Discussion and disagreement have been important means of development in the Christian church’s life. Acts 15 is a good example of that, with its tense argument about how to handle non-Jewish Christians that results in a peace-making solution. However, big arguments can spill over into smaller, more personal ones and the chapter also gives an example of those. Sadly, the one here does not have a uniting outcome. Nonetheless, the Lord still uses it for His good purposes.
The concord reached in Jerusalem is carried in letter form to Antioch (v30) by two ‘postmen’ who are able to confirm its authenticity and explain its contents. We must remember that this is how letters to churches often arrived and realise that meant the recipients were able to interact with the letter, rather than simply read it. That points to a broader idea that learning from the Bible is meant to be a communal activity rather than just a personal one. Anyway, the believers in Antioch are pleased to hear it (v31) and the two visitors – Judas and Silas – stay for while, helping to teach the church using their ability to prophecy through the power of the Holy Spirit (v32).
In New Testament times, prophets were enabled supernaturally to explain the person & teaching of Christ. Jesus choose 12 ‘disciples’ (students of a Rabbi/teacher) to learn from him by listening, watching, asking and memorising (Lk 6:13). Jesus commanded those 12 to expand the group with new disciples from all over the world (Mt 28:19). However, their training was incomplete when he died, so Jesus returned to teach them more (Ac 1:3) and promised that the Spirit would take them yet further (Jo 16:13). Following his ascension, they worked on this teaching and passed it onto the church (Ac 2:42). Ultimately, it would be written down in our four gospels for wider distribution and future generations. However, whilst all that was being developed, churches were multiplying rapidly. So the Spirit supernaturally empowered prophets to teach about Jesus, who hadn’t been trained by him like the 12. These prophets worked with the apostles in those early years to lay the church’s foundations (Ep 2:20), before fading out of history with them.
Well, Judas and Silas use their gifts to teach in Antioch (v33) before happily returning home to Jerusalem (note: a v34 appears in some English Bibles but it doesn’t seem to be original). Paul & Barnabas then continue to teach the church as part of a large team (v35), possibly not taking any trips for a while in order to ensure the situation is stable after all the issues (Ac 15:2). However, they eventually decide to return to Turkey to visit the believers (v36). Of course, the churches have had elders (Ac 14:23), and also probably prophets (cf 1Co 14:29) and a letter from Paul (Ga), which means they should be in a good state. Nonetheless, it’s helpful to see them in person. But the plans change when Barnabas requests that they take John Mark, his relative (Co 4:10), with them (v37). Mark suddenly left the team in the early days of the Turkey mission and went back to Jerusalem, possibly because he was wary of Paul leading them to the Gentiles (Ac 13:13). As a result Paul is unconvinced by his suitability for this return visit. Barnabas (who previously stood up for Paul when people were concerned about him – Ac 9:27) seriously falls out with Paul over this, and so heads off to his home island of Cyprus (Ac 4:36) with Mark (v39). Meanwhile, Paul invites Silas to join him and travels to Turkey with the blessing of the church (v40,41).
Since Christians are imperfect people, with limited knowledge, we will fall out at times. It may be over people, plans or ideas; it can be triggered by all kinds of things such as time of life or stress. But we expect to disagree. However, in doing so we must always be aware of the pride, emotion or stupidity which can lead us astray. It is vital to keep a humble eyes upon ourselves during disagreements. And it is also important to remember that God can use them for good. By taking Silas, Paul has backup from Jerusalem for his teaching and Silas’ Roman citizenship will also prove helpful (Ac 16:37). The Lord uses both happy and sad events in his plans, bringing his people to glory on a road which includes adversity and dispute. Having said that, however, we must always seek reconciliation (Mt 5:23,24). Paul is later positive about Barnabas (1Co 9:6) and Mark. Likewise, we must love our brothers and always want peace (Ro 12:9-21).