May 1, 2009

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

We’ve all experienced the disappointment and heartache that come with the death of a friendship, a schism in our church or the break up of a ministry. Often we try hard to mend the situation. But, sometimes the question isn’t how to get it back together, but how to keep moving forward in Christ—with purpose and without bitterness, guilt or anger.

Paul and Barnabas were best buds. After Paul’s conversion experience in Damascus, Barnabas convinced the church in Jerusalem to accept Paul. Later he rescued Paul in Tarsus and brought him back to Antioch where they established the first church. God had big plans for these two and they were inseparable. Together they traveled extensively, spoke boldly, set up churches, suffered persecution, witnessed miracles, worshipped with abandon and experienced the power of the Holy Spirit.

Can you just imagine how cool this must have been?

Yet, despite the Spirit working in their lives, they weren’t immune from the humanness we all bring into relationships. In Acts 15 Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark on their next missionary journey but Paul, wasn’t convinced of Mark’s commitment and vetoed the idea. Stubbornly, Paul wouldn’t change his mind and the two “had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.” (v 39) Barnabas sailed to Cyprus with Mark and Paul went with Silas to Syria. Just like that their beautiful partnership ended.

I don't know about you, but I find this story sad and confusing. If Paul and Barnabas were such godly men, why couldn’t they see past their differences and work it out? Wasn’t the relationship worth saving? After all, aren’t we called to be peacemakers, and shouldn’t we try to establish unity at all costs? Was Paul being too rigid? Was Barnabas being too soft?

The Bible doesn’t address these details. It doesn’t paint their split as a bad thing or use this story as an object lesson in unity. Instead, the two continued their ministries separately—and successfully. Scripture leads us to believe Paul and Barnabas eventually made peace with one another, but this apostolic dynamic duo never got the band back together.

While the death of a friendship is sad and the dissolution of such a fruitful partnership seems tragic, could it be this break up was part of God’s plan? Think about it. The Good News reached more people in more places because Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways than if they’d stayed together.

Maybe Paul felt this way. Because despite his stubborn nature and rough edges, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt he was called to advance the gospel. Period. Perhaps he mourned the loss of his friendship with Barnabas or regretted how he handled the situation, but Paul’s razor sharp focus allowed him to loosely hold all he had—his agenda, his comfort, his desires…and his friendships. He could let go and let God.

It’s hard to accept that sometimes discord and dissolution of a ministry, friendship or partnership can be a good thing. But as we’ve seen with Paul and Barnabas, as long as we stay focused on Jesus, it can be. The hard part is knowing when to hold on and when to let go.

Perhaps this is why Paul said to the Philippians, “I pray that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best…to the glory and praise of God.”

Oh, to be able to hold this life loosely, to discern what is best from what is good and to do it all to the glory and praise of God. As C.S. Lewis said, “If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

I think Paul and Barnabas would agree.


Anonymous said...

Very nice, thank you!

Peggy said...

Wow.... I've always been taught to, "Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver the other gold."
God does tell us sometimes to move on, to do His work in other places, He doesn't always tell us to grab all our friends, but asks us to have faith and go foward on our own.
Yes, apart Paul and Barnabas did reach many ,many more people and God knew that, just as He knows all He has planned for each of us.
Great post , thanks Kelli for the chance to ponder this thought.
Blessings and Love....Peggy

Chatty Kelly said...

This post is so timely! Churches have discord that result in splits all the time, and yes even good friends experience this.

I too would love to hear more from the Bible on what happened, why, the result. I like your finish.

Great writing as always.

Saleslady371 said...

I've had to work through a gamut of emotions when friends left my church and sometimes I was the one who left. What I learned in my experiences is to focus only on the Lord's voice looking for that peace to lead me so I know what to do. Oddly, true relationships came back even stronger. Holding on loosely is a good thought.

Sue J. said...

We were just reading from Psalm 103: "As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more." (vs. 15&16)

As important as relationships are to God, still the most important relationship of all is the one we have with Him. We are to love one another, and maybe that does mean letting go at some point. My study Bible suggests that Paul's arguments were more compelling and that Barnabas should have submitted, since Paul was an Apostle of Christ. Paul was clearly about doing His Lord's work, and maybe Barnabas just saw things differently.

Of course, if they hadn't split, we wouldn't have had Paul and Silas in the jail and that amazing story.

(sigh) Sometimes our unity boils down to the very letter, and that can be very difficult to maintain--even when serving the same Lord!

You have a very interesting book subject on your hands....

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

There story has always troubled me, but I've come around to the same conclusion as you. I think one day we'll get the full story, but in the meantime, I ponder the worth of "holy" partings; it's easy to forget the flesh behind their faith. After all, they seem so "holy." But the reality is that until we cloak our flesh with the finality of our death, we'll always boast an edge of "self."

I wonder if Paul didn't also have the edge? Who knows?!

Great word, friend.


Laura said...

My, did I need to read this tonight. Some separations are difficult to recover from. If I remember correctly, John Mark as Barnabas' nephew...seems like, when it comes to family, we always are on the defensive side, no? At least I know I am. :)

But, I love how you point out that God used this for good. Some separations are meant to be, painful as they may be.

As always, a delightful visit!


Gail W. said...

Kelli, your thoughts really spoke to my heart this morning. Yes, we in Christ are justified. But fleshly leanings will be our lot until we are changed, in the twinkling of an eye. Thanks for sharing on understanding ourselves in the meantime.

Mrs. Tracy said...

good post....just dropped in from Leslie's blog...glad I did.

Joy in The Truth said...

I had a friend/sister in the Lord for a special season, and it was obvious that God had brought us together for a season of beautiful growth. We even did some ministry together. After a time, He put some space between order for us each to grow in Him. I prayed and asked the Lord how to respond if people asked why. I wanted to speak in truth and not give way to the appearance of division, which the enemy could use. I felt the Lord impress on my heart: "I have not divided you...I am spreading you out." That gave me such peace...and His truth to speak.

One of my favorite verses about friendship is:
"The wounds of a friend can be trusted..." Proverbs 27:6

As He usually does through our spouses, He uses friends as a sanctification tool. So thankful for friends who are willing to be that tool for me.

Thanks again for another refreshing post! :)