Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.”  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. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. – Acts 15:36-41

    Fun fact, nobody’s perfect! The last section was title free life, but often when we hear that we are supposed to do something, we do not feel free. When we are told to clean, we do not feel free to not clean. Although we know that cleaning is good and that it will result in ease of movement and less bacterial and fungal build up which produces a, well, smell.

    When you say that you are a follower of Jesus there are some pretty strong requirements. Jesus says that if you follow Him you need to be willing to pick up your cross daily (Luke 9:23). Picking up your cross meant shame and even walk to your death, because that was what a cross was. It was a shameful torture device with the purpose of killing those who went on it over an excruciating slow amount of time.

    Being a believer has more to do with dying to oneself than it does living for yourself (Col 3:10; Rom 6:6; Eph 4:22; 2 Cor 5:17; John 3:3). Having a transformation of the mind. When we say we love God with our heart, mind, soul, and strength or in other words with everything we are, which is the Great Commandment, we would desire Him most of all. And, if we desire the creator of all more than all or anything He created, would we not want to also live in His creation the way that pleases Him. In this love, in this life of surrender there is freedom. Not because we are forced to obey, but because we long to live for Him.

    Luke, the author of Acts, also references a moment when Jesus boldly speaks to those following Him. He tells them to count the cost. He sandwiches this challenging message to know how dedicated you must be to the Lord, between two sections where Jesus is extremely dedicated to generously giving to those who either did not deserve it or were earnestly sought. Count the cost of following Jesus because it is so much more than simply doing the right things and not doing the wrong.

    Following Jesus will cost you, the cost will come when you forgive those who deserve more evil than you could fathom to commit yourself. The cost will come when you abandon all logic in order to seek out someone who you may never reach. The cost will come while you are rejected by those you first so intentionally pursued and yet you receive acceptance by those whom you overlooked at first (Luke 14:15-24).

    That all said, there is an awkwardness that comes from this. Let’s be real for a moment. We are not perfect. Even if we try really hard. Even if we are filled with God Himself through the Holy Spirit, have a new perspective on life, and are being transformed into a more God and others honoring person (Rom 12:1-3). We are not perfect. We are not even perfect at trying to be perfect.

    Even the best of the best, the foundation builders of the Church, the body of Christ, were not perfect. They were not even perfect at not expecting perfection.

Our Successes do not determine our future Trajectories.

    The intense moment we are about to go into was one that followed a great success for two followers of Christ. But before we dive into their success let’s rehash some personal context.

    Okay, so, some pretty major things to remember about both of these guys. One Paul was described both by himself and close friends as murderously seeking Christians. He was adamantly against Christ and anyone who would think to speak of Him as God. To add to that story, Barnabas was one of the first people to believe in Paul when he turned to believe in Jesus. It was Barnabas that gave credibility to Paul’s first journey to share the Gospel. Barnabas saw past Paul’s former failures to see what he could do for the cause of Christ by the power of God.

    At this point these two intensely close brothers in Christ have weathered attacks on their lives for the sake of the Gospel they were sent out to share. Their message and years of ministry had fallen into question by the very church that had first sent them though. They had come back home to be heard and to essentially be put on trial to see whether they had done enough to bring people to Christ.

    Put this in perspective as to what the Jerusalem council was to Paul and Barnabas. It was to decide whether or not the past years, years, of their life, imprisonments, beatings, being stoned, and constant attacks were actually worth anything. The people who had stayed were meeting to determine whether or not the ministry of Paul and Barnabas had accomplished anything other than giving false hope.

    But, Paul and Barnabas were encouraged that their ministry was not in vain and to keep sharing the Gospel as they had joyfully done previously. These two brothers had endured attacks from the Gentiles, the Jews, and now even the church for the sake of the ministry of the Gospel. But,

    Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.”  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. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. – Acts 15:36-41

    Paul is an anomaly here. It is definitely a different side of Paul than what we see in his letters. Paul was the biggest advocate of grace, in his later letter to the Romans he emphatically wrote to outdo one another in showing. More than just forgiving someone, grace is giving to someone. Paul had regularly left a testimony of putting more burdens on himself so that others could have grace, not putting more burdens on them to receive grace.

    Paul believed that the Church should not put burdens and requirements on people that were unnecessary. He wanted everyone to know the abundance of grace and freedom in Christ. And so, Paul had went to the leaders of the church that were in Jerusalem to gather and discuss this matter. And they said this:

    It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.  – Acts 15:28-29

    These are some pretty basic things. Simply put these decisions state that a believer should not continue to do the things you did to elevate things you had in place of God before you believed in Him. Do not live according to sexual passions, live a pure life. In other words focus on the Lord, and honor Him not what you previously did.

    Paul was the Billboard guy for what God could do through someone who had failed. He was the most viral thread in the church for what could happen in God’s grace through someone’s life. But still, Paul refused to bring John called Mark along with him.

    So, Paul being opposed to bringing someone with him who is repentant is crazy. Paul and Barnabas had moved a mountain. They had changed cultures, community, and been established by the leaders of the church. They had not simply been sent out by the church they had been vindicated and backed by the leaders.

    Now Barnabas had some skin in the game, Mark was his cousin (Col 4:10). Better than that, Paul later came to depend and work closely with Mark (Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Phlm 24). More than that, both men that went with either Paul or Barnabas went on to have significant ministries themselves promoting and preaching the Gospel.[1] Have you heard of the Gospel of Mark?

    And so, the momentum of their past successes and affirmations have ceased to help them move forward together.

Our perceived Downfalls do not determine God’s future Triumphs.

    God still used both teams to share the Gospel. Actually, because they went their separate ways they were able to be more effectual in their care for the churches and for reaching new areas! How bout them apples?

    This is essential to recognize because as we talk about living for God, and especially when we say if you love God you will obey His commandments, it does not mean you have to be perfect. More than that, you do not need to be perfect to share with others about your perfect God. God is bigger than that. You do not need to be the best to describe how He is the best. Instead you need to be willing.

    You need to be willing to go tell others about Him. You need to be willing to understand that you are not perfect and won’t be. You also have to understand that others are not perfect. You need to be able and willing to embrace others in your frustration with them and your failed expectations with them.

    We love receiving grace from God and others, but often we miss the magnitude of the cost of that grace both from God and others. My question for you is this, what is a person worth to you. You know what they are worth to God. They are worth His humiliation and death.

    It is a lot easier to say, trust God when divisions, separations, and sharp disagreements happen. This is partly true because every division does not always lead to benefit. It often does not lead to benefit for both parties.

    I have been attacked and slandered by friends only to be richly blessed through and after the process. But, I later found out that the person who attacked me meant good and went through a terrifying 5 years of trauma after hurting me. But, similar to Paul and John Mark, this brother and I were restored and have been an encouragement to one another for years.

The balance between Grace and Wisdom is a Struggle.

    Reflect on this situation from Paul’s perspective. Paul and Barnabas are setting out to go and encourage the churches they had brought the Gospel to. Many of these churches were established under great persecution. Paul wants to encourage them to stay strong. To bear their cross and to count the costs. Barnabas wants the same, but he wants to bring someone who deserted them.

    Paul who had just fought for understanding and not putting burdens on people and had been forgiven so much before he had become a believer opposed bringing someone who had failed. Let’s be fair. We have been in the place where we want a second chance. More than that we have been an advocate for someone else getting a second chance. We have also been the person who has said that someone has already gotten enough chances.

    Another element here is that we often find it easier to extend grace to those who we believe in and have not been hurt by. But, that is the true measure of grace. Grace is not simply being able to forgive or look past wrong. Grace is being able to forgive and move on from wrong done that affected you.

    But that grace extends past when we first believe in Jesus. Grace is meant to be given both when we first accept Jesus and throughout the rest of our steadfast journey of life lived for Jesus. Our failures and our successes do not change the measure of love that God has for you, for me, and for all those we are with.

    But, where’s the line? When does giving grace cause more harm to others and the gospel than it produces good. When should wisdom take hold and when should we remember how people have proven to fail and harm others. Worse, when do we put the potential of someone else’s salvation before the health, grace, and continued care of someone that seems unable to faithfully serve the Lord and their commitments?

    The greatest part about this moment of church history is that there is not a clear answer. Paul’s decision and the separation of Paul and Barnabas was not inherently wrong. Paul brought along Silas who was a highly respected member of the church and both he and Silas were used to bring numerous people to Christ. John Mark went on to write one of the four Gospel’s we read today and has made a lasting impact on the people of God.

    We do not know how these moments formed them or shaped their futures. What we do know is that our success, our failures, and our struggles between gracious acts or wise council still produce God honoring moments. We also know that there are times where both approaches are necessary. We can also rejoice that God has put in His body, the church, people who are able to move past frustrations and bring grace and truth to others.

How can your grace and wisdom impact someone for Christ?

    This brings us to today. Jesus is the rescuer, the salvation, our help during this present moment. We know this to be true. But, knowing a truth is not the same as being able to put it into practice. We have an uphill battle often against ourselves. How do I forgive someone when I do not want to? How do I embrace someone who has done nothing but push me away? How do I open myself again to hurt, worse, how do I open others up to hurt because I am trying to be generous, kind, and gracious?

    Wisdom shows that when someone has chosen repeatedly to do wrong that they may not want to or be able to do what they must. The Proverbs also encourage us to mock those who fail to heed wisdom until disaster strikes.

Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.

But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke,

I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you— when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. – Proverbs 1:23-27

    The Proverb goes on to speak of peoples unwillingness to learn and disposition against wisdom. But, what you can’t miss here is that it also speaks of rebuking and teaching. Sometimes bearing the cross is more than simply speaking about Jesus. Sometimes the cross, or pain, of a believer is giving grace to those who do not deserve it. Count the cost.

    Consider what grace will look like when you care for someone and what that grace or lack there of will look like as you continue to share Jesus. When you miss the mark, when you shine for Jesus by hitting the mark are you remembering the grace you were and are continually given.

    Use wisdom, discernment, and grace to determine your actions. Remember the Apostles here. Remember that we are united in our imperfections and only find perfection through Christ and not ourselves. Find ways to bridge the gap between you and the people around you.

    We are not perfect. As a person and part of the church I am not even perfect at recognizing the magnitude of my own imperfection. I relapse into remembering what I do right and not remembering all the failures it took me to get to the right place. Unite with people in our common goal of honoring Christ

    We are here to understand that even in our disagreements and our separate directions that Christ was glorified, made known, and believers were encouraged. There was restoration between these brothers in Christ. The legacy they left was not one of division instead the legacy these groups left was one of the Gospel being proclaimed across their known world.

[1] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2116.