by Al Maxey
Issue #757 -------
October 15, 2018
It is the end that crowns us, not the fight.
Robert Herrick [1591-1674]
Dr. Isaac Watts (1674-1748), who wrote many of our most beloved hymns (see my tribute to him in Reflections #347 - "The Dissident Hymnist: Reflective Analysis of the Life and Work of Dr. Isaac Watts"), penned the following poetic thoughts: "Let dogs delight to bark and bite, for God hath made them so; let bears and lions growl and fight, for 'tis their nature too. But, children, you should never let such angry passions rise; your little hands were never made to tear each other's eyes. Birds in their little nests agree; and 'tis a shameful sight, when children of one family fall out, and chide, and fight." These are just a few of the lyrics that appeared in Watts' book titled "Divine Songs," which was published in 1715. Most people would agree, at least in principle, that life is far more pleasant when "brothers dwell together in unity" (Psalm 133:1). "If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand" (Mark 3:25). In a 1935 United States Supreme Court unanimous ruling (Baldwin v. Seelig, 294 U.S. 511, 523), Associate Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo (1870-1938), who was tasked with writing the opinion, stated: "The Constitution was framed upon the theory that the peoples of the several states must sink or swim together, and that in the long run prosperity and salvation are in union and not division."
That last phrase written by Justice Cardozo is absolutely correct, and it is especially so in the universal One Body of Jesus Christ. If we would prosper, and if we would be saved, it is to be found "in union and not division." Not only union with the Lord, but also union with our fellow disciples throughout the world, regardless of whether or not we are uniform in our perceptions, preferences and/or practices. When we willfully abandon that "one another" sensitivity our Father expects of His children, then petty feuds and party factions are not far behind. The Scriptures have much to say about how, when, where and why we are to promote unity and harmony with one another in the One Family of our Father, and these guidelines should be prayerfully pondered by each of us. For an in-depth analysis of these guidelines, I would strongly suggest a study of my article "The 'One Another' Relationships of the New Covenant Church" (Reflections #170). It is also vital to our spiritual unity that we recognize the reality that although we are united into One Body by the agency of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), we are nevertheless, at the same time, quite diverse individually, which can be challenging to the maintaining of that unity in One Body when these differences are displayed daily in our lives and interactions with others. Romans 14 addresses key aspects of this reality quite well, which I have examined and highlighted in Reflections #120 ("A Safety Valve for Steamed Saints: Biblical Advice for Avoiding the 'Big Bang' in the Church").
In spite of our best efforts and intentions, however, you and I remain very much human, and thus by nature fall short far too frequently of the divine expectation. As the apostle Paul notes, "We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). This devoted disciple was perhaps his own greatest critic, and he was not reluctant to declare himself, after careful self-evaluation, the "chief of sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15) and "wretched" (Romans 7:24) when compared to the purity of his Lord. I have always appreciated Paul's candor, and I further appreciate the fact that the Scriptures, both OT and NT, don't attempt to cover up the failings and shortcomings of God's chosen ones. Those "after His own heart" have at times given in to the darkest motivations of their own hearts and minds, committing acts that, upon later reflection, leave them blushing with shame. We've all been there; we can identify. Thank God for His grace, for He loves us in spite of ourselves, and He works His will in and through us even though we are less than perfect tools in His hands. Our hope, therefore, lies not in our own righteousness, but in His, which He imparts to those flawed men and women willing to receive it by faith. In this way we can be counted as perfect, even though our imperfections continue to evidence themselves in our daily lives. "So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God's law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin" (Romans 7:25, New Living Translation). Yet, as a tribute to His love, mercy and grace, "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). In our own eyes our own wretchedness is painfully obvious, and often obvious to those around us as well, yet "despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us" (Romans 8:37, NLT).
As previously noted, the Scriptures do not gloss over those times in the lives of God's people when the dark side of human nature evidences itself in their attitudes and actions. In this present issue of my Reflections I would like to examine one such incident where we find three giants of faith embroiled in conflict. Disagreements among disciples of Christ is nothing new; again, we've all been there. The commonness of this, however, doesn't make it any the less distasteful. Ideally, all of God's children will always get along with one another. Realistically, though, we are flawed people dwelling in a fallen world, and this is often evidenced in our interpersonal relationships. Such was the case with Paul, Mark and Barnabas. The setting for this falling out was the city of Antioch in Syria. The Jerusalem Conference, which took place in 50 A.D., was over. Paul and Barnabas had returned to Antioch, where they spent a period of time (most scholars feel it was about a year) "teaching and preaching the Word of the Lord" (Acts 15:35). A couple of years before this, problems had arisen in Antioch when a group of legalistic Judaizers from Judea had come to the city proclaiming doctrines contrary to the Gospel message (Acts 15:1). This led to "great dissension and debate" (vs. 2), and ultimately to the above mentioned conference in Jerusalem. Prior to that conference, however, around the year 49 A.D., Paul wrote an epistle to the church in Galatia in which he countered the teaching of the legalists. The Epistle to the Galatians was the very first book penned of the 27 books that today make up our NT canon. To better understand this time of conflict of doctrine, and this conflict between brethren, I would suggest a reading of the following studies I did: "Epistle to the Galatians: Magna Charta of Christian Liberty" (Reflections #202) and "Embracing Another Gospel: Analyzing Apostolic Authorial Intent in the Admonition of Galatians 1:6-9" (Reflections #215).
During this time in Antioch, prior to the Jerusalem Conference, Paul had a confrontation with Peter. "I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy" (Galatians 2:11-13). The last statement is important to our present study, for it shows Paul and Barnabas on opposite sides of a very serious debate on the nature of the Gospel message and how it was to be applied in one's daily living and interaction with other disciples. Now, fast-forward a couple of years to post-conference Antioch. Paul and Barnabas, who were partners in the first missionary journey (Acts 13-14), had been actively engaged in the work with the saints in Antioch. Paul, not one to stay settled in any one place too long, was desirous of setting out on a second missionary journey. Thus, turning to his partner on the previous trip, Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the Word of the Lord, and see how they are" (Acts 15:36). What follows in the five remaining verses of this chapter has been the topic of discussion and debate for many centuries. Notice that passage, as recorded by Luke the physician (Acts 15:37-41, New King James Version):
Here we find a very heated disagreement, one that went on perhaps for days and weeks (according to the use of the imperfect tense in Greek, which indicates a past continuous action). "Barnabas willed, wished and stuck to it (imperfect tense), ... but Paul kept on deeming it wise not to be taking along with them this one. ... Each was insistent in his position (two imperfects)" [Dr. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword]. Neither would budge from his conviction in this matter; both were immovable. Paul was greatly disappointed in Mark, for the latter had "departed from them," and from the good work being done on the first missionary journey, and had returned home. This is documented in Acts 13:13 - "Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem." The word translated "left" in this passage is not the same word that is translated "departed" in Acts 15:38. The former word simply states the fact of Mark's leaving the group; the latter word reflects how Paul perceived this act of leaving. The latter text uses the Greek word "aphistemi," which means "to revolt, defect;" it is a form of the word that is elsewhere translated "apostasy." In Paul's mind, Mark had defected and apostatized; thus, there was no way he was going to take Mark along on this second journey. Barnabas, on the other hand, who was known as "the son of encouragement" (Acts 4:36), and who had been the primary encourager of the disciples of Christ to allow Saul/Paul, the former persecutor of the church, a place in the fold, was willing to give Mark a second chance: an opportunity to redeem himself. Further, Mark was a close relative of his (according to Colossians 4:10). The KJV indicates Mark was the nephew of Barnabas, but almost all other translations indicate Mark was the cousin of Barnabas. The latter is the most likely. for although this Greek word "was understood in the sense of 'nephew' by the KJV translators, the word did not take on this meaning till after the NT age" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 225]. The vast majority of scholars, therefore, believe they were cousins. Whichever relationship one chooses, the conclusion is the same: Barnabas and Mark were closely related, and this undoubtedly had some bearing on why Barnabas was insistent on taking him along on this second missionary journey.
Over the centuries, scholars have been tempted to take sides in this heated confrontation between Paul and Barnabas, thus, in a sense, perpetuating the conflict (on a theological level). "No one can rightly blame Barnabas for giving his cousin John Mark a second chance, nor Paul for fearing to risk him again. One's judgment may go with Paul, but one's heart goes with Barnabas" [Dr. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword]. Barnabas certainly displayed the more benevolent view, being willing to extend grace to one who had previously proved to be a disappointment (after all, who among us hasn't?!). Yet, we can also understand Paul's unflinching devotion to taking the Good News to those who needed to hear it, and to put together the best team he could in order to have the greatest expectation of a successful mission trip. We also can't discount, when attempting an analysis of Paul's thinking, the previous conflict and confrontation in Antioch when the Judaizers came and Barnabas sided with Peter against Paul. We tend not to forget such things. In the heat of an argument, however, neither side tends to perceive any nobility in the position of the other, nor is there often a quest for understanding the thinking of the other. As is too often the case, their individual inflexibilities led to an inevitable separation. Paul went one way, Barnabas went the other.
In Acts 15:39 we are informed by Luke that Paul and Barnabas had a "sharp contention." Other translations are: "sharp disagreement" ... "intense argument" ... "sharp clash of opinion" ... "tempers flared" ... "a huge row." The Greek word actually used by Luke is "paroxusmos," which means "angry dispute, sharp contention, a sharp fit of anger" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised, p. 310]. Our English word "paroxysm" comes from this Greek word. "This 'son of consolation' loses his temper in a dispute over his cousin, and Paul uses sharp words towards his benefactor and friend. It is often so that the little irritations of life give occasion to violent explosions" [Dr. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword]. "Two strong wills clashed sharply, and Luke is very honest in allowing us to see the humanity of two men he admired so much" [Lloyd J. Ogilvie, The Communicator's Commentary - Acts, p. 237]. "The story of the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas is not one that makes pleasant reading, and the fact that Luke does not gloss it over may be taken as a token of his honesty, the more so as he does not relate it in such a way as to put Paul in the right and Barnabas in the wrong" [Dr. F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of the Acts, p. 318]. Nevertheless, many have indeed taken sides, and a number of scholars believe that the church in Antioch did as well, for Acts 15:39b-40 seems to suggest that the church gave their blessing to Paul and Silas (whom Paul chose to accompany him instead of Barnabas) rather than to Barnabas and Mark. "Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord." It should also be noted that this is the last mention of Barnabas in Acts. At this point, he simply disappears from biblical history, although "according to tradition Barnabas remained in Cyprus until his death" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 2, p. 331]. Mark would go on to become the traveling companion of Peter, and would also become the author of the second book listed sequentially in the NT canon (The Gospel of Mark), which many feel reflects very strongly the teaching and personality of Peter.
It is also extremely important to note that the rift between these three men (Paul, Barnabas and Mark) did not last. The conflict was intense, but it was also not permanent. About five years after this altercation, Paul makes a benevolent and supportive remark about Barnabas to the disciples in the city of Corinth (1 Corinthians 9:6). Martin Luther and John Calvin have even suggested that Barnabas may be the unnamed brother Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 8:18-19. Even more impressive, though, is Paul's affirmation, in his epistles written from prison, of the great worth of John Mark, who was the focus of the argument with Barnabas. In Philemon 24 he refers to Mark as "my fellow worker." In Colossians 4:10 he writes that greetings are being sent to the church there by "Barnabas' cousin Mark, about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him." Then shortly before his execution, Paul writes to Timothy, saying, "Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service" (2 Timothy 4:11). These are among the last words Paul would write, but look at the evolution and transformation of his regard for this fellow disciple! Let it also be noted that even though a separation took place, which in some ways was unfortunate, it nevertheless resulted in an expansion of evangelism. "God providentially used it to double the missionary force" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 454]. "Divine love converts faults into blessings: the separation of the apostles divides the stream of saving grace into two streams, and so the more widely spreads it in the world" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18 - Acts, pt. 2, p. 15].
I have to be honest with you: when I read the accounts of real men and women in the Bible who have real struggles with their human natures, and who exhibit real weaknesses as well as strengths; when I witness great men and women of faith faltering and stumbling, and yes even falling, as they do their best to walk with the Lord in this journey through life, I can't help but feel a sense of confident hope as I myself experience and evidence those same inadequacies and indiscretions. I'm afraid many of us, in our religious upbringing, have been conditioned to regard these biblical figures as "above us" with respect to their spirituality, and thus we "are afraid to recognize that these great men of Scripture were really men of like passions with us; and so, from our own experiences, we can best apprehend their failings. A point needing much careful thought is the relation of the Divine regeneration to the natural disposition and character" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18 - Acts, pt. 2, p. 26]. In that last statement is enough "food for thought" to occupy us for quite some time. We are indeed sinners saved by grace through faith; we are indeed born from above, and we possess a hope the world can never instill within us. Yet, we are still flesh and blood, and we still struggle with our human nature. This relation of Divine regeneration to the natural disposition is the battleground upon which we live our daily lives; sometimes succeeding, sometimes stumbling, but always more than conquerors through Him. Yes, "the dissension of Paul and Barnabas, painful in itself, may yield useful matter of reflection, ... and we may be encouraged by the thought that these holy men were of like passions with ourselves, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. Divine love triumphs over and is made perfect in human weakness" [ibid, p. 15]. So, let us each "press on now with a squint at our own feet of clay, feeling a measure of relief that two of the greatest men of history were not totally unlike ourselves" [Lloyd J. Ogilvie, The Communicator's Commentary - Acts, p. 238].
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Maxey, I continue to be thankful for all you do, and I just have to tell you that I believe the Holy Spirit is moving great mountains in our fellowship, and I can't help but believe that you are a mighty warrior being used by the Lord to transform thinking, not only where you are, but also in far away places that you may not even be aware of. A dream of change in the Churches of Christ is now being realized: a dream that, frankly, I never thought would be possible in our fellowship! Love you, man! Keep blazing the path for God!
From a Reader in Canada:
Brother Al, "The Enigma of the Murky Mirror: A Reflective Study of 1 Corinthians 13:12" (Reflections #756) is a very good article and smack on! It brought to my mind a saying you may have heard before, but one well worth repeating: "The older I get, the more I know just how little I knew when I thought I knew it all." I quite often think this was written just for me. I have a thought on the passage you used for your article. I know the verse is also talking about knowledge, but it seems to me that Paul is saying we are always to make our best effort to be Christ-like, yet even at our best we are still just a poor reflection of who Jesus truly was/is. Yet, when He comes again for us, we will finally see all things more clearly. Now we see ourselves as poor reflections of Him; then we shall see Him as He is, and shall be just like Him. All my love to you, brother!
From a Reader in Colorado:
Yes, much conjecturing has taken place concerning the passage in 1 Corinthians 13. Your last Reflections ("The Enigma of the Murky Mirror"), in which you dealt with verse 12, was a pleasant surprise to me, as it was what I was fixing to write about for an adult class I'm teaching at the -------- Church of Christ here in Denver, Colorado. May God richly bless you in the enlightenment you are engaged in, strengthening the brethren. Love ya, brother.
From a Reader in Mississippi:
Having just read your treatise on "The Enigma of the Murky Mirror," I found a parallel in my life dating back many years to my teen years. My dad, like many fathers of the time, took me deer hunting. We always arrived in the woods while it was yet dark. What I would notice was that as a little light began to filter into the forest, I would see some sort of outline that my brain would try to make sense of. Of course, because I so wanted to see a deer, many bushes became hiding deer and branches began to look like antlers. When the sun finally came out I saw what was really there. So, as we read and reread the Scriptures and try to apply them to our lives, we at times think we have a point, until some more light comes on it, then we perhaps find that we have missed a deeper point that was there all along. Just think how marvelous and wonderful it will be when we see Him face-to-face!
From a Reader in Florida:
You have reflected very well, again! Thank you for your research, your love for God (Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, and Father). As you mentioned, "that which is perfect" has taken up many hours of writing, sermons, and sometimes even ranting over what it really means. I believe it is referring to Jesus, the perfect one, whom, when we see Him, all will be made known clearly.
From a Reader in Texas:
Thank you for such an in-depth look at such a wonderful chapter (1 Corinthians 13) defining what love is and is not. I have had a somewhat different approach to this chapter. It is a declaration of the ideal that we all should strive for, but like our best made plans, we rarely if ever match up to the ideal. However, if you take this text and read it substituting "Jesus" for the word "love," then we see that HE fully meets the ideal (and then some). So, in our attempt to meet this ideal we should begin by realizing that we fully meet it IN HIM already, and we are now called to follow Him. Resting in His finished accomplishment allows us to do what we are able to accomplish in His likeness. We may often mourn over how far short we fall from this ideal, but we must keep in mind that IN HIM we are already more than conquerors. Complete IN HIM. Accepted in the Beloved, and there is therefore no condemnation to those who are IN HIM. We have a free pass to become all that we can be IN HIM, and the pattern shown in 1 Corinthians 13 should be our desire, for it is Jesus the Christ Himself.
From an Elder in North Carolina:
Al, I just read the letter from the elder in Alabama in the readers' section of your last Reflections. I am an elder now in an Independent Christian Church and I feel exactly as this elder does. We are able to get much more out of a class setting (both in knowledge of the Scriptures and knowledge of one another) than in a worship assembly setting. Perhaps with the difficulty congregations are now having in getting qualified men to preach, it is time for those of us who feel there is a better way to start pushing for it.
From a Reader in Georgia:
Great work, brother! I was struck by the fact that Corinth was known for their manufacturing of mirrored surfaces. God pays attention to what we are doing! He used a commonly known fact about the Corinthian economy to convey and explain a spiritual concept so that they (and we by means of context and history) would better understand. What an awesome Father!!
From an Author in Arizona:
Brother Al, you hit the target again when you wrote the following in your most recent article titled "The Enigma of the Murky Mirror": "So what is Paul saying here? How does this metaphor relate to the context in which it appears? The point Paul is making to the Corinthian disciples, and to us as well, is that our view of eternal realities is incomplete and imperfect. The wisest and most perceptive of us have only seen these realities partially, and thus what we do see is, in many ways, enigmatic. The glimpses we get not only leave us longing for more, but they quite often leave us a bit puzzled, for we don't have a perfect, full, complete view/understanding of those realities." Al, your explanation is exactly the way I understand Paul's intent here. It makes good sense and it is valid logic. Yes, in our minds we try to visualize eternal realities, and perhaps to a point we are even on track. Yet our heavenly visions are incomplete and imperfect, as you have so well stated. The human mind is simply incapable of "seeing" what God has prepared for us. A great surprise awaits each of us!!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Good Morning Brother Maxey! I hope you and your family are well. I have a request: which of your Reflections articles, out of your entire body of work over the past 16 years, would you recommend as a starting point on the question of the pious unimmersed? I definitely see the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. I appreciate your work. Thank you!
This question actually involves a number of areas of study impacting the God - man relationship. Is the act of immersion in water a sacrament? Does this act in some way impart a divine grace (i.e., salvation)? Is there a divine provision for extending salvation to those who have not been immersed? Who have not heard, or fully grasped, the good news of what the Father accomplished through His Son Jesus? I have dealt extensively with all of these matters ... and more. However, if I had to pick a single Reflections study as a place to begin these inquiries, I would have to select "God's Plan for the Unenlightened: Pondering the Parameters of Divine Acceptance of Human Response to Available Light" (Reflections #158). -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Al, thanks for your latest Reflections on 1 Corinthians 13:12. I just acquired a book titled "History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age" by A. C. McGiffert (printed in 1897). It is very interesting! He refers to 1 Corinthians 15:29 (as well as many other Scriptures) in which he cites the practice of delaying baptism in the middle of the first century and thereafter, a practice documented in other books also. I know you have dealt with this subject in some of your articles. Regarding Acts 2:38 - it is becoming more and more apparent to me that if we were to abide by sound principles of hermeneutics, we would understand that Peter's audience at Pentecost were primarily Jews who were guilty of having a personal part in the crucifixion of Jesus, and that their baptism was a confession that Jesus was in fact the Messiah, which took great courage on their part. Furthermore, the personal pronoun "your" toward the end of the verse must surely correlate with "repent," as they are both 2nd person plural. Hence, as others have suggested, the verse could well be translated parenthetically: "Repent (and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ) for the remission of your sins..." This, of course, would then harmonize with his statement in Acts 3:19, which some seem to avoid, and by which they seem to be bamboozled. God bless you, brother! Thanks again for your work.
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