Some of us cringe when we hear the word “conflict.” Others of us rise to the challenge and yell, “Bring it on!” Sometimes conflict comes like a thief in the night; sometimes it festers like a cancerous infection taking over a body. Sometimes conflict is healthy, sometimes it isn’t. And if we allow it, conflict can destroy peace, harmony, and relationships like a loose bull in a china shop.
However, the bull of conflict is unavoidable. Misunderstandings, disagreements, and full-on verbal sparring will inevitably occur. We can choose to ignore the bull to our own detriment, but trust, bulls of conflict will show up. The question is, do we allow the bull to trample our friendships, unbridled, or do we patiently and carefully lead the bull through the china shop and out the door?
A bull showed up during one of Paul’s missionary journeys.
Earlier in the book of Acts, John—whose other name is Mark according to Acts 12:12 (and who most likely authored of the Gospel of Mark)—started out as part of the mission team, but then decided that instead of going to Pamphylia, he would rather return to Jerusalem. Let us sit in Paul’s shoes for a moment. Picture yourself traveling city to city, preaching the gospel, planting churches under the threat of persecution, when suddenly, a team member decides to go back home; so he bails on the mission trip. And now that same person wants to tag along on another missionary journey.
Barnabas: Hey, we should totally take John Mark—
Paul: Excuse me?
Barnabas: Listen, I know that last time he bailed on the way to Pamphylia so he could go back home to his mom’s house in Jerusalem but—
Paul: Barny! The only thing I like flaky is my biscuits! If you think I’m taking that flighty mama’s boy anywhere with me, you must have forgotten that I used to be called Saul of Tarsus!
Okay, things probably didn’t go down quite like this, but there was most definitely a “sharp disagreement.” Paroxysmos is the word translated as “sharp disagreement,” which is a polite way to say that Paul and Barnabas didn’t just “agree to disagree”—they fought and decided to split up!
What’s great about this story is that we see in later parts of Scripture that the raging bull of conflict was tamed. In 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul tells Timothy to bring Mark along to a church plant because he has become a great help in ministry. Somewhere between John Mark’s desertion and the letter to Timothy, the conflict between Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark was addressed and resolved. Conflict resolution isn’t always easy or quick but it strengthens relationships.