37 Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. 39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus;
Acts 15:37-41 give us the account of a sharp conflict between Paul and Barnabas.
Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark.
Barnabas insisted they take his cousin John Mark on the second enterprise. It was the character of Barnabas to encourage people in difficult situations. He wanted to give John Mark a second chance to do ministry.
But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work.
Paul was determined not to take John Mark with them because he deserted Paul and Barnabas in Perga Pamphylia on their first journey (Acts 13:13). The verbs in verses 37 and 38 indicate that Paul and Barnabas discussed the issue of John Mark extensively (imperfect tense).
Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another.
There were two points of “contention” between Paul and Barnabas, 1) their disagreement about taking Mark on the second journey, and 2) Barnabas’ being led astray by the Judaizers in Antioch (Ga 2:11-13). Their disagreement was “sharp,” a word that means to provoke to anger (1 Co 13:5). The two missionaries provoked each other to the point where they broke up their team.
And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus;
The contention was so sharp between Paul and Barnabas that Barnabas went on his own missionary journey, taking John Mark to the island of Cyprus, a location of the first missionary trip. Luke records nothing of either Barnabas or Mark in Acts from this point.
It is important to agree to disagree when Christian workers conflict.
There is no such thing as a perfect ministry or perfect team. Conflict will happen when human beings are part of the team. Paul and Barnabas remained friends after the episode in our passage (1 Co 9:6), even though it was not amicable at the point of conflict. That showed they did not hold resentment and bitterness toward one another. Paul even later commended John Mark for his ministry (Co 4:10; 2 Ti 4:11; Phile 24; 1 Pe 5:13). Disagreement among believers should be amicable.
God expanded His mission enterprise by forming two teams rather than one. However, personal conflict is no justification for starting a new work. Division among believers is no excuse for creating a new mission. Nevertheless, God can work through differences to bring His plan into focus. Barnabas lost fellowship with someone he immensely helped in ministry, and Paul missed someone to whom he owed so much.