Multiplication Through Division (Acts 15:36-16:10)

Multiplication Through Division (Acts 15:36-16:10)


  • I’m beginning to embrace the fact that math isn’t my strong suit.
  • Our passage opens with Paul and Barnabas splitting up and concludes with 3x the number of missionaries on the field.
  • On the heels of one of the most unifying events in church history comes a conflict that divides one of the greatest partnerships in church history!

Read Acts 15:36-16:10

  • Unlikely avenues of growth. Confusion, chaos, perseverance.
  • Faithful disciples persevere through confusing and chaotic circumstances by trusting in a future grace.
  • We are caught in this state of “the already and not yet.”

Martin Luther, “This life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished but it is going on. This is not the end but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified.”

We will begin with a I. Divine Division (15:36-41), followed by a II. Divine Diversion (16:1-10)

I. Divine Division (15:36-41)

  • v.36 Paul’s pastoral heart yearned for his spiritual children (2 Thes. 2:7).
  • vv.37-38 Hard not to take sides:
    • 13:13 Mark disqualified himself. Same Mark who ran away naked at scene of Jesus’ arrest (14:51f).
    • Paul “He quit on us! Deserted us at one of most difficult parts of trip (mountainous region).”
    • Barnabas “He’s young. Needs training. He has potential.”
    • Their positions fit their personalities.
    • Paul wrote much of the New Testament, and we hear very little about Barnabas.
    • Paul probably difficult to work with. Most of us would prefer a Barnabas, the “Son of Encouragement”.
  • Luke certainly knew Paul and his temperament. But he doesn’t lay blame on anyone. Neither can we.
  • v.39 After 3-4 years of partnership, they split up.
  • vv.40-41 Mark goes with Barnabas to Cyprus, while Silas goes with Paul to revisit the churches in Southern Galatia.
  • Illustration: God often blesses “church splants”.
  • Although the conflict often works out for the good of the Church (Rom. 8:28), conflict between believers is never a good thing in and of itself.
  • The Peacemaker by Ken Sande: Glorify God > Get the log out of your own eye > Gently restore > Go and be reconciled.
  • Not the final statement:
    • In Col. 4:11, Paul encourages the Colossians to welcome Mark.
    • In Philemon 24, Paul lists Mark as one of his “fellow workers”.
    • In 2 Tim. 4:11, Paul tells Timothy, “Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.”
  • Emphasizes the value of Barnabas’ mentoring the young Mark.
  • Sinful, flawed people will always struggle to get along. They had passions and feelings that got in the way of their best intentions (i.e., 14:15).
  • Dennis Johnson, “Luke shows how the sovereign God advances his kingdom through his flawed servants…That God uses sinful servants never excuses our sin, but it always glorifies his grace.”
  • Mark 14:51 > Abandoning the 1MJ > “Useful” to Paul as well as a critical witness of Jesus, preserved in Scripture.
  • No one is beyond restoration. There is always hope for future usefulness.
  • Faithful disciples persevere through confusing and chaotic circumstances by trusting in a future grace.Sometimes those circumstances are major conflicts and the future grace is a restored usefulness.

The missionary team has gone from two to four. Their stop in Lystra will add another…

II. Divine Diversion (16:1-10)

  • Timothy receives 2 letters from Paul and is mentioned in 8 others. Jewish mother and Greek father. Good reputation. Young, but mature.
  • Family possibly converted on 1MJ.
  • Circumcision “…to be saved,” (15:1, 5).
  • Puzzeling Decision:
    • Titus (11:30; Gal. 2:1-5). Thomas, “He refuses to have Titus circumcised in Jerusalem but then does the opposite with Timothy in Lystra.”
    • Letter being delivered with Timothy.
  • Why? Evangelistic purpose. Not salvific, but fellowship. Removes barrier to gospel reception among Jews who would’ve considered Timothy a covenant breaker (apostate Jew, Gen. 17:14).
  • Would have eliminated opportunity to evangelize in synagogues.
  • Besides, Paul thought circumcision was a matter of indifference (Gal. 5:6; 6:15).
  • Where the truth of the gospel is upheld, Paul can make compromises in order to remove hindrances to the gospel being heard.
  • Bock, “Paul permitted circumcision so that the gospel would remain the main topic.”
  • Timothy put the needs of others above his own (Phil. 2:19-23).
  • “Closed doors” provide just as much guidance as “open doors”.
    • Northeast to Bithynia blocked by the Holy Spirit.
    • Southwest to Troas blocked by the Holy Spirit.
  • v.10 Luke joins the team (now 6). Luke wouldn’t be so careless.
  • Illustration: There are similar diversions in life of countless missionaries.
  • Faithful disciples persevere through confusing and chaotic circumstances by trusting in a future grace.Sometimes those circumstances involve closed doors, unanswered prayers, or even significant sacrifice for the sake of the gospel, and the future grace is the realization that God was leading you to something so much greater than you could have ever dared hope or imagine.

In spite of a difficult division, there is always hope for usefulness and restoration. In spite of “closed doors”, we trust in God’s future grace to outweigh any temporary loss.


  • Isaiah 40:28-31
  • Our hope in the midst of chaos is a picture of the gospel.
  • God brings eternal life through the death of His Son!
  • God brings redemption through the chaos of the cross!
    • Gethsemane, “Let this cup pass…”
    • Golgotha, “Why have you forsaken me?”
  • Because Christ was faithful to persevere through the worst possible chaos, we can trust that he will enable us to persevere through our own confusing and chaotic circumstances.