Our church recently finished a series of messages entitled, "Multiply," which focused on God's call to his followers to present themselves and all that they have as an offering and to allow God to multiply it for His Kingdom. Whether it is the command to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth or Jesus' example of taking two fish and five loaves and multiplying them to feed five thousand men, plus women and children, we see evidence throughout the Bible that God is able to take our meager offerings and multiply them to achieve more than we can even imagine. This lesson was applied not only to our finances and giving, but also to our service, our prayers, our very lives.
I was reminded of my father's mother who was a fantastic gardener. Her flowers filled the yard this time of year with fragrant blooms and I recall that she would often do something she called "culling" them. In essence, when the irises became too prolific, she would dig up about half to two-thirds of them and give them to us or to other friends and family. Although I have an absolutely black thumb when it comes to gardening, I could toss a few of the bulbs from her irises in the ground and brush some dirt over them and they would spread and multiply to cover the bed.
Sometimes God does the same thing with his people. Acts 15:36-41 tells us of a time when God used this same principle of dividing in order to multiply: "Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches."
We often get caught up when examining this story with the notion of who was right and who was wrong. Was Paul being unforgiving and judgmental of John Mark's previous decision to "desert them"? Or is Barnabas being foolish in trusting someone who proved untrustworthy in the past?
Instead, let's consider God's sovereignty in this situation. God allowed them to have different viewpoints in order to send not one group of missionaries out, but two! Later we read about how Paul and Mark have apparently been reconciled as Paul asks in 2 Timothy 4:11 that John Mark be brought to him as he is helpful to Paul's ministry.
Serving in ministry is often a transient role. God places us in a church for a season and often moves us between several different churches over the course of ministry. These transitions are hard and often painful, sometimes even, as with Paul and John Mark, they may be the result of sharp disagreements, disappointment in other believers, or different visions for the ministry.
But we should never lose sight of the fact that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we have a single purpose - the Kingdom of God and His Glory. As painful as it is, sometimes that singular purpose requires that He divide us in order to multiply His word and His work. His word admonishes us that "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Romans 12:18) Like plants grown too densely, God may need to separate us in order to allow for continued growth and development.
When circumstances divide brother and sisters in Christ, recognize the hand of God at work - not in choosing a "winner" and a "loser" or "right" and "wrong" - but rather transplanting some to other soil so that His Kingdom would flourish through the multiplied efforts of both.