It’s clear that Paul and Barnabas debated what to do about the matter of taking John Mark with them or not for some time and we may feel it frustrating that they could not ultimately agree and so decided to go their separate ways. (Acts 15:36-41) Paul clearly felt John Mark was not reliable (the Message version talks about him being a ‘quitter’) and we can see his point: John Mark had not seen the Jews of Antioch of Pisidia chase them through the cities of Asia Minor persecuting them; he had not seen what happened in Lystra where Paul was stoned, dragged out of the city, and left for dead. If John Mark bailed out on the first journey before the going got hard, what will happen this time when he experiences the persecutions of the Jews?! Barnabas, on the other hand, was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and a second chance, and all of us can readily identify with how it feels when someone believes in us again after failure. Conflict is so much harder to resolve when (as is more often than not the case) there is right on both sides.
It’s easy when we disagree to think we are in the right and everyone else is wrong. We often fail to know people’s back stories, the reasons why they think and act as they do. Paul constantly urges us to consider other people’s needs and to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, so to speak; conflict often arises because of our different backgrounds, different values and different perceptions. We are not robots and each one of us will see situations differently; try as we might, we will never all agree on everything.
Nonetheless, we can see that though they disagreed on something which required their action, they took time to try to work things out and eventually settled on a compromise situation. They may not ultimately have agreed, but they united under a common cause, seeing the need to preach the gospel as being more important than arguing for ever and not preaching. Sometimes, we have to agree to disagree and move on, being careful with our words, for ‘a gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.’ (Prov 15:1, The Message)