Division gets a bad rap. But not all “division” is devilish.
Sure, most of it is destructive and unhealthy—the kind that comes from our pride and prejudice. But sometimes the separation we experience is the result of God calling His people toward the same destination, just down different streets.
The truth is that some disagreements are just the natural outcome of our different personal passions. But those passions are divine desires that God has given each of us, desires that grow out of our unique purposes and our distinct personalities.
Paul and Barnabas had been working together for a while. They had forged a strong bond laboring in the gospel trenches. They had already taken one life-changing and world-changing journey together, and were getting ready to embark on another. But they soon found themselves at an impasse: Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them again, but Paul would have none of it.
See, John Mark had started out with them on the previous journey but had turned back halfway through. He wasn’t ready for that missionary life yet. He got homesick and he couldn’t hang. So he abandoned them and went back.
So when it was time to hit the road again, John Mark became a point of contention (Acts 15:36–40). Barnabas wanted to give the young man another chance; Paul was done with him.
Neither Paul nor Barnabas was wrong. See, their individual perspectives were framed by their individual purposes and personalities.
Barnabas’ name literally means “son of consolation.” He was an encourager by nature. He had a heart to uplift the oppressed. To advocate for the ostracized. To hold open doors for the outcast to come back in. Remember it was Barnabas who spoke up for Paul when his past as a persecutor made him the object of everyone’s distrust (Acts 9:26–28). That’s who God made Barnabas to be.
So by advocating so strongly for John Mark, Barnabas was moving in his personal ministry. John Mark needed a chance to redeem himself, just like Paul did at one point. The young man no doubt felt bad for his previous failure. He surely had a desire to serve and to prove that he could still be used. And Barnabas was determined to give him that opportunity.
Paul, on the other hand, was focused like a laser on the preaching of the word. He was locked in on getting the good news out to as many people as possible with as few impediments as possible. God had called Paul to be the great preacher, a zealous and unwavering ambassador to a lost world. And Paul was determined to do that job—relentlessly, fearlessly, and with minimal distractions! He too was moving in his personal ministry.
Neither of them was wrong. In fact, they were both right! Both men were moving in their missions toward the glory of God and the growth of His kingdom.
They were just travelling different roads to get there.
Listen—you’re not going to be excited by all the things that excite other people. Everyone’s not going to be moved by everything that moves you. And that’s perfectly okay. Some of us really need to learn to let the Holy Spirit move as He sees fit. Remember, He’s the One who decides who gets which gifts and how those gifts are going to be used (1 Corinthians 12:11).
Stop feeling guilty because you don’t feel the same fire that someone else feels!
When that happens, you can start to force yourself to serve in areas that don’t fit your strengths. You can feel compelled to do things you think you’re “supposed to do.” But you do them with no energy or joy because…well, you really don’t want to do them. And the Body always suffers when its members aren’t doing the right jobs.
Stop judging and criticizing those who aren’t passionate about your passions!
Many people wrongly try to impose their calling on other people. I’ve seen believers shaming other believers for not being fervent in a specific ministry, making them feel like they’re not good Christians because they’re not fired up about a particular kingdom cause. They browbeat other people and make them feel guilty for not going as hard as they do in that one area of service. All that does is create resentment and bitterness in the Body.
Don’t be afraid to part ways with people who are on a different path than you!
It takes faith and courage to move in your calling, even when that means pulling away from good people and long-time friends. It doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate the support they’ve given you in the past. And it doesn’t mean you don’t ever expect to work together again.
Just because you tell someone “not right now,” doesn’t mean you’re saying “never again.”
The beautiful thing about it is that even when our personal paths diverge for the sake of our unique spiritual callings, they still eventually converge again for the ultimate glory of Christ. (Some Bible scholars think the “Marcus” Paul commends in Colossians 4:1 is indeed John Mark; if it is, Paul had clearly come to trust and respect him.)
Here’s a lesson for us: let’s learn to agree to disagree! If it’s not an indisputable matter of scriptural truth, let’s allow each other to be who we are. Let’s allow the Spirit to take each of us where He wants us to go. And let’s not fall out over it.
We don’t have to burn bridges.
We don’t have to write each other off.
And even if we do have to build some walls between us every now and then, let’s be sure to leave window or two. That way, we can still see each other through the eyes of love. We can still witness what God is doing in each other’s lives and ministries. And we can always come back together again when it’s time to reunite.
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