Most Bible readers know the story of Paul and Silas singing praises to the Lord in their Philippian jail cell at midnight (Acts 16). Pastors and other Bible teachers use this story to illustrate the difference Christ makes in our hearts and minds despite the adverse circumstances we sometimes face in our lives.
An inmate told me once about the screams of “newbies” on the first night of incarceration as they felt the full weight of what they faced over the next years. But I’ve heard something entirely different in prison chapels when inmates with renewed hope praise God in worship.
But one thing we often overlook is that Silas was an “accidental tourist,” to borrow a movie title from several years ago. He probably never dreamed about the adventures he’d have as a companion to the greatest missionary who ever lived.
The Antioch church sent Paul and Barnabas on a Mediterranean mission that we remember as Paul’s First Missionary Journey. John Mark, a relative of Barnabas, accompanied these two gospel warhorses for a time. Then he decided to go home in midstream. The two missionaries faced disagreement when they determined to go again and encourage the new churches. Barnabas wanted to give Mark another chance, while Paul believed him to be unreliable. Accordingly, Barnabas took Mark with him and Paul took a new partner, Silas.
If two great leaders like Paul and Barnabas had conflict, it’s no wonder modern Christians sometimes face disagreement, too.
But is conflict the will of God? Some argue that this disagreement resulted in two mission trips and this was good. Others insist if the two men had worked out their differences it would’ve been much better.
I’ve known several congregations over the years that have parted ways due to conflict. One church did so when a majority of the members voted to ask a former pastor to return, but a sizable minority thought the church needed new leadership. The majority group, however, fell short of the mandate required in the by-laws, so the motion failed. Those who voted to ask the minister to return formed a new church with him as their pastor! The mother church was left behind, hurt and wounded.
We know the God of the Bible specializes in turning our failures into successes, and he can and does bless work founded on less than optimum circumstances. But I've always believed there is a better way to do God's work. If Paul and Barnabas had agreed to disagree, but nevertheless supported and prayed for the other's work, the outcome would've been better.
God is pleased when his people live together in harmony while serving him.