“And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.” Acts 15:39a ESV
I’m wired to want all of my relationships to go the distance.
Even in everyday life, I don’t like having to say goodbye to people. Often when I travel to speaking engagements, the moment I dread the most is having to say goodbye to the gal who has hosted me for the weekend. I usually feel like I’ve made a new friend, and then suddenly I have to leave.
I found that it feels too cold to quickly say “goodbye” and then that’s it. So I came up with a new parting phrase when we pull up to the airport for my returning flight. I give my host a hug and say, “Let’s not say ‘goodbye’ … let’s just say ‘to be continued.’” It feels so much better to me.
But then there are other goodbyes I’ve had to face in my life that are permanent. These endings were so painful that I still feel the ache of sadness even years later. The person I loved didn’t die but the relationship did.
Maybe you can totally relate because you’ve had to say goodbye to a major relationship in your life. Or maybe you’ve had friendships that just grew distant over time and you never quite got closure. Or maybe you are wrestling through a relationship right now that you aren’t sure is sustainable. Whatever the case, at some points in all of our lives, we will have to face some hard and heartbreaking goodbyes.
Sometimes these goodbyes are because one person did something that made reconciliation no longer possible or safe.
But other times, goodbyes aren’t because something bad was done but rather because two people are divided by a significant issue or a severe difference of opinion.
Does the Bible address this? Are there any examples from Scripture to help me know how to better navigate goodbyes like this? The answer is yes.
In Acts 15:36-41, we find Paul and Barnabas parting ways. The situation between Paul and Barnabas gets tricky because it involved a difference of opinion over a cousin of Barnabas. Barnabas wanted to take his cousin John Mark with him on a missionary journey with Paul. However, Paul had a bad experience where John Mark abandoned them on a previous journey, so Paul didn't want to go through that again. In a way, Paul was setting a boundary, and it seems like he had a good reason for it. But at the same time, Barnabas had a conviction to keep his cousin with him and give him a second chance, which is understandable as well.
The situation was more than a simple difference of opinion. In our key verse today, we read that this was a “sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:39a). These words are important and mean there was a charged emotional response from both sides.
However, this disagreement, which was ultimately a goodbye between Paul and Barnabas, didn’t mean that either of them was a bad person. Quite the opposite — they both had boundaries, and when they held to their boundaries, the need for a separation became apparent.
When we look at how Luke, the author of the book of Acts, presents this disagreement, we can’t place a label of “right” or “wrong” on either of these two men. Both are commended, they both had reasons for the parting of ways that made sense, and they both acted out of personal conviction about the boundaries they needed to establish. This is such an important example to look at because both men loved the Lord … they both loved people … and they both had the desire to do the right thing.
But still, they had to part ways.
Now, the end result is what I see as a major lesson for all of us: There’s no evidence that either of them bashed or slandered the other for the choice he made. And there’s no evidence that either of them tried to discredit the other in ministry.
As a result, their goodbye actually allowed the gospel to spread in two different directions and go even further than if they had stayed together.
Even though this was a goodbye between Paul, Barnabas and John Mark, it wasn’t the end of the story. Years later, when Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:11, he asked for John Mark to be brought to him because John Mark was “very useful to [Paul] for ministry” (ESV). Though they had a rough season, they still had respect for each other and eventually reconciled. For Paul to say John Mark was useful to him in ministry indicates Paul now saw him a different way.
This is the beauty of good boundaries and goodbyes … When done appropriately, they give relationships the space necessary to heal and possibly get better over time. I know this isn’t always possible, but it is in some cases where boundaries and goodbyes help prevent total destruction of a relationship.
Sweet friend, I don’t know how this resonates personally with you today. I know not all goodbyes end in a peaceful way. My heart is sensitive to that. I’ve had to make peace with the fact that there isn’t a formula to calculate where some relationships will go next. There will be some renewed relationships. There will be some temporary pauses. And there will be some forever goodbyes. But what is consistent with every one of these scenarios? Grief. And grief just stings.
All of this can be incredibly confusing and sometimes crushing. And if that’s where you are right now, you’re not alone.
With God’s help, even as we wrestle through tears, we can find a way forward. I believe that Jesus is working in me and in you and that He is healing our hearts through all of this. Even when reconciliation isn’t possible, redemption with God always is. So today, open your hands and surrender that relationship where you’re hurting. Release it to Jesus. And be comforted by the words of Isaiah 61:1, which says the Messiah came to heal your broken heart.
God, You are my refuge and safe place. Thank You for being so close to me during times of hardship. I am looking to You and believing that today I can take some steps forward. I know You can bring eventual good in all things, and today I trust that You absolutely will. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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It isn’t unchristian to sometimes have to say a necessary goodbye. But how can we know this with deeper confidence and live this out with biblical assurance? Lysa TerKeurst understands these challenges. In her new book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes, she will help equip you to say goodbye without guilt when a relationship has shifted from difficult to destructive and is no longer sustainable. Along the way, you'll also receive therapeutic wisdom you can trust directly from Lysa's Christian counselor, Jim Cress, who weighs in throughout the book. Buy now.
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Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (NIV)
How does this verse encourage you, even as you face heartbreaking relational circumstances such as goodbyes? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!
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