Monday, March 9th

To listen to the audio version, click here.

March 9

The Upside of Conflict

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.

—Acts 15:36-38

One you become a Christian, you instinctively join hands with the believers around you, burst out in spontaneous rounds of “Kumbaya,” and live happily ever after. Right?

Well, not exactly. The truth is, God didn’t make us uniform robots; he created us as unique individuals, with our own distinct opinions, thoughts, personalities, emotions, perspectives, and experiences. This keeps life interesting . . . but it can also create friction among believers.

Unity, as it turns out, does not mean sameness. It doesn’t mean Christians will always agree. Yes, there are some nonnegotiables we hold on to as the core beliefs of the Christian faith, but there are many other areas where there is space for followers of Christ to thoughtfully consider, discuss, and come to different conclusions.

And while disagreement can be difficult and uncomfortable at times, it can also be a good thing. For starters, when we are forced to articulate what we believe about a particular issue, it sharpens our thinking, helping us to clarify what we think and prepping us to discuss it not only within the church but also with the rest of the world. Disagreement forces us to really wrestle through an issue and consider the implications before jumping to an easy conclusion. Finally, disagreement teaches us to love and empathize with people who aren’t like us and see the world differently than we do.

In the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas came up against a conflict they couldn’t resolve. Barnabas felt they should take John Mark with them on their missionary journey, while Paul was against it. John Mark had deserted them on their first journey, and while Barnabas was ready to give him another chance, Paul thought that wouldn’t be wise. If Paul and Barnabas, two godly men who were pillars of the early church, experienced conflict, then we can’t expect anything different ourselves.

Thankfully, the early church offers insight for us about how to deal with different types of conflict. When it came to the Gentile question—whether believers needed to follow the Jewish laws to be saved—this was a critical, gospel-level issue that needed to be resolved once and for all (see Acts 15:1-35). But when it came to this conflict about whether John Mark should come along on their journey, the two men never came to a consensus.

There’s a lesson here for us as we inevitably face conflict in the church. If there is a conflict over something that’s a matter of opinion—something that’s not a foundational Christian belief—there may come a point when it’s appropriate to agree to disagree. If each party thinks through the issue, talks it through together civilly, and still disagrees, the most unifying thing to do may be to go separate ways, like Paul and Barnabas did.

When have you seen a disagreement handled in a godly way in the church? When have you seen a disagreement handled in a divisive way?

—Stephanie Rische

No comments: