We are too often disillusioned and defeated when our expectations are rooted in the ideal. For example, soon-to-be married Christians commonly expect their coming marriage to be ideal. "In our marriage, we won't have problems. We will agree about everything. We will experience nothing but togetherness, happiness, and pleasantness. Our marriage will be the best of the best."

The truth is that there are no ideal marriages. There are successful marriages and happy marriages, but no ideal marriages. Every marriage experiences problems. Every marriage endures stress. Every marriage has disagreements. Different kinds of marriage relationships handle the problems, stress, and disagreements in different ways. Regardless of how a marriage handles them, it has them. No marriage experiences nothing but joy, laughter, and total agreement seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year.

To expect an ideal marriage and then to slam into the wall of reality is at best disillusioning and at worst devastating.

Commonly, Christians expect a congregation of Christ's church to be ideal. The real church doesn't have problems. The true church never experiences conflict. The church that really belongs to Christ has only love and peace as everyone always gets along superbly and makes only good decisions. When we discover that a congregation is not the ideal congregation, at best we are spiritually disillusioned; at worst we are spiritually devastated.

Marriages and congregations can never be ideal for the same reason--both are made of people, and there are no ideal people. The best people can ever be is forgiven sinners.

A successful marriage is not a marriage that has no problems. A successful marriage is a marriage that deals honestly and responsibly with its problems. A successful congregation is not a congregation that has no problems. A successful congregation is a congregation that deals honestly and responsibly with its problems.

  1. I wonder why students of the New Testament ever conclude it is possible to have an ideal congregation.
    1. In the New Testament we have nine letters that Paul wrote to seven congregations.
    2. Because of the information in the book of Acts and the information in those nine letters, we know many things about each of those seven congregations. Not one of them approached the ideal.
      1. The congregation in Rome was in severe disagreement about the control of the congregation and about the theology of salvation.
      2. The congregation in Corinth had every congregational problem you ever heard of, and a few you never heard of.
      3. The congregations in Galatia were totally confused--they thought it was more important to follow Judaism than Christ.
      4. The congregation at Ephesus did not understand that Christians were to abandon the lifestyle of their ungodly past.
      5. The congregation at Philippi had serious personal conflicts within.
      6. The congregation at Colosse has serious relationship problems, serious concept problems, and serious moral problems.
      7. The congregation at Thessalonica had members who refused to work and take responsibility for their own physical needs.
    3. Even if a congregation is composed of nothing but the finest Christians, each Christian is still a distinct individual.
      1. We are not and cannot become carbon copies of each other, and we certainly are not carbon copies of Jesus.
      2. When we, in faith, surrender our wills and lives to Christ, God uses our differences for His purposes--that is why we can be Christ's body.
      3. While God uses our differences for His purposes, too often we handle our differences very poorly.

  2. Please allow me to introduce you to three men that most of you know, three men whom God used powerfully, but three men who did a poor job of handling their differences: Paul, Barnabas, and Mark.
    1. Consider Paul:
      1. Prior to his conversion, Paul was a man of violence (1 Timothy 1:12, 13).
        1. He believed the crucified Jesus was an impostor, a liar, and a fraud.
        2. He rejoiced in the execution of Christians.
        3. He was a vigilante who put Christians in prison.
        4. He dedicated his life and his faith to destroying the church.
      2. Paul was not a nice person--you would have detested him.
    2. Consider Barnabas:
      1. He was among the first converts of the first congregation that ever existed.
        1. In the early days of this congregation, the members shared anything they owned with fellow Christians in need (Acts 4:32-36).
          1. All private property was considered by the owners to be common property.
          2. Because of their incredible generosity, there was not one needy person in this congregation of several thousand members.
        2. Barnabas was one of the effective, good-hearted members of this congregation, so much so that the apostles changed his name from Joseph to Barnabas, the encourager (Acts 4:36, 37).
          1. He sold some land he owned.
          2. He gave 100% of the money to be used to help those in need.
      2. Barnabas was an exceptionally nice person--you would have loved Barnabas.

  3. Paul, through the direct intervention of the resurrected Jesus, was converted and immediately found himself in big trouble (Acts 9).
    1. The people who encouraged him to persecute Christians quickly decided they needed to kill this traitor (Acts 9:23-25).
      1. A death squad watched the gates of the city, waiting to kill him when he left.
      2. Some of the Christians he came to arrest saved his life by lowering him over the city wall in a basket at night.
    2. Sometime later Paul returned to Jerusalem.
      1. Because it was in Jerusalem:
        1. That Paul assisted those who killed the Christian Stephen,
        2. That Paul conducted house-to-house searches to arrest Christians,
        3. Christians were afraid of him.
      2. It was Barnabas who took Paul to the apostles and told them that his conversion was genuine, and gained acceptance in the congregation for him.
        1. Paul immediately began preaching boldly.
        2. Quickly the persecutors he formerly worked with decided the traitor needed to die.
        3. Christians took him safely to the coast and sent him home to Tarsus by boat.
      3. Because Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, the Jerusalem congregation of several thousand members sent Barnabas to check on the non-Jewish congregation in Antioch that was experiencing explosive growth (Acts 11:20-24).
        1. The need and opportunity in Antioch was too big for Barnabas alone.
        2. He personally traveled to Tarsus, found Paul, and brought him back to Antioch (Acts 11:25, 26).
        3. There they worked together for a year and became a powerful team.

  4. One day, at the specific instruction of the Holy Spirit, Paul and Barnabas began a missionary trip to non-Jewish countries (Acts 13:1-3).
    1. They took with them a young Christian named Mark.
      1. Early in the trip, Mark left them and returned home.
    2. Much later, perhaps a couple of years or more, after completing the missionary journey and visiting the congregation in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas decided to take a second journey and check on all the young congregations (Act 15:36).
      1. Barnabas insisted that they take Mark again.
      2. Paul emphatically said no.
      3. They disagreed so sharply that they broke up as a team: perhaps the best missionary team in the history of the church, and the only team that I recall being personally put together by the direct action of the Holy Spirit.
    3. Why did this happen? It happened because these two exceptional Christians were very different persons.
      1. Barnabas was committed to people--he had always been that kind of man.
        1. He was a people-person who saw potential in Mark just as he had seen potential in Paul.
      2. Paul was committed mind and body to an objective--he had always been that kind of man.
      3. Barnabas saw great potential in Mark that needed to be developed.
      4. Paul saw an essential job that needed to done efficiently and effectively.
      5. They more than disagreed--their argument was so intense that it reached the point that they split up as a missionary team.
      6. Barnabas took Mark as his new team member; Paul took a man named Silas.

  5. I wonder how all this affected Mark?
    1. While he surely felt loved by Barnabas, he must have felt rejected and slammed by Paul.
      1. I wonder how much pain he felt because Paul rejected him?
      2. I wonder how put down and humiliated he felt?
      3. I wonder if he felt like Paul degraded him and attacked his faith and devotion to Christ by insisting that Mark could not be a part of the mission team?
      4. Mark must have had some deep feelings about the incident because Paul felt so deeply about Mark's involvement that Paul left a dear, good friend.
      5. Did Mark feel that it was his fault that the team broke up? Did he resent being put in that position?
      6. Did he feel guilty for coming between two good friends?
    2. I am afraid that I understand too much about that kind of situation.
      1. I know the anger that is common in that situation.
      2. I know the deep hurt that comes from that situation.
      3. I know the resentment felt in that situation.
      4. I know how easy it is to be bitter.
    3. I personally have no doubt that Paul and Barnabas had some deep, negative feelings and some pain after the argument and the split.

  6. I call your attention to two amazing things.
    1. Amazing thing number one:
      1. A few years after this, Paul wrote at least three letters to the congregation in Corinth.
        1. When Paul and Barnabas had their argument and split, neither had visited this city and the congregation did not exist.
      2. In Paul's second letter to that congregation (1 Corinthians 9:1-6), Paul used Barnabas as a positive illustration, as positive evidence of his point.
    2. Amazing thing number two:
      1. The last existing letter that Paul wrote is 2 Timothy.
      2. When Paul wrote this letter, he knew that he would be executed.
      3. He made some final requests of Timothy.
        1. "Come to me as soon as you can."
        2. "Bring the coat that I left in Troas when you come."
        3. "Bring my books and parchments" (he wanted his study materials).
        4. And this: "Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service."
      4. Paul split a fantastic missionary team that the Holy Spirit put together because he had no use for Mark.
      5. Years later, as he neared death by execution, one of his last requests was, "Bring Mark with you; he is useful to me..."

At some point Paul realized that God used and worked through Mark as surely as God used and worked through him. At some point, there was reconciliation.

As Christians we have two challenges that never end as long as we live in this world. The first is to be reconciled to God. The second is to be reconciled with each other. We do not dare live in the past. We can never undo what we did in the past. We can bridge enmity and quarrels of the past with reconciliation.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 12 January 1997

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