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Tested To Different Limits

Acts 15:39-41
They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (NIVUK)

Paul and Barnabas were preparing to go back to the churches they had established during their first missionary journey. It had been a dangerous series of encounters because of increasingly violent opposition from religionists who refused to accept Jesus as God's way to salvation. Barnabas wanted to include his cousin, John Mark, on the team. But that young man, who later wrote Mark's gospel, had deserted Paul and Barnabas half way through the previous mission, and Paul did not want to take him again (Acts 15:38).

Paul knew that John Mark was a potential liability to the team. How could he be trusted in times of difficulty? Would Barnabas prioritise Mark's welfare over suffering for the gospel? Barnabas saw it differently: his cousin was young and learning … surely he should have another chance … he needed to be encouraged rather than left feeling rejected. Paul's concern was for the growth of the gospel, new believers and new churches in the face of persecution. Barnabas' concern was for John Mark's personal growth in confidence and courage.

Both priorities were valid but they could not coexist. So Paul decided to take Silas (one of the preaching elders from Jerusalem - Acts 15:32) to travel overland to the cities (in what is now southern Turkey) where he had planted churches. Barnabas, on the other hand, went back to his home country of Cyprus with John Mark: probably a safer environment. Despite their disagreement, and dissolution of their ministry partnership, both men trusted the Lord for what was in their heart. However, the Antioch church was convinced that Paul's ministry, which has been personally commissioned by the Lord Jesus, should not be compromised and so fully supported Paul for his second missionary journey.

Sometimes Christians disagree about ministry priorities, even though they share the same doctrinal beliefs. All of us are being tested all the time: it may be in matters of courage, finance, physical endurance, faithfulness, mental resilience, spiritual faith and obedience, practical service, or emotional stability. The Lord knows our strengths and weaknesses, and yet He will not limit the progress of His work by what we are unwilling or unable to do: He will find somebody else. Of course, He will not abandon failures; He provides people to encourage and restore. But neither will He abandon His priority purpose to reach a lost world with the gospel. As in a war, it is important to care for the wounded; but the priority is to win the battles. So it is with the church of Jesus Christ. Pray for your church to prioritise gospel disciple-making.

Gracious God. Thank You for those people who told me how to access Your love through faith in Christ Jesus. Forgive me when I lose sight of Your priority for everybody in the world to hear the gospel. I know that You love me and all Your other 'wounded soldiers' who You will restore to being useful in Your kingdom. Please help me to be willing to serve You as You choose, and never to forget the priority of proclaiming the gospel. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams