Paul and Barnabas had a falling out.
“Okay” you might be thinking…and “your point is?”
Well, this was Paul and Barnabas…heroic men of faith, church leaders extraordinaire
Barnabas’ real name was Joseph but he was given this nickname which means “son of encouragement” by his buddies…which tells us a lot about him…he was a great guy.
Paul, well, he was the greatest church planter/pastoral mentor in history.
So, this falling out is quite a surprise…at least it is to me.
Barnabas first shows up in the Bible in Acts 4 when he sells some property and then donates the proceeds to the church.
Later he was sent to Antioch(in what is now Southern Turkey) the place were Christians were first called “Christians”.
He poured out the encouragement of the gospel into the people there and many became Christ followers.
He eventually convinced Paul to come to Antioch so they could work together.
They hung out there for a whole year and many more people became believers.
Later, Barnabas and Paul decided to go on road trip…so they went out together on a church planting mission.
They had quite the adventure together.
They saw miracles, they were abused and attacked…this was some deep bonding stuff for a couple of guys.
Like going to war together…and in many ways it was a war.
And so Paul and Barnabas became a powerful team…until something happened that separated them.
But it seems, on the surface, too small a thing to break a friendship forged in the fires of difficulty.
Here’s what happened, they had decided to make another journey together to visit the churches they had planted.
Barnabas wanted to take John Mark (his cousin) along but Paul said “no way, I don’t trust him.”
You see John Mark had gone with them on their first journey but had suddenly left them and returned home…causing Paul to lose confidence in him.
For Paul, this was like a battlefield desertion…you just don’t do this.
We don’t actually know why Mark had left…but their journey was very difficult…the place he had left them was at the base of a Turkish mountain range they were going to travel over by foot.
Maybe it was all just more than he bargained for…maybe he was too young and not ready for the intensity.
But at any rate…Paul and Barnabas had such a strong disagreement over whether to take John Mark that they parted company.
Barnabas took Mark and went his way…while Paul took another guy named Silas and went his way.
Later Paul, Barnabas and John Mark would reconcile.
And the immediate benefit of the break was that two groups went out and planted churches…so it was a net positive for the Kingdom.
But the question remains…how could a dispute over whether to trust a young man…cause a break between two clearly good and godly men?
Men who had been through so much together.
Let’s go back to another event in the lives of Barnabas and Paul that might explain why trust was so low that this event might have caused a break.
It was earlier, probably that same year or the year before, when Paul and Barnabas had been sent to Jerusalem (the “mother church”) to deal with what Paul called some “false brothers”
These guys were teaching that to be fully Christian you had to jump through some Jewish hoops.
So, they were telling these non-Jews(Gentiles) that you had to become circumcised (the Jewish boundary marker) before you could become a Christian.
Paul was terrified and enraged by this…he knew that this would destroy the gospel of grace.
It was a retreat back into law keeping and away from faith in Christ alone as the way of salvation.
It was also a false barrier for the world at large to come to Christ…God did not require non-Jews to become Jewish…they could come as they were.
The outcome of the meeting at Jerusalem was good.
The leaders of the church came to the right conclusion that they should not allow any false barriers to the gospel to be put in place.
But earlier, before the leaders had met to settle this important issue, Peter, Jesus’ right hand man…the pillar of the church up to that point.
Had come to Antioch to visit, Paul and Barnabas…word of what was happening there had reached his ears.
There in Antioch, for some strange reason Peter suddenly stopped eating meals with the Gentile believers….he did, then he didn’t.
This was confusing…and Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians…wrong…hypocritical.
Paul wrote that Peter was afraid of a certain group of people, the very same people who were setting up false barriers to the faith.
This doesn’t seem like Peter…being worried about what people thought…at least not the Peter after the resurrection.
But clearly, he was struggling with trying to figure out to live out his faith in a confusing time.
How to reach Jews and Gentiles…what this all meant.
Maybe he just had a moment of reverting to straight up “people pleasing.”
But he came to some wrong conclusions…and he was so influential that even Barnabas joined him in those wrong conclusions.
“The other Jews joined him(Peter) in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.” Galatians 2:13
This would have been absolutely devastating for Paul.
“Are you kidding me, Barnabas…after all we have seen and done?”
There it was…maybe Barnabas was so intent on encouragement (he was on church staff in Antioch) that had chosen peace over the truth of Gospel.
This was likely the beginning of the break in the trust between Paul and Barnabas.
Taking John Mark on the trip was not as big a deal but this was.
Maybe Paul was afraid that Mark was not fully on board with “for by grace you have been saved through faith, it is not of human effort.”
This is not just about some minor bit of theological minutia.
This was about whether or not the gospel, the wisdom of God for the salvation of world would remain clear and not become clouded by human error.
And there is the fact that Paul and Barnabas were good men, but they were men after all.
The same kinds of difficulties that can bind men’s hearts (and women) can also create pressures and opportunity for discord.
It would take time and the Holy Spirit for these men to reconcile(it usually does)…but they eventually did.
The bible certainly encourages reconciliation but it doesn’t set a clock or calendar as to how fast that should happen.
But as important as reconciliation is, there are things more important than getting along.
If truth dies…then eventually…no one gets along….with each other, or with God…there is no ultimate foundation for getting along.
Now, to 1 Corinthians 9.
Here’s how we are going to tackle this chapter.
I’m going to summarize, the first 18 verses, then we will read and discuss the last 9 verses.
In this first section Paul defends his right to be paid as a minister of the gospel.
He uses logic, analogy, the OT, their experience with him and even the teaching of Jesus himself to make his case.
His case is that It is right to pay those whose work is ministry of the gospel.
But then he says…but I haven’t used any of these rights…I have forgone them and have preached the gospel to you “free of charge.”
He is not saying that this should be the norm but that this has been his decision.
Why is he doing this?
Here, he was showing them the sincerity of his heart and love for them…by foregoing his right to be paid as a gospel minister.
He is trying to communicate how much he cares for them.
But the fickle Corinthians tried to continually put Paul into a “lose/lose scenario.”
So instead of seeing this as his generosity they saw it as Paul being inferior.
So, by not taking payment for his work, he showed his inferiority to the “real apostles”.
Paul is an amateur compared to Peter, Apollos, or some other imposters who tried to undermine Paul’s work.
So, Paul doesn’t ask for payment because he is not a pro…he’s not legit.
Paul’s response takes us back to what he has said in the earlier chapters.
“I am free and belong to no man, yet I make myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible.”
Last week we read where he said, “Look, if I need to become a vegetarian to best serve others…okay.”
Here he is saying “What you misinterpret as me thinking my work is inferior is really me showing how vitally important my work is.”
“I’m willing to put up with extra pain, extra work…to forgo my rights for your good.”
He was doing all this to show them how to live.
Let’s read from this point to the end of the chapter.
19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Paul was a free Roman citizen but made himself a slave (doulos…bond servant…willing slave) to everyone
Paul was freed from the Law by Christ but he would conform to certain Jewish practices when necessary to win those under the law…he deferred his own freedom in order to not unnecessarily offend.
To the Gentiles (those not having the law) he would not try to bring them under Jewish law…that would be wrong.
All this is not because he is a “lawless person” but he is now under the “Law of Christ”.
This is not some new Christian set of laws to try and earn God’s favor through…but rather the law of love that allows him to live a life like Christ among others.
To the weak, he became weak…meaning he would forgo things like eating meat used in idol worship…in order to not cause people to stumble.
Paul is no people pleaser…far from it.
When there is truth involved…he will not be moved…period.
When there is no ultimate truth at stake but rather a situation where the priority of love must be applied…then he defers to others.
This might at times might look like Paul was being inconsistent but he was not.
Look at his different approaches to dealing with two of his young protegees…Timothy and Titus.
Acts 16:1 He came to Derbe (Turkey not Kansas) and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. 2 The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 3 Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek
So Timothy had a Jewish mother and a Greek father.
Traditionally you are a Jew if born to a Jewish mother.
But probably since his father was not a Jew he had not been circumcised as a baby.
Paul had him become circumcised in order to not be an offense to the Jews they were going to be working with.
Was this necessary for Timothy’s faith?…not all…it just a matter of doing what they could in order to not be an unnecessary offense.
But look at Titus, he was a Greek (non-Jewish) man who had become a Christian.
At one point the people who were trying to force all non-Jewish background Christians to be circumcised wanted Titus to also become circumcised.
Paul said “No way in the world…he’s good to go as he is.
He wrote, “Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.” Gal. 2:3
So you see the difference?
The difference was that the motivation for Timothy being circumcised was in order for him to not to be an offense…no ultimate truth was at stake.
*So, go for it…just a symbol, no reason to be offensive.
For Titus it was a matter of some saying that he could not fully be a part of the Christian family until he was circumcised…here ultimate truth was at stake.
*So, no way…this act would compromise the truth of the gospel.
Titus is a believer and he is free in Christ…he needs no circumcism to be fully in God’s family.
Timothy is also a believer and is free in Christ…but he is willing to be circumcised for the good of others.
All this illustrates what Paul means when he wrote:
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law, so as to win those not having the law.
This is not about being a chameleon changing colors to try and fit in.
Paul’s decision-making triage is simple in principal.
*If this is about absolute truth…like the truth of the gospel he will not compromise.
*If this is not about absolute truth but about personal freedom, or preference, or convenience…he will gladly defer to others.
So for Timothy it was about deferring to others.
For Titus it was about determination to live by the truth.
Pretty good model for decision making…truth and love applied in context.
I understand that knowing how to apply this in specific situations can be complicated and there will be disagreement.
But if you begin decision making processes with this:
- What is true, what is right here?
- What does love look like here?
You will be positioned to come to better decisions…they will not conflict with each other.
Okay, let’s finish this chapter and see how this more famous next passage fits in to all of this…and how it applies to us.
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize
Athletic contests were common in the Greek world.
The most famous were the Olympic games…the second most famous were the Isth-mian Games held every two years at Corinth.
Named for the narrow neck of land or Isthmus that Corinth sat on.
Paul loves imagery from the games.
A foot race only has one winner.
So, the runners push themselves in order to win.
Don’t over apply this analogy…many are saved, not just one
His point is that, like the runner…running to win… the follower of Christ must give their best.
Winning is being found faithful.
Faithful is giving all that God asks you to give.
In the next verse the word used for “competes” is a word that we get our word “agony” or “agonize” from.
This competition to be faithful means no half-hearted effort…it is full heart, mind, body, soul effort.
The winner of the Greek Sporting events won a crown made of a pine wreath or sometimes celery…weird huh.
They were clearly not doing it for the prize…but for the prestige.
But just like the salad crown wouldn’t last…neither would the prestige.
No one cares who won the Olympics in AD 50 or 1950 or whenever…it’s all ultimately a prize that doesn’t last.
But we, Paul writes, train for a crown that will last forever…the glory and pleasure of God.
The athlete denies himself or herself many lawful pleasures for a higher purpose…this is what Paul has been saying.
They get up early, they watch what they eat, they put themselves through physical and mental discomfort…all because of a singular goal….they want to win the race.
In the same way, Paul is saying…there are some things we could do…but we won’t because we don’t want to do anything that hinders our spiritual progress.
Or the progress of others…for whom Christ died.
So, our spiritual, mental, physical, relational disciplines…they are not just running in circles or shadow boxing…
No, he said “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after having told others the good news of the freedom of Christ…I myself won’t be disqualified from the prize.”
So he is a willing slave to Christ.
And makes his body his own slave…so that he can serve Christ and others with it.
Body as in…mind, hands, words…all that we do to actually do good to others.
Otherwise, if he doesn’t enslave his body to his will…his will become enslaved to his body and not to Christ.
This is not how we were designed to live…to give our emotions and pleasures full and unbridled freedom is to become a wretched slave to them.
Paul is not saying he hates his body or that the physical life is evil…far from it…God made the physical world, including bodies and food and sex…and said it is “good”
All real pleasure, God invented
Satan can only pervert the good God has made.
What is not good…is allowing the physical life to dominate and enslave us.
He is not afraid of losing his salvation…that is not what he means by being disqualified.
This is an analogy…he subdues his own body for the glory of God and good of others.
He wants to live with his life what he proclaims with his lips.
He proclaims freedom in Christ…he wants to live in that freedom.
Disqualification is not about competition with others…but failing to be found faithful.
Let me give a quote from Dallas Willard that ties all this together:
“Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action.”
Grace empowers our efforts it doesn’t just cover our sins…it empowers our ongoing discipline to become more like Christ and less drawn into sin.
Grace empowered effort to become like Christ, to love others…is the gospel power lived out in our lives.
So Paul is proclaiming a balanced Christian life here.
We must not fall off the wall either way.
- One way to fall into imbalance is to believe that “Grace means no effort required”
No effort is required to be justified (forgiven)
But much effort is required to be sanctified (changed into the image of Christ).
- The other way to off the wall into imbalance is to believe that “Grace is all about earning.”
I must continually work, discipline myself, exert effort…do better, be better in order to deserve God’s love…no.
The truth is…we are loved by God, saved by grace through faith.
And we are to live out that love among others by learning to discipline ourselves to better serve and love others.
My grandson Ollie worked outside with me last fall for two or three hours moving bricks.
-He could have gone and played on the swings, or watched tv indoors.
-But he worked hard so he could stay beside me in my work.
-Was he trying to earn my love?…no, he knew he had it.
-He was enjoying my love.
So from one perspective you could say “Look at that poor child, working hard just to earn his grandfather’s love…too bad he isn’t able to play.”
But from Oliver’s perspective it was “I get to work alongside G, I am enjoying his love.”
He was, in a sense, becoming more like me…less like a child in the process.
Gottman, a Jewish marriage expert has written that “Love does not keep commitment alive, commitment keeps love alive…you nurture your love by nurturing your commitment.”
What is commitment versus what is love in this context?
Commitment is the truth…it is a vow made as a part of a ceremony…a promise.
“I promise…till death parts us.”
If we reverse the order and believe that love keeps commitment alive…then truth (commitment) becomes the servant of feeling (this is what love becomes).
But if we focus on truth…commitment…we will be empowered to express and enjoy love…it will grow.
Culture, friends, family…may become unhappy, even enraged if you decide to believe and hold to beliefs that are true but unpopular…like the gospel and other things clearly defined in God’s word.
But in the end there is no other way to actually have love…than to hold to the truth.
So Paul, is resolute on the truth…so should we be.
‘United wishes and good will cannot overcome brute facts,’ Churchill wrote in his War Memoirs. ‘Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it. Ignorance may deride it. Malice may distort it. But there it is.’
He wrote this to those who wanted to deny the reality of the need to defeat Hitler…that there would be no peace without war…this was the truth…hard, uncomfortable truth.
Truth is essential.
But this does not mean…that we are to be hard headed or hard hearted.
Because IF there is NO absolute truth involved.
When it is really a matter of convenience, or preference…then you should die to yourself and defer to others.
This doesn’t make decision making in complex settings, easy…but it does make it simpler.
I am going to live by the truth…regardless of consequences.
I am going to put others first…regardless of the cost.
This is freedom.
Eric Liddel, Olympic champion who died on the mission field famously said “when I run I feel God’s pleasure.”
He meant actual running…but when you read of his life…he also meant running the race of faithfulness.
We must train hard for the ultimate prize. Our prize is eternal.
So, have you allowed yourself to become “soft”?
Have you “retired” from the race to the cross?
Do you run aimlessly, in circles…going nowhere?
Do you run with energy and passion and effort towards the Cross?
Time to wake up! Time to get up! Time to run hard for the eternal prize!
This is God’s invitation to his joy…life at its best.