnabas’s actions – playing the hypocrite.  Acts 15:36  “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.’ ” NKJV  After preaching and teaching in Antioch for some time, Paul decided it was time to retrace the steps of their last journey to see how the new converts to Christ were doing.  He wanted to confirm if they were maturing, staying faithful to the Lord.  Note that we cannot ignore those we baptize into Christ; we must feed and nurture them.  Remember Matthew 28:19-20Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end f the age.’ Amen” NKJV  Acts 15:37-38  “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.”  NKJV  We learn from Colossians 4:10 that John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin, a part of his family.  Colossians 4:10  “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions:  if he comes to you, welcome him).” NKJV  Barnabas agreed that this second trip was a good idea, but stipulated that Mark go with them as he had on parts of the first journey.  Read Acts 13:13“Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem.” NKJV  For some reason, Mark left and went home.  He did not go on with them to the work.  He may have left because of fear of what was ahead, of possible dangers.  Or maybe the mission work was too difficult and demanding.  For whatever reason, he left.  Regardless, Paul did not think the reason was good enough.  Words of Luke 9:62 may have been in his mind.  “. . .No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  He may have thought he would be a hindrance to the work, and not an asset.  He was not dependable.  Paul thought the work far too important to risk taking Mark.

Barnabas thought his cousin deserved a second chance to atone for leaving on the first journey.  He may have had in mind  Matthew 5:7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”  He may have thought that if they rejected him now, his young faith may falter.

Original language – Barnabas kept insisting they take Mark and Paul kept insisting they wouldn’t!  Acts 15:39-41  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.” NKJV  The humanness of each man is seen.  There was a sharp clash of opinions.  Angry feelings were aroused with heated exchange.  There was probably loss of temper with loud words and improper feelings for two friends who were also Christians.  It became apparent that their differences could not be resolved, at least for now.  They decided to split up the work and go separate ways. Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus while Paul chose Silas and went through areas of Syria and Cilicia.

II.  Lessons to Be Learned

1.  Disagreements will occur between brethren.  Nothing is wrong with this as long as they are concerning matters of judgment [opinions].  We must agree on matters of doctrine.  Otherwise, we cannot be in fellowship.  (II John 9-11 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God.  He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.  If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” NKJV  We should always keep in mind that matters of personal preference are just that – personal preference.  These should never separate brethren.  We should be tolerant.

2.  When conflicts do occur, we must still act Christ-like.  Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement should never have gone as far as it did.   

Recall Ephesians 4:26, 29, 31-32“ ‘Be angry, and do not sin’ do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” NKJV  As so often happens today when two brothers disagree, neither one quits working for the Lord or tries to hurt the other in some way.  Apparently no grudges were held, for later Paul refers to Barnabas’ serving the Lord.  (I Corinthians 9:6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working?” NKJV 

3.  Disagreements between brethren may be used by God to bring about good.  Certainly God did not cause Paul and Barnabas to have this conflict, but He may have used it for His purposes.  Paul and Silas began a great mission effort into Greece and Macedonia while Barnabas’ efforts to encourage John Mark bore great fruit.  He wrote the Gospel of Mark and was a coworker with the apostle Peter.  (I Peter 5:13 She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son.” NKJV  This is referred to by Paul as a fellow worker for the Kingdom of God.  (Colossians 4:10-11 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions:  if he comes to you, welcome him).  And Jesus who is called Justus.  These are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision; they have proved to be a comfort to me.” NKJV  Shortly before Paul’s death, he says the following:  II Timothy 4:11  “Only Luke is with me.  Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.” NKJV  Mark had made quite a turnaround!

Invitation:  Are you holding a grudge against a fellow brother or sister in Christ?  Have you acted Christ-like when you and a fellow Christian disagreed on some matter of personal preference?  Are you angry without a cause? 

Bobby Stafford 

February 7, 2016 

Acts:  Lesson 33  Acts 15:35-41  [Referenced Acts 15:22-34] 

 More Studies on Acts


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