Do you always get along perfectly with everyone? Of course not. No one does. Strife, unfortunately, is common to all human beings. Jesus said that offenses are bound to occur (Matt. 18:7). He even gave a formula for reconciling Christians who become divided over some unfortunate occurrence (verses 15-20). Yes, problems between brethren are bound to occur, even in our churches around the world. Converted human beings do fall out with each other from time to time. When these unfortunate situations occur, do you try to make peace or are you part of the problem? Do you bring offended parties back together or do you fuel the fires of strife? It is all too easy for us to be part of the rifts instead of being peacemakers and conciliators.
A practiced peacemaker
Let's take a look at the example of one man who practiced peacemaking — who let the Holy Spirit work in him to help bring peace to others: Barnabas. The first reference to this man is found in the book of Acts: "Thus Joseph who was surnamed by the apostles Barnabas (which means, Son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field which belonged to him, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet" (Acts 4:36-37, Revised Standard Version throughout, except where noted). Barnabas first came to the apostles' attention because of his liberal support for the Church members at Jerusalem. His example was so outstanding that he is the only person mentioned by name as a positive example of giving. Barnabas' act stands in stark contrast to the poor example of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). Barnabas surfaces again in Acts 9. Here he encounters Paul for the first time and finds him in a difficult situation. Paul was relatively new to the Christian faith. Luke picks up the narrative for us: "And when he [Paul] had come to Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple" (verse 26). Picture the situation. Paul had a reputation for dragging Christians into prison. The disciples looked upon him as the chief enemy of the Gospel — an archpersecutor of the faith. How could they know he wasn't a wolf in sheep's clothing? Needless to say the Jerusalem brethren did not welcome Paul with open arms. But Barnabas came to the rescue! The man from Cyprus was willing to step into the gap — to stand up for Paul. "But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus" (verse 27). Barnabas recognized Paul's conversion and was willing to support him. Who knows the difficulties Paul might have had if it hadn't been for Barnabas? This was Paul's first attempt to fellowship with the Church, as far as we know. Only the role of a true peacemaker made a meeting of minds possible. Paul was accepted by the Jerusalem brethren. Notice the important result: "So he [Paul] went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord" (verses 28-29). By interceding where suspicion reigned, Barnabas paved the way for Paul to preach the Gospel with exceptional boldness and power. But the story of Barnabas does not end here.
Christian unity at Antioch
Soon we find the Gospel being preached to the gentiles in Antioch of Syria for the first time. That piece of good news reached the church at Jerusalem. The apostles decided to send Barnabas to Antioch to see what was happening. Notice what occurred when he arrived: "When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a large company was added to the Lord" (Acts 11:23-24). Barnabas voiced approval of what he saw taking place in Antioch and began to build on the foundation already laid. Racial prejudice (he was a Levite) did not diminish the warm welcome Barnabas extended to gentile Christianity in Antioch. The happy result was that more answered the calling God had given. Barnabas linked Antioch with the mother church in Jerusalem. Once again we find him in the role of a bridgebuilder. And why was Barnabas able to bring about such positive fruits? Because "he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." Here was a man who kept himself close to God! But Barnabas was not fully satisfied with his own efforts at Antioch. Gifts that he himself lacked were needed in the church there. So what did he do? The next verse tells us that "Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch" (verses 25- 26). Barnabas brought Paul into the picture when it was obvious a man of his talents was needed. The results were that "For a whole year they [Paul and Barnabas] met with the church, and taught a large company of people" (verse 26). Barnabas' unselfish acts always produced good results; they furthered the teaching of the Gospel message.
However, Barnabas was a human being. He was not perfect while yet in the flesh, just as none of us are. A few years later, when Barnabas was ready to join Paul on their second evangelistic tour, not long after the Jerusalem conference, an unfortunate incident took place. "And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, 'Come, let us return and visit the brethren in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.' And Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought it best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work" (Acts 15:36-38). Mark had abandoned an earlier tour for some unstated reason.
"And there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches" (verses 39-41). The narrative is rather bare here. Not much background is included. We do know, however, that John Mark was a relative of Barnabas (Col. 4: I 0). Perhaps this blood relationship influenced Barnabas to insist on giving him another chance, while Paul persisted that to do so would be foolhardy. After all, Mark had abandoned them both during a previous tour. Whatever the details of the dispute, Paul and Barnabas apparently were unable to reconcile their differences. It is clear that Paul had the blessing of the brethren upon his departure (Acts 15:40). At any rate, according to the New Testament evidence, this disagreement, though serious, was not permanent. Five years after the parting at Antioch, Paul writes: "Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?" (I Cor. 9:6). Here Paul is able to refer to Barnabas as a working apostle like himself, and he does so in a sympathetic manner. So it is doubtful that any hard feelings continued far beyond the incident at Antioch. All was forgiven and forgotten and a spirit of peace restored. Remember Romans 8:28: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (King James Version) Paul spoke well of John Mark in later years (Col. 4: I 0-11, Philemon 24, II Tim. 4: II). Paul was in Rome just before the final curtain closed on his life. One of his last requests was to ask Timothy to bring John Mark with him to do the Work. He refers to Mark as a profitable servant of the Gospel, an opinion he did not hold at the time of the Antioch incident. Mark obviously proved himself over a period of time.
Follow the example
In retrospect, Barnabas' decision to stick with Mark turned out for the good in the long run. Would Mark have ever written his gospel if Barnabas had not intervened on his behalf? We do not know. Luke did not record all the details behind this incident. God wants people of courage in the Church — people who will make peace and reconcile brethren who have misunderstandings, not become a part of the problem. Are you willing to follow the example of Barnabas?