Churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.
Acts 15:36-16:15 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. 40 But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
16 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, 2 and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe. 5 So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.
6 They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; 7 and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; 8 and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
11 So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.
14 A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
In today’s text it says: After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. Far too often when we have sharp disagreements we prefer to stay and fight rather than go and work. Very often in the church it is the lack of mission which leads to many of the disagreements. Much of the discussion, the debate and the disagreements are centered around what is done inside the church walls, not about the mission to go out to the world. For Paul and Barnabas it wasn’t a disagreement about the mission, they were committed to strengthening the churches. Rather than remaining in disagreement and being divided, they both set out to do the work and so the ministry was multiplied.
Jesus says: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) Love does not mean there will never be disagreements. Rather it is how believers resolve and work through their disagreements that show the world the love of God. The church is called to be a community of believers. The word community is formed by combining two words, common and unity. The unity that believers have is not derived by becoming uniform, all being alike, thinking alike, wanting all the same things. The church is called together from diversity and it is that diversity which helps to make it strong. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul compares the church to the body saying: Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body…God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
It was not that there were no disagreements in the early church. They did not think alike or have all the same preferences. Their unity was not a unity of conformity, each one expected to be just like the others. Their unity was community. It was based on the common unity that they had. Each one unified with Christ. Each one committed to and unified around the call and the commission of Jesus. When we focus on the things that cause disagreements, the things that divide us, when we prefer to stay inside the walls of the church to discuss and debate our differences, those differences and disagreements become larger. If instead, the church today would focus on community, the common unity we share, if we would be unified around fulfilling the call and the commission of Christ, if the focus would be to make disciples of Christ rather than creating conformity and becoming uniform, making others look and think like us, what might we be capable of? In a very short time, without the aid of modern technology, without the ease of modern travel, without the internet or television, the early church fulfilled the commission of Christ. They preached the gospel to all creation and were His witnesses, even to the remotest part of the earth. God has called the body together because we are different, each one having a purpose. Our differences will cause us to have preferences that differ. But to fulfill Christ’s call and commission, we must like Paul and Barnabas, like all the early church, focus not on what we disagree about, but focus on the common unity we have with Christ and our mission.
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit may we, the church today truly show the world that we are Your disciples. May we love one another, not as to become conformed to each other, but to be focused on fulfilling Your call and commission, that we preach the gospel and make disciples, not ones who look like us, but ones who look like You. Amen.