Case Study of Successful Alliance: Paul and Barnabas

In Alliance for the Gospel


© Grafxart | - Duck Partnership Photo
© Grafxart | – Duck Partnership Photo

Paul and Barnabas teamed up to spread the gospel, shortly after Saul’s conversion to Christ. From their base church in Antioch, which they helped develop, they collaborated on the First Missionary Journey, through which they won numerous converts and established several churches in Europe and Asia and laid the foundation for growth of Christianity worldwide. However, their alliance ended abruptly as they tried to embark on a second missionary journey. In this bible study, we try to learn from their successful alliance and its abrupt termination.

Team Formation and Accomplishment

Despite a difference in details between the accounts of their meeting in Acts 9:26–27 and Galatians 1:13–24 and 2:1–10, it appears clear Saul and Barnabas met and teamed up in Damascus shortly after Saul’s conversion. When Barnabas was sent to Antioch from Jerusalem to help strengthen a circle of believers that grew out of a “fragment” of the early Jerusalem church, he quickly brought Saul from Tarsus to join him in Antioch [Acts 11:19–26]. They helped establish and grow the church in Antioch, where the disciples were called Christians for the first time, thus establishing the role of Paul and Barnabas in the growth and expansion of Christianity. From their home church in Antioch, they led a relief mission to Judea [Acts 11:27–30 and 12:25], the First Missionary Journey to Europe and Asia [Acts 13 and 14], and a mission to consult with the church in Jerusalem to resolve once and for all a confusion regarding the role of circumcision in salvation and redemption through Christ [Acts 15:1–21]. The Paul-Barnabas team, therefore, was highly accomplished, especially in its role in the development and expansion of Christianity in Europe and Asia and, later, other parts of the world.

Principles of Paul-Barnabas Alliance

Paul was God’s “chosen instrument” to carry the gospel to the “Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel” [Acts 9:15]. Though Barnabas was an elder in the church relative to Saul, being one of the early disciples [Acts 4:36–37], he recognized Paul’s calling and chose to assist him as his second. Similarly, Paul recognized that he needed a capable partner like Barnabas to enhance the potential for a successful ministry.

Wisdom of the Second Boat

© Mpd | - Old Vessels Photo
© Mpd | – Old Vessels Photo

Barnabas chose to team with Paul to play the role of the “wise second boat.” The principle of “wisdom of the second boat,” which we discussed in an earlier bible study HERE, arises from the scripture at Luke 5:1–10. Jesus saw two fishing boats and entered one. The “second boat” stayed close enough to the “chosen boat” to assist when needed but far enough away to not interfere. Also, the captain of the chosen boat had the right spirit to call on the other boat for assistance when he realized that his nets caught more fish than his boat and crew could handle. The second boat was in close enough proximity to hear the call and was able to assist and, therefore, share in the harvest. If the second boat had not followed, the chosen boat would not have received the assistance it needed. As it were, each boat received a full harvest. When Christ entered one boat, he ordained a harvest for the two boats. The second boat accepted the blessing when it chose to follow the chosen boat.

So Paul as the chosen boat and Barnabas as the wise second boat teamed up for the gospel and were blessed with the accomplishment of growing and expanding Christianity worldwide.

Abrupt End to Alliance

© Kargona | - Disagreement Photo
© Kargona | – Disagreement Photo

The team broke up abruptly over a disagreement regarding John, also known as Mark. Paul had proposed a second missionary journey, which Barnabas accepted but wanted to take Mark. However, Paul did not want to take Mark because he abandoned them part way in the First Missionary Journey. They parted company as a result [Acts 15:36–41]. The bible doesn’t provide much more about the breakup. However, we can take comfort from the fact that their breakup appears to have been a division that resulted in multiplication, because each went on to birth and execute great ministry for the Lord, contributing to positive outcomes in spreading the gospel. Paul went on to accomplish a lot more in his ministry, whereas Mark went on to write the gospel according to Mark. Furthermore, several accounts and events chronicled in later books of the bible point to the fact that though the breakup may have been due to sharp differences and strong options on matters of principle, love was not lost between them and the apostles remained brethren that found one another useful in ministry.

Lessons from Paul-Barnabas Breakup

It would not only have pained our hearts as believers to see such wonderful, goal-getting alliance come to an end but equally challenged the faith of many. What is the Bible’s purpose in revealing these seemingly sad realities in such details? Why did God allow it? Was it God-ordained? Does the breakup suggest family and team loyalties may interplay and affect relationships in an alliance? Mark was a cousin to Barnabas [Colossians 4:10]. Is it possible that Barnabas was committed to working with Mark to give him a second chance and mentor him because he perceived some potentials in him? Whichever, his commitment to Mark apparently out-weighed his loyalty to the alliance, which led to his decision to separate from Paul since Paul would not accept Mark. What strong principles could back up Paul’s position not to take Mark and could this rejection have positively affected Mark? As we examine these in details, we will see that God definitely did not intend to make us disillusioned and cynical but rather for our instruction, edification and growth as believers. Please join us in a future second part of this study of Paul-Barnabas alliance as we examine and discuss these issues and their implications for modern-day human interactions and relationships.

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