Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us go back and visit the brothers in every town where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, to see how they are doing."
I. THAT AS ACT OF MORAL WEAKNESS MAY HAVE FAR LONGER AND MORE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES THAN WE CAN POSSIBLY FORESEE. Could Mark have foreseen that his desertion of the cause in Pamphylia would have led to the lifelong separation of his uncle from Paul, he would probably have remained with them, and "fulfilled the work," even as they did. But he did not reckon on after consequences. It is well for us to consider that our acts of minor wrong-doing, of moral weakness, of spiritual shortcoming, may do an amount of mischief from the commission of which we should shrink with dismay if we could only look it in the face.
II. THAT BETWEEN THE TWO APOSTLES A DECIDED AND REGRETTABLE FAULT WAS COMMITTED. Their intention to work together in the cause of Christ need not and should not have been broken off by their disagreement. They ought either to have compromised the matter by mutual concession, or one of the two should have yielded to the other. Paul owed too much to Barnabas to be justified in pushing his own will to the point of separation. Barnabas owed too much to Paul to make it right for him to insist so pertinaciously on his particular desire. One should have yielded if the other would not. It was an unedifying, unseemly, unchristian thing for two apostles to throw up a plan on which they had sought Divine direction, and which must have received the sanction of the Church, because they could not agree on a matter of detail. They must both have lived to regret it. Men in prominent positions, and those who are engaged in great matters, are bound to be above such unseemliness of behavior. Either
(1) the ingenuity of love should devise a middle way, or
(2) the sacrificial spirit of love should yield the point altogether.
III. THAT IN EACH CASE THE FAULT COMMITTED WAS THE SHADOW OF HIS OWN PARTICULAR EXCELLENCY. Probably both of the apostles were blameworthy. But so far as Paul was to be condemned, his failure was the shadow of his intensity. Such was the entirety of his devotedness, such the intensity of his zeal, such the strenuousness of his soul, that he could not brook anything which looked like half-heartedness. And so far as Barnabas was to blame, his fault was the shadow of his kind-heartedness, his willingness to give another chance to a young man, his reluctance to exclude from noble service a man who had made one mistake. Each was animated by a commendable spirit, though each may have gone too far in his own course. Often when we unsparingly condemn, it would be well to remind ourselves and others that the faults of good men are usually but the shadow of their virtues.
IV. THAT GOD JUDGES THE GOOD BY THEIR ABIDING SPIRIT, AND NOT BY THEIR OCCASIONAL DISPOSITIONS: so also should we. These two men were not the less servants of God, ambassadors of Jesus Christ, because they were betrayed into temporary ill humor. God appraised them by their essential, abiding spirit of love and devotion; he forgave their passing ebullition. In the same way we must take care to estimate men, not by an occasional outburst which is not really characteristic and is no true criterion, but by the "spirit of their mind " - that which really shapes and colors their life and character.
V. THAT THIS FAULT OF THE APOSTLES HAD, AS BECAME THE MEN, A CHRISTIAN ENDING. Paul afterwards wrote kindly of Barnabas, and actually sent for Mark, declaring that he was "profitable for [the] ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11). The sun should not go down upon our wrath. If any man has a quarrel against any, he is to "forbear and to forgive" (Colossians 3:13). - C.
They therefore, being brought on their way.1. For a little time the noise of controversy ceases. Paul and Barnabas might have taken a much shorter way to Jerusalem; but Paul, like the Master, always wished to do some work on the way. When Christ was apparently hastening to a particular locality, He would often on the road stop to do some intermediate miracle. So Paul said, "We will make this a missionary journey." So they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria — the district where Philip had done his wonderful works. We should all leave footprints behind us; people that come afterwards should know that we were there first.
2. Follow the apostles. They find a line of Churches all the way, generally speaking, from Antioch to Jerusalem. There were houses of call on the road. The pioneer had, by sacred influence, said, "Other and stronger men will be coming this road some day — be prepared for them." We, too, walk on roads that have been well trodden for us. We take the roads of a country as a matter of course. Who ever thinks of roads, or could suppose that a poet could wax eloquent upon road making? Yet even so common a thing as a road is essential to civilisation. Surely as they passed along Paul and Barnabas would often think of Philip, and would often hear of him in the homes where they lodged. It is pleasant to see, in little wayside houses, the pictures of Wesley and Whitefield, and pastors of humbler name, who have lived in the locality. These pictures are texts. Despise not your forerunners.
3. What peeps we get into the domestic life of the time! The two men coming into a house turned it into an historical temple. There are some visits that transfigure the localities in which they are paid. And the little common feast, and the sort of talk which passes between men and unites men's hearts! Forget not the little idylls that help to make up the massive poetry of great histories. There were little occasions, as well as great ones, in the development of the Christian story. Handgrips, and special prayers, and visits to the sick chamber, where the tenderest of all supplications were breathed, and still the men passed on, having to maintain a valiant and historical testimony in the face of the first council of the Christian Church.
4. As they went along what did they talk about? "Declaring the conversion of the Gentiles." There ought to be great joy when soldiers come from the field of war with the latest news. We soon rough down, by dumb applause, the stumbling missionary who tries to tell us that the blood-red banner is floating higher than ever in the wind! The early Christians were full of their subject; we easily slip out of ours. They had but one theme, only it included all other themes. They took pleasure in their work; they liked Sunday better than Monday — nay, they made Sunday seven days long.
5. In ver. 4 note that the Church is spoken of in its unity. We have made it into a thousand. I do not object to denominations any more than I object to regiments; but as I expect all the regiments to bow to one throne, so I would expect all denominations to have common ground upon which they can have a common altar. Being received by the Church, the two speakers stood up to tell their tale. Have we no tale to tell? If a thief broke into your house, you would tell everybody about it. If your house was on fire, all the neighbourhood would know it. A man who has a tale to tell tells it; and he is right in doing so. We are not unwilling to speak, but we have no story to relate.
6. Look at ver. 5. The contention was Pharisaic. Not many of them believed, and those who did were greater opponents as believers than as unbelievers. There are hinderers in the Church as well as outside. This position was not only Pharisaic, it was founded upon a narrow reading of the letter. If Christianity is a square with well-defined walls, there are men who could stand in the middle of it and defend it bravely; but if Christianity is a horizon which recedes as we advance, and which has room enough within it for other universes tenfold larger than our own, they become bewildered, the letter is of little use to them, and so they make four corners for themselves, and subside within the prison of a creed. It is difficult for some men to see the bud in the seed. Christianity has its blossom as well as its root, its fruit as well as its blossom. The type only lives by its little self until the fulfilment comes, and then it passes away. They who upheld the law of Moses were Pharisees. How marvellous the providence that a Pharisee of the Pharisees was sent to answer them! They would have made short work of other men, but there arose a very prince of the blood, and in his presence they met an unexpected and successful check. A man who knows a smattering of a language may astound the villagers who never heard of it; but let a man arise who knows the language perfectly, and then the blatant pretender will fall away in shame. God grows His own men, and will always find His own champions. Let us rest in the God of truth, and the truth shall never be in want of a man of adequate capacity and needful eloquence to show its grandeur and enforce its claims.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
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