We studied the first missionary journey of Paul earlier this year. These posts highlighted the passages of Acts 13:1-15:35. This study on Paul’s second missionary journey will resume where we left off at Acts 15:36 and continue through Acts 18:23.
As companions, Paul and Barnabas had journeyed together sharing the message of Christ with those they encountered on their first mission trip. They had been blessed and commissioned to undertake their endeavor from the church at Antioch. Paul and Barnabas discovered on their journey that Gentiles were eager to hear and respond to the word of the Lord. The growth of faith among them caused several significant questions regarding spiritual practices to arise that needed to be brought before the Council in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas took these matters of faith before the Jerusalem Council where James and Peter, along with the other elders of the Church, bestowed on them the approval to continue the Gentile mission. They were also given specific instructions regarding certain practices of faith and a letter from the Jerusalem Church. After nearly two years and covering approximately 1,500 miles, Paul and Barnabas returned and resumed their lives among the faithful, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord in Antioch. This first journey had been successful and they returned to the Antioch church brimful of news concerning the growth of faith among Gentiles.
“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.”” Acts 15:36
Quality time with others leaves a yearning to spend more time with them when you’re apart. In my own mission experiences, I am saddened to leave those I’ve come to know. I look forward to returning to see them. I think often of them and their community of faith and wonder how they and their church have changed and grown in faith.
Perhaps Paul also thought often of those he had met and with whom he had shared faith and longed to renew and strengthen his friendship ties with them. I believe Paul wanted to return to see if those seeds of faith that they had planted had matured and grown. He longed to see those new converts and encourage them. Also entirely possible is the notion that Paul had an urge to travel and not remain dormant too long in any one place. He was antsy. He wanted to share the message of Christ with as many people as possible and fan their faith into a longing to share that same message with others. Paul had a passionate pursuit to see that Christ was known and preached across the world. By staying in one place too long, the message didn’t spread.
“Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.” Acts 15:37-39
Luke records the heartbreaking knowledge of the dissolution of a partnership between Paul and Barnabas. Although we aren’t told all of the details regarding this disagreement, we can learn from their heartbreak as much as their success. Paul and Barnabas had spent many hours and knew one another well. A disagreement, as sharp as this one implies, must have come from a fundamental difference of opinion or priority. Luke offers us a linchpin for their disagreement: John Mark. He had left them during their first missionary journey and sailed home to Jerusalem following the stop in Cyprus. [Acts 13:13] John Mark, being younger than the other two men, have led scholars to speculate that he made a hasty decision to return or that he was homesick. Barnabas was willing to give him a second chance. He may have, out of a sense of loyalty to this young man, wanted to spare him the embarrassment of not being asked to accompany them on this second journey. Another possibility is the loyalty of family ties. Scholars believe that John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin.
Paul, on the other hand, didn’t deem the decision to give John Mark a second chance as a wise one. The charge of desertion was a serious one. The spread of the gospel message was at stake and placing trust in someone with doubts as to their missionary pursuits put their whole endeavor at risk. Paul was unwilling to compromise the success of the journey. Reaching the lost for Christ was more important. One of the positive outcomes of this split between them is the formation of two mission teams instead of one. Both were sent out to encourage believers, strengthen ties, and evangelize.
“Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” Acts 15:39-41
The team of Barnabas and John Mark set sail for Cyprus. Paul’s new partner, Silas, was a wise choice. He was well connected with the church in Jerusalem and had been appointed to deliver the letter from the Council concerning the decrees for Gentiles. [Acts 15:22] He also appears to have been a Roman citizen which would have been an asset useful in their travels. Paul and Silas depart north to southern Asia Minor and specifically the churches of Syria-Cilicia and then onward to the churches of Galatia.
Both of these groups most likely left on their journeys in the spring since travel was difficult in the winter. They also probably departed in the morning in order to have a full day of travel.
This passage contains the last mention of Barnabas recorded in scripture. Some scholars believe that Paul and Barnabas reconciled.[1 Corinthians 9:6] I believe they did. As for Paul and John Mark, their relationship was mended at some point. Paul commends John Mark for his help and service. [Philemon 24; Colossians 4:10]
Questions to consider
- Would I consider leaving my home and family to serve as a missionary abroad? What difficulties might I face?
- Am I as passionate as these men of faith to see others know Jesus? Am I willing to share the good news of Jesus with others? Why or why not?
- Have I ever disagreed with a fellow believer? Did I resolve the dispute or allow it to separate the friendship forever?
- Do I think Paul and Barnabas resolved their disagreement? Why or why not?
- When both teams returned to the places visited in the first journey, how did Paul and Barnabas explain the absence of the other and why they had a new partner to those who asked?
- Would I have allowed John Mark to join the next journey? Why or why not?
- Do I believe God allowed this schism in their friendship to occur in order to accomplish more for Him? If so, why?
- What can I learn from heartbreak that I can’t learn from success? What can I learn from success that I can’t learn from heartbreak?
- Is it important that the Bible contain negative and positive examples of relationships and success? Why?
Reference: Acts: An Exegetical Commentary Volume 3 Craig S. Keener pgs. 2297-2311; The Acts of the Apostles A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary Ben Witherington III pg. 473; The NIV Study Bible Zondervan Publishing House 1985