Boundaries and Break-Ups
And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Acts 15:39
I was once approached by an individual asking for medical support for his addiction ministry. Knowing that not everyone approaches addiction the same way, and having some strong convictions myself, I inquired as to the nature of this particular ministry. After talking briefly, we realized we weren’t a good fit for each other and so, we mutually agreed to part ways. As we had little invested in each other, it wasn’t particularly painful. It’s not always so easy though.
As much as we’d like to live in harmony with all Christians, we’re simply too flawed. If we lived in an unspoiled world, with everyone following God perfectly, then maybe we could all work together. As it is though, we are inevitably going to get to the point where we realize that another’s style, means, or substance is just too different from our own to be compatible. For better or worse, the further down the road of any relationship we are, the more painful it is to end it.
Today’s passage tells us of the sad end of the relationship between Paul and Barnabas. Though they had been through much and had seen God do amazing things, in the end, their partnership and friendship fell apart. What was the conflict? Earlier, on one of their journeys, one member of their team, John Mark, left them and went home (Acts 13:13). We don’t know why he left, but Paul was deeply offended. Later, when Barnabas wanted to once again include John Mark in their mission, Paul said, absolutely not. The two men came to such a heated disagreement over John Mark, that they ended their partnership, going their separate ways.
Both men followed God, faithfully spreading the gospel, and both men continued in radical obedience. On this issue though, they had opposing convictions that they were simply unable to abandon. In the end, they realized they just couldn’t continue working together.
Though we’re to strive for Christian unity, there will be times when we realize that we simply cannot work with another’s style, means, or substance. In these times, we must humbly ask if we are being prideful, or if we are simply doing what we believe is right. It’s not wrong to have convictions and boundaries. Sometimes, doing what’s right means parting ways – no matter how painful – with those who simply aren’t going in the same direction we’re supposed to go.