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15. The Council at Jerusalem

1And certain men came down from Judaea and taught the brethren, saying, Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and questioning with them, the brethren appointed that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. 3They therefore, being brought on their way by the church, passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. 4And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church and the apostles and the elders, and they rehearsed all things that God had done with them. 5But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying, It is needful to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses. 6And the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider of this matter. 7And when there had been much questioning, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Brethren, ye know that a good while ago God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 8And God, who knoweth the heart, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he did unto us; 9and he made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10Now therefore why make ye trial of God, that ye should put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in like manner as they. 12And all the multitude kept silence; and they hearkened unto Barnabas and Paul rehearsing what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles through them. 13And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Brethren, hearken unto me: 14Symeon hath rehearsed how first God visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,

16After these things I will return,

And I will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen;

And I will build again the ruins thereof,

And I will set it up:

17That the residue of men may seek after the Lord,

And all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called,

18Saith the Lord, who maketh these things known from of old.

19Wherefore my judgment is, that we trouble not them that from among the Gentiles turn to God; 20but that we write unto them, that they abstain from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from what is strangled, and from blood. 21For Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath. 22Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men out of their company, and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: 23and they wrote thus by them, The apostles and the elders, brethren, unto the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greeting: 24Forasmuch as we have heard that certain who went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls; to whom we gave no commandment; 25it seemed good unto us, having come to one accord, to choose out men and send them unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who themselves also shall tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29that ye abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves, it shall be well with you. Fare ye well. 30So they, when they were dismissed, came down to Antioch; and having gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle. 31And when they had read it, they rejoiced for the consolation. 32And Judas and Silas, being themselves also prophets, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them. 33And after they had spent some time there, they were dismissed in peace from the brethren unto those that had sent them forth. 34But it seemed good unto Silas to abide there. 35But Paul and Barnabas tarried in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. 36And after some days Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us return now and visit the brethren in every city wherein we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they fare. 37And Barnabas was minded to take with them John also, who was called Mark. 38But Paul thought not good to take with them him who withdrew from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. 39And there arose a sharp contention, so that they parted asunder one from the other, and Barnabas took Mark with him, and sailed away unto Cyprus; 40but Paul choose Silas, and went forth, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. 41And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.

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Disagreement between Paul and Barnabas.

36 And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.   37 And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.   38 But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.   39 And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;   40 And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.   41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.

We have seen one unhappy difference among the brethren, which was of a public nature, brought to a good issue; but here we have a private quarrel between two ministers, no less men than Paul and Barnabas, not compromised indeed, yet ending well.

I. Here is a good proposal Paul made to Barnabas to go and review their work among the Gentiles and renew it, to take a circuit among the churches they had planted, and see what progress the gospel made among them. Antioch was now a safe and quiet harbour for them: they had there no adversary nor evil occurrent; but Paul remembered that they only put in there to refit and refresh themselves, and therefore begins now to think of putting to sea again; and, having been in winter quarters long enough, he is for taking the field again, and making another campaign, in a vigorous prosecution of this holy war against Satan's kingdom. Paul remembered that the work appointed him was afar off among the Gentiles, and therefore he is here meditating a second expedition among them to do the same work, though to encounter the same difficulties; and this some days after, for his active spirit could not bear to be long out of work; no, nor his bold and daring spirit to be long out of danger. Observe, 1. To whom he makes this proposal—to Barnabas, his old friend and fellow-labourer; he invites his company and help in this work. We have need one of another, and may be in many ways serviceable one to another; and therefore should be forward both to borrow and lend assistance. Two are better than one. Every soldier has his comrade. 2. For whom the visit is designed: "Let us not presently begin new work, nor break up new ground; but let us take a view of the fields we have sown. Come, and let us get up early to the vineyards, let us see if the vine flourish, Cant. vii. 12. Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord." Observe, He calls all the Christians brethren, and not ministers only; for, Have we not all one Father? He has a concern for them in every city, even where the brethren were fewest and poorest, and most persecuted and despised; yet let us visit them. Wherever we have preached the word of the Lord, let us go and water the seed sown. Note, Those that have preached the gospel should visit those to whom them have preached it. As we must look after our praying, and hear what answer God gives to that; so we must look after our preaching, and see what success that has. Faithful ministers cannot but have a particular tender concern for those to whom they have preached the gospel, that they may not bestow upon them labour in vain. See 1 Thess. iii. 5, 6. 3. What was intended in this visit: "Let us see how they do," pos echousihow it is with them. It was not merely a compliment that he designed, nor did he take such a journey with a bare How do you do? No, he would visit them that he might acquaint himself with their case, and impart unto them such spiritual gifts as were suited to it; as the physician visits his recovering patient, that he may prescribe what is proper for the perfecting of his cure, and the preventing of a relapse. Let us see how they do, that is, (1.) What spirit they are of, how they stand affected, and how they behave themselves; it is probable that they frequently heard from them, "But let us go and see them; let us go and see whether they hold fast what we preached to them, and live up to it, that we may endeavour to reduce them if we find them wandering, to confirm them if we find them wavering, and to comfort them if we find them steady." (2.) What state they are in, whether the churches have rest and liberty, or whether they are not in trouble or distress, that we may rejoice with them if they rejoice, and caution them against security, and may weep with them if they weep, and comfort them under the cross, and may know the better how to pray for them.

II. The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas about an assistant; it was convenient to have a young man with them that should attend on them and minister to them, and be a witness of their doctrine, manner of life, and patience, and that should be fitted and trained up for further service, by being occasionally employed in the present service. Now, 1. Barnabas would have his nephew John, whose surname was Mark, to go along with them, v. 37. He determined to take him, because he was his relation, and, it is likely, was brought up under him, and he had a kindness for him, and was solicitous for his welfare. We should suspect ourselves of partiality, and guard against it in preferring our relations. 2. Paul opposed it (v. 38): He thought not good to take him with them, ouk exiouhe did not think him worthy of the honour, nor fit for the service, who had departed from them, clandestinely as it should seem, without their knowledge, or wilfully, without their consent, from Pamphylia (ch. xiii. 13), and went not with them to the work, because he was either lazy and would not take the pains that must be taken, or cowardly and would not run the hazard. He run his colours just as they were going to engage. It is probable that he promised very fair now that he would not do so again. But Paul thought it was not fit he should be thus honoured who had forfeited his reputation, nor thus employed who had betrayed his trust; at least, not till he had been longer tried. If a man deceive me once, it is his fault; but, if twice, it is my own, for trusting him. Solomon saith, Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint, which will hardly be used again, Prov. xxv. 19.

III. The issue of this disagreement: it came to such a height that they separated upon it. The contention, the paroxysm (so the word is), the fit of passion which this threw them both into, was so sharp that they departed asunder one from the other. Barnabas was peremptory that he would not go with Paul unless they took John Mark with them; Paul was as peremptory that he would not go if John did go with them. Neither would yield, and therefore there is no remedy but they must part. Now here is that which is very humbling, and just matter of lamentation, and yet very instructive. For we see, 1. That the best of men are but men, subject to like passions as we are, as these two good men had expressly owned concerning themselves (ch. xiv. 15), and now it appeared too true. I doubt there was (as usually there is in such contentions) a fault on both sides; perhaps Paul was too severe upon the young man, and did not allow his fault the extenuation it was capable of, did not consider what a useful woman his mother was in Jerusalem (ch. xii. 12), nor make the allowances he might have made to Barnabas's natural affection. But it was Barnabas's fault that he took this into consideration, in a case wherein the interest of Christ's kingdom was concerned, and indulged it too much. And they were certainly both in fault to be hot as to let the contention be sharp (it is to be feared they gave one another some hard words), as also to be so stiff as each to stick resolutely to his opinion, and neither to yield. It is a pity that they did not refer the matter to a third person, or that some friend did not interpose to prevent its coming to an open rupture. Is there never a wise man among them to interpose his good offices, and to accommodate the matter, and to put them in mind of the Canaanite and the Perizzite that were now in the land, and that not only Jews and heathens, but the false brethren among themselves, would warm their hands at the flames of the contention between Paul and Barnabas? We must own it was their infirmity, and is recorded for our admonition; not that we must make use of it to excuse our own intemperate heats and passions, or to rebate the edge of our sorrow and shame for them; we must not say, "What if I was in a passion, were not Paul and Barnabas so?" No; but it must check our censures of others, and moderate them. If good men are soon put into a passion, we must make the best of it, it was the infirmity once of two of the best men that ever the world had. Repentance teaches us to be severe in reflections upon ourselves; but charity teaches us to be candid in our reflections upon others. It is only Christ's example that is a copy without a blot. 2. That we are not to think it strange if there be differences among wise and good men; we were told before that such offences would come, and here is an instance of it. Even those that are united to one and the same Jesus, and sanctified by one and the same Spirit, have different apprehensions, different opinions, different views, and different sentiments in points of prudence. It will be so while we are in this state of darkness and imperfection; we shall never be all of a mind till we come to heaven, where light and love are perfect. That is charity which never fails. 3. That these differences often prevail so far as to occasion separations. Paul and Barnabas, who were not separated by the persecutions of the unbelieving Jews, nor the impositions of the believing Jews, were yet separated by an unhappy disagreement between themselves. O the mischief that even the poor and weak remainders of pride and passion, that are found even in good men, do in the world, do in the church! Now wonder the consequences are so fatal where they reign.

IV. The good that was brought out of this evil-meat out of the eater, and sweetness out of the strong. It was strange that even the sufferings of the apostles (as Phil. i. 12), but much more strange that even the quarrels of the apostles, should tend to the furtherance of the gospel of Christ; yet so it proved here. God would not permit such things to be, if he knew not how to make them to serve his own purposes. 1. More places are hereby visited. Barnabas went one way; he sailed to Cyprus (v. 39), that famous island where they began their work (ch. xiii. 4), and which was his own country, ch. iv. 36. Paul went another way into Cilicia, which was his own country, ch. xxi. 39. Each seems to be influenced by his affection to his native soil, as usual (Nescio quá natale solum dulcedine cunctos ducit—There is something that attaches us all to our native soil), and yet God served his own purposes by it, for the diffusing of gospel light. 2. More hands are hereby employed in the ministry of the gospel among the Gentiles; for, (1.) John Mark, who had been an unfaithful hand, is not rejected, but is again made use of, against Paul's mind, and, for aught we know, proves a very useful and successful hand, though many think it was not the same with that Mark that wrote the gospel, and founded the church at Alexandria, and whom Peter calls his son, 1 Pet. v. 13. (2.) Silas who was a new hand, and never yet employed in that work, nor intended to be, but to return to the service of the church at Jerusalem, had not God changed his mind (v. 33, 34), he is brought in, and engaged in that noble work.

V. We may further observe, 1. That the church at Antioch seem to countenance Paul in what he did. Barnabas sailed with his nephew to Cyprus, and no notice was taken of him, nor a bene discessit—a recommendation given him. Note, Those that in their service of the church are swayed by private affections and regards forfeit public honours and respect. But, when Paul departed, he was recommended by the brethren to the grace of God. They thought he was in the right in refusing to make use of John Mark, and could not but blame Barnabas for insisting upon it, though he was one who had deserved well of the church (ch. xi. 22) before they knew Paul; and therefore they prayed publicly for Paul, and for the success of his ministry, encouraged him to go on in his work, and, though they could do nothing themselves to further him, they transferred the matter to the grace of God, leaving it to that grace both to work upon him and to work with him. Note, Those are happy at all times, and especially in times of disagreement and contention, who are enabled so to carry themselves as not to forfeit their interest in the love and prayers of good people. 2. That yet Paul afterwards seems to have had, though not upon second thoughts, yet upon further trial, a better opinion of John Mark than now he had; for he writes to Timothy (2 Tim. iv. 11), Take Mark and bring him with thee, for he is profitable to me for the ministry; and he writes to the Colossians concerning Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas, that if he came to them they should receive him, bid him welcome, and employ him (Col. iv. 10), which teaches us, (1.) That even those whom we justly condemn we should condemn moderately, and with a great deal of temper, because we know not but afterwards we may see cause to think better of them, and both to make use of them and make friendship with them, and we should so regulate our resentments that if it should prove so we may not afterwards be ashamed of them. (2.) That even those whom we have justly condemned, if afterwards they prove more faithful, we should cheerfully receive, forgive and forget, and put a confidence in, and, as there is occasion, give a good word to. 3. That Paul, though he wanted his old friend and companion in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, yet went on cheerfully in his work (v. 41): He went through Syria and Cilicia, countries which lay next to Antioch, confirming the churches. Though we change our colleagues, we do not change our principal president. And observe, Ministers are well employed, and ought to think themselves so, and be satisfied, when they are made use of confirming those that believe, as well as in converting those that believe not.