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Irreconcilable Differences - Pastor Stacey Shiflett

Irreconcilable Differences

Acts 15

·        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.


There will be situations that are too complicated to work out.

There will be instances where there is simply no solution to the confusion and hurt.

There will be times when fixing the problem is completely out of the question.

It is too far gone; the hurt is too deep; the pain is too real, and the discord is beyond repair.

Too many things have been said.

Too many emotions have been allowed to come into play.


There will be people you just cannot work with.

There will be people you just cannot get along with.

There will be people you cannot be close to.


I hate to say it, but there will be times in your life that are bad that all you can do is simply walk away from it.

There is no patching it up.

There will be no forgiving and forgetting.

There will be no going on like it didn’t happen.

There will be no kiss and make up.

There will be no “let bygones be bygones” and moving on.

The situation will be unfixable.

The fact of the matter is – there are times when you have to deal with irreconcilable differences.

That is just a fact of life.


This story is a great illustration of this truth because of what we can glean from it.

Some things we can take away from this example.


I. Their Differences of Opinion


NOTE: This was not a disagreement over DOCTRINE.

There are many people we will not be able to work with and fellowship with because of doctrinal differences.

That is an entirely different message.

This disagreement was over differences of opinion.


This separation of good friends and co-laborers was the result of a serious difference of opinion.

·        Vs. 37 – Barnabas determined to take with them

·        Vs. 38 – But Paul thought not good to take him…


Barnabas was a good man. No question about it.

SEE Acts 11

·        22 Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.

·        23 Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.

·        24 For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.


Paul was a good man. That is not even debatable.

He was an apostle; he was filled with the Holy Spirit and the power of God.

They had been both been used by God to accomplish unprecedented things together, starting at Antioch.

They had worked together for a year in Antioch to produce the first crop of Christians.

They had completed a prosperous missionary journey together. (14:26 and 15:30


If we wanted to play judge and jury, we could, I guess blame them both for not submitting to one another.

·        1 Peter 5:5 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

·        Ephesians 5:21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.


You could say that Paul owed it to Barnabas to submit to his opinion since Barnabas had helped Paul out as a new convert. SEE Acts 9

·        26 And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.

·        27 But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.


However, it is clear from Scripture that the leadership of this missionary endeavor was Paul – not Barnabas.

Barnabas was in leadership from chapter 11:25 all the way until chapter 13:7.

·        Acts 11:30 Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

·        Acts 12:25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.

·        Acts 13:2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

·        Acts 13:7 Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.


Notice the switch in order found in Acts 13:13 Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. 


I find it fascinating that the very verse where we find Paul taking command of the missionary expedition, this is the same verse that tells us that Barnabas’ nephew left them and went back home.

The very verse where the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write, “Paul and HIS company…” is when John Mark bailed on them.

Is there a connection?

Was John Mark offended at Paul’s new role as a leader?

Was John Mark upset that his uncle was now just part of the team instead of the leader?

Who knows?

Many have speculated that the satanic opposition in 13:8-11 may have scared him off.

It probably would have scared me off!!

Point is – Paul was in charge from that point forward.


If we were judge and jury, we could easily accuse both of them for having pride and not being willing to work it out.

·        Proverbs 13:10 Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.


But there is the matter of conscience.

Every person has to do what they believe is right in their own conscience.

The phrase “good conscience” is found 6 times in Scripture.

The phrase “pure conscience” is found twice.

Having a good conscience and a pure conscience is absolutely necessary to live for God.

·        1 Timothy 1:5 Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:


There are simply some things that you cannot live with.

This is what I believe it means to have a good conscience.

In some situations, to yield to another person’s will would literally violate your conscience, which is a sin.


II. Their Degree of Offense


CONTENTION: irritation

SO SHARP: irritation


The exact same Greek word is used to describe the contention and how bad it was.

There is no other word to describe it – it was a serious irritation

This matter was a source of great irritation; they were both obviously offended with the other’s opinion.


The situation was beyond repair for the simple fact that both parties insisted they were right.

No doubt, both of them were basing their position on principles.

Their principles were in conflict.

I am sure that Barnabas was basing his opinion on mercy, patience, forbearance and grace.

Paul was probably basing his opinion on faithfulness, reliability and perseverance.

Barnabas was no doubt thinking about the impact this decision would have on John Mark.

Paul was no doubt thinking about the impact this decision would have on the ministry.


III. Their Departure from Oneness

·        Vs. 39 – “…they departed asunder


Though their disagreement resulted in a separation from each other, we have cause to believe that there was no bitterness over this falling out.


Notice Paul’s reference to John Mark:

NOTE: The Apostle Paul later commended John Mark for being a profitable asset to the ministry.

·        2 Timothy 4:11 Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.


It would have been extremely difficult for Paul to admit he was wrong if there had been bitterness about this situation.

He had been keeping up with them and knew of John Mark’s maturity and growth in the Lord.

Paul again commended Mark in Colossians 4.

·        10 Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)


We do not find any hint of bitterness toward Barnabas in Paul’s epistles or even later on in the book of Acts.


KEY TRUTH: There are not as many irreconcilable differences as many people claim there to be.

Paul was in the ministry for over 30 years, and all we have a record of is Paul having ONE irreconcilable difference.

And it was not with his pastor.

And it was not with his wife.

It was with a colleague and fellow-laborer, and we are still debating who was right and who was wrong.


NOTE: If you have “irreconcilable differences” with everybody you meet, you are the problem!!

And those are things that could be fixed if you’d get humble and get right with God and value unity!


Many of the so-called irreconcilable differences that people claim to have today is just plain carnality!

There is no question as to who is right or who is wrong; the Bible is not that vague about that many things!!


The Bible is clear – by and large, divisions and strife and contentions are clear signs of carnality.

Unless the division is based on doctrinal differences or heresy, divisions are almost always painted in a negative light.


IV. Their Devotion to Opportunity


One thing we learn from this story of Paul and Barnabas’ irreconcilable differences: they didn’t use it as an excuse to get out of the ministry.

They didn’t allow the differences to cause them to abandon God’s call on their life.


They went their separate ways, but they both were devoted to the ministry opportunities that God had laid before them.

They had been devoted to the ministry from day one.

There is nobody that can question that.

We see their unified efforts all throughout the book of Acts, starting in chapter 11 at Antioch.

They worked together all the way up to Acts 15:35. 

·        35 Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

·        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.


Neither one of them used the personal loss of companionship nor the personal pain of disunity to use this occasion for an exit ramp to quit church, get out of the ministry, stop doing what God had called them to do.

They kept doing what they were called of God to do, but they just didn’t do it together.


The Bible is clear in Romans 12.

·        18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

·        19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

·        20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

·        21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.


Conclusion: Here are some things we can take from this story:

·        Don’t get bitter.

·        Don’t quit serving God.

·        Don’t sow discord.

·        Don’t bear false witness.

·        Don’t stop praying for them.

God turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends!!

·        Job 42:10 And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.

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