Agree to Disagree? NOT!!! Part Two
Love Each Other Into Greatness
Sunday Afternoon, September 26, 1999
Question: But what about in the case of Paul and Barnabas? They had such a sharp dispute over John Mark that they ended up going different directions. How does this fit in with “It’s not okay to agree to disagree”?
Paul and Barnabas
It’s intriguing because there is not a lot said about Paul and Barnabas in that relationship. There is nothing said about the relationship after that event where they had the “disagreement.” Do you remember how John Mark bailed out on a previous journey? He was carnal, worldly and fearful...and he quit. He was a quitter. But Paul was clear with how he felt about John Mark later when he spoke of him as being a beloved brother...a “fellow prisoner.” I think there was not any dispute over whether or not Paul loved Barnabas. I’m sure he was grateful for all Barnabas had done for him. Barnabas introduced Paul to the apostles and brought him into a secure relationship with them. Though Paul was once a blasphemer, he was welcomed primarily because of Barnabas. Barnabas did a good work. He did us all a favor by playing an important role with Saul, later to be called Paul.
Although John Mark was a quitter, he went on to write one of the four gospels. I don’t think there is any evidence that Paul’s love for those two men was ever in dispute. The issue that was in dispute was...is a quitter fit to go on a job like this? Should a man be full of the Holy Spirit and full of wisdom to wait on tables? Most would say, “No, that’s not necessary.” God would say, “Yes, it is.” Think about it. How many of you in your natural minds would say, “Waiting on tables? Now, there’s an important task. I really think you need to be full of the Holy Spirit and full of wisdom in order to put that bowl of beans on the table.” “Yeah, that makes sense to me, too!” That might not make sense to you, but that is what God said. Of course, I am being slightly facetious. The key to understanding this is that the men were being chosen to be over the matter. There were people they were responsible for overseeing while they were feeding the Hellenistic widows. The point is this: normally we would think that the person with restaurant experience gets to be in charge of feeding the masses. But, God says that the person who knows Him best is the one in charge of feeding the masses. That’s a very different measuring rod, isn’t it?
That was the nature of this dispute with Paul and Barnabas over John Mark. There’s no evidence that Paul’s respect or love for Mark, or respect or love for Barnabas was ever at stake. The only thing that was at stake was, “How do we go about doing God’s work?” “Does the man need to be full of the Holy Ghost and full of wisdom to wait on tables?” Paul said, “Yes.” Barnabas said, “No. He’s my nephew and I love him.” Paul said, “That’s not good enough.” They had a dispute, and they went separate ways.
Who Was Right?
So, who was right and who was wrong? The Scriptures don’t really say. Except in almost a backwards way, they do kind of say. Because from that point the Holy Spirit put a spotlight on Paul and followed every move he made, everything he did, and everything he wrote. Where’s Barnabas? Poof! No more Barnabas. Was he saved? Absolutely! Was he dearly loved by God? Absolutely! Did he forfeit part of his ability to serve God and part of his effectiveness with God? Maybe he did. Maybe he took a step back from what it was he could have done. Barnabas was very prominent in the Scriptures prior to that point, and from that moment forward...he’s gone. Now that doesn’t mean he wasn’t saved, and that doesn’t mean he stopped working. I’m sure he did some wonderful things. In Fox’s Book of Martyrs there are things written that would let you know he continued to be a faithful soldier. No dispute there. My only point is...they didn’t divide over some matter of conscience per se and there wasn’t a rejection of one another. Paul spoke in warm terms of Barnabas. There’s no question whether Paul dearly loved and was infinitely grateful to Barnabas. That wasn’t the issue. But they did reach a dispute as to how to build. There’s some evidence, at least based on the facts, that being full of the Holy Ghost and full of wisdom is required to wait on tables. Perhaps Paul was correct in that matter. Certainly, Paul went on to be incredibly effective, and the Holy Spirit spotlighted and followed him in the Book of Acts from that day forward.
So, we have good reason to think that Paul wasn’t in sin when he made that choice about John Mark and ended up with Silas instead. I don’t think that Barnabas and Paul decided to “agree to disagree.” God certainly had an opinion about that matter. We are not absolutely certain what that opinion was, but there is some evidence as to what His thoughts were. But, whatever God’s opinion was, either one of the men was right or neither of them were right; but there’s no chance at all that both of them were right. Okay?
They went their separate ways, doing the best they could, and sometimes those kinds of things came up. But the fact that Paul referred to Mark later as a dearly loved brother is evidence that there was still a connection there. There was no coldness, no isolation, and no judgment in the sense that Paul was separating from him. But this “agree to disagree” thing is normally lived out very differently. The way it usually expresses itself is, “I have a strong opinion about something. You have a strong opinion about something. And we both think we’re right. There’s nothing we can do about it, so let’s just drop the matter.” That’s really not God’s way, to just drop it and everybody go on and do their own thing. It’s convenient for us, but there’s serious loss whenever we take that particular course. It’s an intriguing story with John Mark. It’s an unfortunate story. But, our lives are filled with unfortunate things. It’s just a matter of handling it the best we can.
You know what? What if Paul and Barnabas handled it wrong? Is that possible? Could they have mishandled it? “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel” (2 Tim. 2:24). Well, it does sound like they had some sort of a quarrel. So, perhaps, there is some little bit of disobedience somewhere in the picture. And the fact that they had that quarrel in the Scriptures doesn’t mean that it was right. Maybe that should have never happened. Maybe John Mark should have gone and they should have brought a couple other brothers to spend a little extra time with John Mark. Maybe there were other solutions that they just didn’t come up with at the time. Maybe they didn’t pray and fast enough. Maybe they didn’t love each other quite enough. They were all fairly new in the faith, you know. Maybe they weren’t as wise at that point in time as they would have been ten years later. Maybe they would have done it differently ten years later. Just because it’s in the Scriptures doesn’t mean they were perfect and that they didn’t make any mistakes.
So, perhaps, they could have done something better at that point in time. But the main thing to see in that situation is that they continued to love each other. There is evidence of that. There is also evidence that Paul took a stand—and he had a reason for taking that particular stand. He wasn’t being unloving. There was a principle at stake, and he did the best he could to fulfill that. And, apparently, they stayed in touch later even though they didn’t work together at that point in time. Maybe they could have, maybe they should have...but they didn’t. However, the one point they didn’t violate was that they didn’t cease loving and caring for each other.
Summing It Up...Love God and Love Each Other
I do realize that you may have never thought of some of what I just said before. Perhaps you never really thought of it in that light or exactly that way. And I do realize you are going to have to chew on this and kind of work it into your life and consider it from different aspects. My intent is only to plant seeds so that God can give increase...and oh, how He gives increase! Where and why and what form that increase takes, is His business. The seed I want to plant right now is that Romans 14 does not mean “agree to disagree.” Somebody has weaker faith—and we need to care about that! We don’t ignore the fact that one of us has weaker faith, and we don’t reject each other either.
I also want you to recognize that the reason Paul did what he did with Barnabas was probably very much related to an Acts 6 issue of waiting on tables. One must be full of the Holy Spirit and full of wisdom to wait on tables. “You that are spiritual, restore such a one.” There were principles of truth in Paul’s mind that led him to take the course that he did. Right or wrong, he did the best he could to follow the ways of God in that matter. If we love each other the way that Paul and Barnabas did and if we love God, then how it applies in various situations, difficulties and disagreements that we find ourselves in will play itself out the way God wants it to. We can trust Him to do that.
And that’s kind of the thought I want to leave you with. I’m not trying to create some Acts of the Apostles theological trail that says, “When you have a disagreement with somebody, here’s what you do...” The principle is just this: Love each other into greatness!! Don’t give up, and don’t accept weaker faith in someone else as just the “way it has to be.” Don’t reject them in the process, and don’t give up on them in the process either. Keep working with each other and you will see glorious things! LOVE EACH OTHER, LOVE EACH OTHER, LOVE EACH OTHER INTO GREATNESS!
“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Philippians 2:1-2).
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be shepherds and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
“I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:1-3).
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
“Proclaim the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).