Paul and Barnabas’ personal feelings toward one another must have been deep, loving, respectful, appreciative, tender, firm, and strong. Two men could not stand, fight, and work so intimately and closely without developing a powerful, personal bond of brotherhood. It is touching to think about.
Suddenly, however, we read of their disagreement and division. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark, but Paul “thought it not good to take him with them; and the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed one from the other” (Acts 15:36-40). Paul chose Silas, and Barnabas took Mark, and their work prospered. Later evidence shows they were reconciled to one another. They did not allow bitterness and silent separation to follow them to their graves.
But in the interval, immediately after the split, one is left to wonder if Paul and Barnabas regretted their estrangement. Did they lie awake at night and quietly weep and pray for one another? Did each hope that the other felt the same concern and affection that he felt? Did they often long for each other’s presence, support, advice, and counsel? While believing their judgment was correct concerning Mark, did they ever regret their strong feelings and sharp words toward one another? Did they ever wish the whole episode had never occurred, or that they had muzzled and squelched their opinion of Mark and gone along in order to avoid the rupture of their work together? Did they promise themselves that they would be extra careful to confirm their love to one another when next they met? Did they hope that it was all somehow for the best? Did each promise himself to be the first to seek the restoration of their cooperation? Consider the depths of hope, fear, love, anguish, and prayer that must have flooded their broken hearts! Surely, they felt and shared similar sorrows and emotions.
If you are Paul, who is your Barnabas? If you are Barnabas, who is your Paul? If you have been a member of the body of Christ for a long time, and have earnestly contended for the faith, you probably have “a Barnabas,” someone you are at odds with, but you wish deep down in your heart of hearts that you were not. You remember with gentle fondness the sweet times and sad trials you bore together. You recall the closeness, the bonds of fellowship, and ties of love that were once dearer than those among some of your own family. Then came “the split,” the hard looks, the harsh words, the misunderstandings, the unexplained changes in behavior, the cold stares, the sullen avoidance, the hurt, the pain, the tears, the sorrow and regret. Yes, you have felt it all and more, and you wish to recall those former days. “It could never be the same again.” Perhaps not, but, it need not remain the way it is.
Maybe your “Barnabas” feels the very same way and would react positively to a friendly gesture of kindness. All Christians will be at odds with one another at some moment in time. Let not a disagreement, no matter how harsh, separate you here on earth from someone you will spend an eternity with in heaven. As Paul wrote to the Ephesian: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (Eph 4:31,32) Reach out to your Barnabas and forgive. Reach out to your Paul and forgive, and in so doing, you will reap joy and love, and great works in the kingdom of the Lord. Let brotherly love continue! (Heb 13:1) There is only one way to find out.