“Why do you have to make things so complicated…?” Avril Lavigne screams these words out in the rock anthem that made her so popular a few years ago. The song is about a relationship…a complicated one at that? Not sure if it led to a break up or not, but the frustration was definitely mounting. Break ups aren’t fun. They are difficult, sad, hard, and of course, complicated. You’re either the one dropping the news, or the one receiving the news. We all know what side we’d rather be on? Well, neither really. Mutual breakups are best, because at least they make more sense. I’d refer to a hollywood flick for this, but the movie Break Up ends with Vince Vaughn & Jennifer Aniston getting back together, so I’m not sure it’s worth the mention (too late).
The tale end of Acts 15 invites us into another conflict in Acts. This one isn’t a community conflict, but a personal one. Things between Paul & Barnabas get complicated. They are serving the church together – sharing the gospel together – on mission together. But something comes in the way. It’s a former character from Acts 13. John Mark seems to be back on the scene, only because he’s invited by Barnabas. Paul, however, wants nothing to do with him. Paul is still upset about John Mark ditching him and Barnabas on their first mission (13:13). Barnabas is one of those guys who sees the best in others and wants to give John Mark another chance. Luke, the writer, describes this as a nasty disagreement. 15:39 says, “They had such a sharp disagreement, that they parted company”(NIV) “Tempers flared and they ended up going their separate ways”(MSG) “Their difference of opinion was so heated…”(VOICE).
How can we do anything but appreciate Luke’s transparency in this narrative? Writers of history always have a choice, they can say it how it ‘was’ or direct us to their desired end. When thinking critically about the Bible, we have to ask questions like, ‘did they leave anything out of this?’ or ‘why was this mentioned and not this?’. Luke, with integrity to the story and to the gospel, leaves this in the story. Two apostles disagree, get into a heated debate (the original language suggests this) and part ways. How is that consistent with the gospel message of peace? It’s not, but it happens. The next question is this, did God allow it to happen, or did he gracefully provide another way to continue the forward motion of the gospel?
I don’t think God plans disputes (most of the time). But what God does do well is turn complicated messes into things of beauty. God takes my complicated ‘present’ and turns it into a hopeful ‘future’. Do I deserve it? No? But that is what grace is all about. We don’t know what is around the corner, but God does. Even if I only see the mess, it doesn’t mean that around the corner something beautiful is not brewing.
How do we know this to be true from this story. A few things…
– Paul finds a new partner and sees success immediately (churches strengthened and encouraged)
– One group of two became two groups of two. Divide and conquer rang true here. (even after a messy breakup)
– Timothy is there as Paul arrives to his next destination (Lystra). Timothy needs Paul and Paul needs Timothy. Paul calls him his son in 1 Cor 4:17 and says there’s no one like him in Phil 2:20. Timothy’s father (a Greek) is thought to be dead so Paul takes him under his wing…as a son and ministry partner.
– Side note: we often think that the Bible teaches us what to do, this is true, but in this case we learn what not to do by observing a heated debate between two friends. We also see that God’s grace is bigger than our mess-ups.
What do we take home? God takes our complicated and turns it into hope; He turns our mess into something beautiful; he provides people along the way (like Timothy) who make you look back and say, ‘only God could’ve put this together’.
Next time you scream at the top of your lungs, “Why do you have to make things so complicated?”, know that God sees it, grieves it, and then (only the way that he can) offers an alternative ending to your breakup or your mess.
Three times in 11 verses we read something like this, “The churches were strengthened and encouraged and continued to grow”. How, in the middle of a complicated situation could this happen? Only God!
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small(er) group questions:
Can you think of a complicated situation that potentially derailed some progress you may have been making at that time in your life? Something that made you question a few things?
What do you make of Paul & Barnabas’s dispute (Acts 15:39)? How does it make you feel when you reconcile that with a gospel of peace?
How does one explain honest parts of the biblical story? The ugly parts? The ones with breakups, deaths, uncertain conclusions? (Luke leaves this in on purpose)
The beginning of Acts 16 shows… as “Paul arrived…” “Timothy was there…”
– Can you relate to this? As you turn the corner, God has something/someone waiting for you?
Read Acts 16:1-5 (focusing on verse 3). In light of what we talked about last week, what is confusing about this text? How can we reconcile it?
(hint: look at 1 Corinthians 9:19-22)