Scripture Reading: Acts 15:35—16:5

In this message we shall cover 15:35—16:5. Acts 15:35-39 records Paul’s contention with Barnabas. In 15:40 we have the beginning of Paul’s second ministry journey. In verses 40 and 41 Paul and Silas passed through Syria and Cilicia, and in 16:1-5 they went to Derbe and to Lystra.


In 15:36 Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return now and visit the brothers throughout every city in which we announced the word of the Lord, and see how they are getting along.” Barnabas intended to take with them John who was called Mark, but Paul “did not consider it suitable to take with them this one who withdrew from them in Pamphylia and did not go with them to the work. And there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; and Barnabas, taking along Mark, sailed away to Cyprus” (vv. 38-39). Barnabas and Paul were men who had given up their lives for the name of the Lord (v. 26), yet immediately after their victory in contending for the faith against the heresy concerning circumcision, there arose such a sharp contention between them concerning a relative of one of them that they separated from each other.

The Responsibility of Barnabas

The responsibility for the problem should rest with Barnabas, because after this incident he no longer appears in the divine record in Acts of the Lord’s move in God’s New Testament economy. The reason for his failure may have been his natural relationship with Mark, his cousin (Col. 4:10), who had left Barnabas and Paul in their first ministry journey in a negative way (Acts 13:13). Mark was later recovered to Paul’s ministry (2 Tim. 4:11; Philem. 24), but not Barnabas.

Regarding Mark, Paul was very strict. Mark may have left during the first ministry journey because he was not able to bear the hardships of that evangelical work. However, Barnabas, whose name means son of encouragement (4:36), wanted to take Mark with them on the second journey. Barnabas, who may have been a very kind and patient person, wanted to give Mark another opportunity. Furthermore, because Mark was Barnabas’ cousin, he and Barnabas had a relationship in the flesh. Because Paul was strict in not letting Mark go on the second journey, there arose a sharp contention between Paul and Barnabas.

Lessons to Be Learned

We need to learn from the case of Paul’s contention with Barnabas regarding Mark not to exercise our natural virtues in relation to the Lord’s work. You may be very kind and patient, but when you come into the Lord’s work, you need to forget your natural kindness and patience and take care of the strict, divine regulations and principles. You should not sacrifice the divine principles for the sake of your natural being. If you are naturally nice, kind, patient, and tolerant, this will cause problems in the Lord’s work. If you hold on to such natural virtues, you will sacrifice the divine principles for the sake of your virtues.

In 15:35-39 we see something even worse than exercising our natural virtues in the Lord’s work, and this is the serious matter of allowing a fleshly relationship to creep into this work. It is a terrible thing for this to take place. Barnabas was mistaken both in the matter of exercising his natural virtues in the Lord’s work and probably also in allowing the fleshly relationship with Mark to come into the work.

At the time of 15:35-39 Paul was not a young man. He certainly was one who had much experience in the Lord. Surely there must have been some basic principles involved with the question of taking Mark along with them on the second ministry journey, and Paul felt that he could not break these principles. Eventually, Barnabas went his way, taking Mark with him. After this, there is no further mention of Barnabas in the divine record of God’s move in His New Testament economy. This indicates that Barnabas was wrong.