Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. (Acts 15:37-39, NKJV)
There is much we don’t know about this conversation between Paul and Barnabas. But we know it didn’t end in shrugs and placid smiles. The word for “contention” (paroxusmos.) suggests feverish intensity,1 and the two men found it impossible to work together.
We also know something else. Neither Paul nor Barnabas had any direct revelation from God on the question. If the Spirit had said to either of them “take Mark” or “don’t take Mark,” there would have been no dispute. They were both deeply committed to obedience.
Compromise or stand?
So how did they handle their disagreement? Believers who disagree about questions God has not answered in Scripture usually handle the conflict in one of two ways. (1) They compromise, yielding to pressure exerted by others. (2) They stand firm and claim—either directly or by implication—that their position is the biblical one and has God’s authority behind it. But there is a third option. When emotions are hot, we tend to run right past it, never noticing it’s there. Depending on the mood we’re in, we either compromise or condemn and fail to notice that neither is the right response.
It appears that Paul, or Barnabas, or both made this mistake. Though neither of them chose compromise regarding John Mark, at least one of them chose condemnation. Otherwise the impasse would have been resolved more congenially (though it might still have required a split). Read more about The Neglected Posture of Conscience