forgiveness unpacked


Bonita and I read a book during our time in Brigden and we never fully completed it but restarted it and we’re almost done. We’re even reading the appendix portion of the book. (When someone takes the time to read the book’s appendix, you know that it’s been good!) On the cover of ‘Unpacking Forgiveness’ is a suitcase on the middle of a road. The author, Chris Brauns, pastors a church near Rockford, Illinois. I appreciate books by pastors. They are guys who write from the trenches and the good ones write with their Bibles open. I believe that Chris is one of those guys.

I always want to jump into a conversation when forgiveness comes up becomes most times we take a sentimental, shallow approach to the topic instead of a complicated, deeply biblical approach that is unknown, thus not promoted by many. I have often said that we don’t needs bumper stickers but we need books and this is true about the topic of forgiveness. How many times have I heard the advice ‘you just gotta forgive ’em’ and wanted to strangle the well-meaning bearer of that message. Forgiveness is a knotty and thorny topic. We often see forgiveness as something that we do primarily to move on with our lives so we will feel better but forgiveness is so tied up in the gospel. Braun’s book is one that I have recommended time and again for people to get a thoroughly biblical picture on forgiveness and some rock solid principles into how to rightly deal with relational conflict.

As Bonita and I have read the book together, I have been asking the question in my head again and again ‘what about Paul and Barnabas?’ I was pleased to find them addressed in the fifteenth chapter of the book. Paul and Barnabas had a falling out over John Mark. He had bailed on a previous missionary journey and Barnabas wanted to bring him along on the next missionary outing and Paul didn’t. Paul said ‘no way’ and Barnabas said ‘way’.

[39] And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, [40] but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
(Acts 15:39-40 ESV)

One of the things that I never considered were the circumstances that made their relationship tense. And I am using Brauns’ observations that have been so helpful for me to understand the relational climate.

1. There was division at Antioch. (Galatians 2) There was much conversation about circumcision. Paul rebuked Peter and Barnabas publicly. Barnabas would have clued in that him and Peter were wrong and possibly hypocritical.

2. Relatives were involved. Barnabas and John Mark were cousins (Colossians 4:10), so this partly played in as to why Barnabas wanted John Mark along for the journey.

3. Diasappointments. Paul and Barnabas must have both looked forward to the missionary trip. They had been hammered on for their faith and a new mission opportunity must have put a bounce in their step and a song in their heart. It must have taken the wind out of their sails when they realized they weren’t on the same page over John Mark.

4. Silas was forced to choose. I’m sure Paul or Barnabas didn’t want Silas in the middle of things but he decided to go with Paul (Acts 15:40). (I’m sure I would have too!)

5. Barnabas had once stood up for Paul. Barnabas had Paul meet with the leadership in Jerusalem even though he had a very sketchy pre-conversion past (Acts 9:26-27).

6. Barnabas was generous with the early church (Acts 4:36-37). The suggestion isn’t that he used his overflowing bank account as leverage but it showed that he was committed and passionate about the Lord’s work. Maybe Paul didn’t think that taking John Mark along showed good stewardship and if that was the case maybe Barnabas thought of how generous he had been, personally. Some speculation on the author’s part, but worth considering.

This background info helps us understand this ancient situation so much better. It fleshes the situation out a bit. There are some take-aways from this incident that we can all apply that Brauns mentions in his book. I will share them briefly.

1. Accept it: these things happen. It happened to Paul and Barnabas and it continues to happen today. Good guys (and gals) end up on opposing sides. A great thing to remember is this: ‘The church and the Word moved forward not because of people but in spite of them.’

2. Fix your eyes on Jesus and continue forward. This sounds cliche but it’s good advice. It would have been easy for Mark to throw in the towel and it’s easy to do the same today. It’s easy to unplug from the life of the church after some relational difficulty and simply punch in and punch out for an hour on Sunday. May Hebrews 12:2-3 be helpful:

[2] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.[3] Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
(Hebrews 12:2-3 ESV)

3. Talk little: without gossip a quarrel dies down. It’s so easy to gain a following through gossip. Twisting the facts, distorting the reality, promoting suspicions as truth…and the conflict burns brightly.

[20] For lack of wood the fire goes out,
and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
(Proverbs 26:20 ESV)

4. Submit: respect God-ordained authority structures. God has called qualified men (1 Timothy 3:1-7) to lead. ‘Of course, this does not mean that leaders should abuse or lord it over people’ (1 Peter 5:3). But sometimes leaders need to move forward with Scriptural saturated decisions that may not be popular. People need to submit themselves to their church leaders unless they are disobeying God (Acts 5:29).

5. Be hopeful and wait: time can heal what reason and emotions can’t. We should seek to settle our differences early but when that’s not possible, there may be hope for the future in this life. Some take more time to think through the issues and time and distance can help. We can pray on and hope on and healing is only possible in Christ.

6. soften: there’ll always be something to admit. Later in his ministry Paul admitted that John Mark was helpful (2 Timothy 4:11). Paul didn’t let pride keep him from acknowledging God’s grace in John Mark’s life and the maturity that followed. By the grace of God, others do change over time. It’s often a two steps forward one step back gig.

Again, there is so much more that I could have included on forgiveness but what I’ve learned is so key for when believers part company and end their relationship poorly. And putting these principles into practice flows out of the glorious gospel. These are how the gospel have an impact on our everyday lives in relationship disasters.


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