Last Sunday we learned some valuable lessons from the church in Antioch in how to deal with controversies and conflicts within the church. As you recall, there was one group of believers who believed and taught that Gentile Christians must be circumcised and follow the law of Moses like the Jews in order to be truly saved. But there was another group of believers – which included Paul & Barnabas – who believed and taught that faith in Jesus Christ was the only requirement for salvation – for both the gentiles and the Jews.
Because this issue was of such great importance – having eternal ramifications – the church in Antioch took this issue to the church in Jerusalem to seek the wisdom and guidance of the Apostles and elders there. To make a long story short, after much debate and at the leading of the Holy Spirit and following the counsel of Scripture, the decision was made that the Gentile believers did not have to become like the Jews to be saved. But rather, they affirmed that we are all saved the same way – by the undeserved grace of God. Jesus Christ did all that was necessary for our salvation – we simply need to believe and accept!
So with that issue settled, you might expect the church in Antioch to enjoy a long period of peace and unity. But unfortunately that was not the case. Even after seeing such a great example of conflict resolution within the church, Paul & Barnabas of all people – have a bit of a falling out. They have – what the Bible describes as a “sharp disagreement” and in the end, they wind up going separate ways. It seems to be a very different outcome compared to last week’s conflict which ended with everyone being in complete agreement.
Which makes us wonder – if the whole church can come together and arrive at a unified decision on such a terribly controversial issue – then why can’t these two key leaders of the church – missionary partners who had served God side by side for years – why can’t they seem to arrived at a unified decision concerning their issues?
Well, that’s what we’re going to look at today. We’ll start at verse 32 – which is still part of the story from last week as Judas & Silas (who are representatives from the church in Jerusalem) spend time encouraging the church in Antioch.
It reads like this:
32 Then Judas and Silas, both being prophets, spoke at length to the believers, encouraging and strengthening their faith. 33 They stayed for a while, and then the believers sent them back to the church in Jerusalem with a blessing of peace. 35 Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch. They and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord there.
36 After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” 37 Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. 39 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40 Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. 41 Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.
So let’s begin first of all, by noticing that verse 34 seems to be missing from this passage. Verse 33 says that Judas and Silas were sent back to Jerusalem. And then it jumps right to verse 35 which says that Paul & Barnabas stayed in Antioch. So what does verse 34 say and why is it missing?