By Pastor David M. Choi
After much deliberation, the elders and apostles reach an agreement (vv.22-29). The Gentiles are not to be burdened with the fine print of Jewish law (e.g. dietary restrictions, circumcision) since they are now saved by faith through the grace of Christ Jesus (15:11). This is a great moment for the church, as an agreement is reached. However, a sobering moment of disagreement lies not too far ahead.
In vv.36-41, Paul and Barnabas are now preparing for their second missionary journey, and Barnabas wants to take Mark with them. But Paul objects to this idea, because, for reasons unknown, Mark had abandoned them in the middle of their first journey (v.38). Paul wants someone who is reliable, someone who is mature, and someone he can trust. Barnabas, though, is called the ‘son of encouragement’ for a reason. Unlike Paul, he wants to give Mark another chance, and use this opportunity to help him grow. Sadly, Paul and Barnabas never reach an agreement with respect to Mark, and in the end decide to go their separate ways (vv.39-40).
Disagreements are just a matter of life. Think about how many people you end up disagreeing with on a daily basis, that is, whether in person or online. It. is. a. lot. But some of us just can’t help ourselves, right? Some of us feel the need to instantly reply to every little tweet, comment, and post, until someone acquiesces to your viewpoints and demands. But often, I think more significant than what is being posted online is what’s not being posted. For as we discover in this passage, spiritually mature persons have the ability to adjudicate which disagreements are worth pursuing an agreement on and which are not (and clearly most online disagreements are not worth this pursuit). And for this, Paul and Barnabas are wonderful examples.
Not everything needs to end in agreement; for instance, which ice cream flavor is the best, or who the best Marvel superhero is (although I’m sure some of you would disagree with me on that one). We might disagree on these things, but I’d still love you the same. But there are other things in which we as Christians certainly should pursue agreement on, not only amongst ourselves but even with our non-believing neighbors. For instance, we should work towards agreement on matters of racial, social, and economic justice, because these are things that Christ deeply cares for! But unfortunately, our priorities are often backwards. That is, we want to purse agreement on things that matter very little, while settling for silent disagreement on things that matter most.
What matters most? If you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, then shouldn’t you love people enough that you actually want them to agree with you on this? But do you? If not, then perhaps it’s because you actually find yourself disagreeing with Christ himself and who he claims to be. But that’s okay. Because that’s still a disagreement worth pursuing.
Lord, you love this world, and you gave us your one and only Son in order to save it. You want us to agree with your truth, because there is nothing else besides it. And so, you call us to agree with one another in our confession of your holy name. Purge our minds and purge our hearts. Grant us wisdom to agree on that which truly matters in your kingdom, while granting us the ability to love one another in that which we can freely disagree on, which for that reason still remains significant in your kingdom. Amen.