The Council at Jerusalem
After returning from their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas spent some time in Antioch teaching and having fellowship with the believers. The calmness of not having to worry about persecution and assassination every single day would have been a welcome emotion for them. But when we are doing God’s work, the waters will not always be calm.
Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” – Acts 15:1
We as humans continue to be under the impression that we have earned our salvation through our good deeds and our obedience to the word of God. The Jews who came down to Antioch were part of the group of Pharisees that had believed in Jesus but still thought that salvation could be earned through obeying the law to the letter. They confused the gentiles by proclaiming that without the act of circumcision, their salvation is not complete.
Paul and Barnabas got into a heated argument with the folks from Antioch as they had been preaching among the Gentiles, that believing Christ died for our sins was enough to give us a clean slate. So Paul, Barnabas and a few other believers were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to ask the apostles about their opinion on this matter. Whether it be our Church leaders or court-appointed jury members and judges, we always need an impartial third party to settle our disputes. If we obey the leading of the spirit such disputes would not occur. The spirit will not lead two people to draw contrasting conclusions.
The journey to Jerusalem was not wasted, as Paul and Barnabas made stops along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria, and told the believers there, how even the Gentiles had accepted the Gospel. This news was great encouragement to the believers in these cities.
When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” – Acts 15:4-5
Our Churches are either intentionally or unintentionally divided into subgroups based on age groups, income class or ethnicity. If each group looks out for their own interests and interprets the word according to their lifestyles, the Church stands divided. Over here, those belonging to the party of the Pharisees raised an objection as they felt the laws and traditions that they followed for the last 1500 years were being left behind in this post-crucifixion era.
Apostles and the elders of the Church met to consider and after much discussion Peter addressed everyone. Peter reminded them of the Gentile Pentecost and how the Holy Spirit did not distinguish between circumcised and uncircumcised believers. Paul and Barnabas spoke next, recounting all the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.
We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” – Acts 15:11
The Apostles sent Paul and Barnabas a letter condemning the actions of the ones who came to Antioch, along with Judas and Silas as proof of the authenticity of the letter. The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. Paul and Barnabas along with Silas, remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.
Disagreement Between Paul and Barnabas
After staying in Antioch for a while, Paul wanted to embark upon another missionary journey and strengthen the churches they had helped establish during the First Missionary Journey. Again the calm waters were stirred up when Paul and Barnabas’ friendship came to an abrupt end due to Paul’s unwillingness to give John Mark another chance. Paul was angry at Mark for deserting them midway through their last missionary journey. In his letters, Paul later acknowledges John Mark several times and also stated that he had been helpful in Paul’s ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11). So Paul and Mark bury the hatchet and continue doing ministry together, but this is the last we ever hear about Barnabas. God used the fight between Paul and Barnabas to send out two groups. Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus while Paul taking Silas along with him, went in the opposite direction through Syria. Even when things seem lost and everyone has deserted us, remember that God is still in control.
- Were the Apostles themselves confident in their beliefs? Are we?
- Why do you think Barnabas is not mentioned after this chapter?
- Can two workers of God have a falling out?
- Are we a stepping stone or a stumbling block to the new believers in our Church?