Remember what had happened in Antioch – a dispute arose between Paul and Barnabas and some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem over certain customs and it resulted in Paul and Barnabas taking their case to the elders of the Jerusalem Church. In the letter that the elders of Jerusalem wrote to the Church in Antioch, they confirm the good friendship that exists between them and Paul and Barnabas; the elders guard the friendship and make it clear, not only to the church in Antioch but to all who would question the position and authority of Paul and Barnabas, that their mutual friendship is strong and genuine. We also see that the friendship is based on shared values that are established in the gospel of Jesus Christ. (see vs 25-26). Their actions guard the friendship that exists because of the message it sends others and the message it sends to Paul and Barnabas as well.
Interestingly, there is another example of ‘friendship’ that is spoken of in this passage (vs 36-41); that of the friendship between Paul and Barnabas. We have seen in earlier devotions, that this friendship is a special one, and yet another friendship tests and, at least for a season, fractures the friendship between Paul and Barnabas. “They had such a sharp disagreement” over whether to take John Mark, whom Paul says “had deserted them in Pamphylia” (vs 38) that they parted company and each took another mission partner to continue the Lord’s work. Paul refused, on principle, to NOT take John Mark (instead selecting Silas), yet Barnabas, on principle (though we are left to ponder what that principle was, remembering that he was Barnabas’ cousin), took John Mark with him. Indeed, sometimes friendship take a battering and even fracture, sometimes never to be reconciled. God was able to use both Barnabas and Paul, along with their new mission companions, to further the gospel and we do see evidence that reconciliation was achieved, at least in part (1 Cor 9:6, 2 Tim 4:11).
It is significant that we are even able to read about this friendship between Paul and Barnabas, their shared gospel ministry, the fracturing of their relationship and the reconciliation between all parties in the end. The church, rather than try to sanitise the early accounts, included these difficult times because, in human friendships, it is what it is. God works with ‘jars of clay’ and these sometimes fracture, and yet his mission is accomplished. Humanly speaking, we see examples of loyalty, value, principles and most likely, personality coming through in this account of friendships celebrated and stretched. What might you do today, to guard your gospel friendships; what principles and values lay at the heart of the friendships you have? And where might God be calling you today, to identify and reconcile past friendships.