Why is it that our kids behavior seems to escalate once we all get in the car? There is something about a trip down the road that turns children into the Three Stooges, poking, prodding, and bugging each other to no end. Maybe it’s because they know you can’t reach them. Whatever the reason, do you find yourself frequently asking them to just “drop it” when they have conflicts with each other? Can’t you all just get along?
One of the most enduring statements made by Jesus before He was crucified was His plea in John 17:20-21 that His followers should all be unified.
Joh 17:20 "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
We see the same emphasis on unity stressed in other passages, as well:
Eph 4:1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
There are times, however, when certain situations test this bond of peace. We - brothers and sisters in Christ – our spiritual family - do not always get along. We bicker over things both great and small – and God is always the loser when Christians allow petty arguments or opinions to trump congregational unity! Of course, I am not talking about defending truth here. I am talking about arguments and conflicts over judgment calls, social situations, misunderstandings, and perceived offenses, or just personality conflicts. Often, churches go from being places of safety and fellowship to places of spiritual cannibalism, as illustrated by Galatians 5:13-15.
Ga 5:13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
Churches destroy themselves because they cannot “drop it”, so to speak, with old conflicts, bad blood, and supposedly incompatible personality types all vying for dominance. I say “supposed” because I believe that is a cop-out for not putting what is best for others before what we want. If we truly love one another and put others first, we will find a way to overcome any supposed personality conflicts. If we are all acting as we should, as Jesus has instructed us, there should be no two personalities that cannot peacefully abide with one another.
Let us never forget this - We have an adversary who never quits and is always looking for ways to trip us up. Think how much he must enjoy it when he can create tension, conflict and problems from within the Lord’s church.
We have had two families leave recently because of this very thing. They could get over their own personal feelings of disagreement with either the elders or another member here over matters of opinion and judgment.
Let’s look at A Case Of Conflict – Acts 15:36-40 – and see how it was handled in the Bible
And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose such a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches (ESV).
The first thing that should be observed about this conflict is that it was a matter of opinion. It was a judgment call, and not something ordered specifically by the Holy Spirit. Paul and Barnabas were not disagreeing over the content of their preaching but over an incidental detail that did not have a bearing on doctrine. This is not an example of one preacher calling another false and then dividing because of a stark contrast in content. Rather, this is two totally sound preachers who cannot agree on bringing John Mark with them.
It is interesting that even in matters of judgment, brethren can become very heated because of their convictions. Paul “kept insisting” that somebody other than Mark go on the journey, but Barnabas wanted him. They both appear to feel very strongly about the matter.
The text says, “There occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another” (15:39). The Greek term rendered “sharp disagreement” was used by medical writers in the ancient world when a disease flared up and then broke out in its severest form. Added to all of this is the fact that Barnabas and Mark were related (Colossians 4:10), which made Barnabas’ loyalty to Mark all that much stronger, and Paul’s refusal to take him all the more painful. Given these circumstances, one might expect an irreconcilable rift to come between the parties involved.
They Moved On
Rather than crippling the work of Paul and Barnabas, this conflict actually helped the spread of the gospel in the long run as it gave both Silas and Mark the opportunity to join the apostles in their travels. Perhaps the end of the matter was not what Paul and Barnabas envisioned when they began planning for their journey, but the will of God was accomplished.
Consider a few points:
The Holy Spirit does not side with one or the other here, so neither should we. There is no record of any apologies offered, and there does not seem to be any indication in the text that Paul or Barnabas committed sin. Both of them had valid, honest reasons for their decision, which shows that even when we may disagree on matters of judgment, nobody is being less “Christ-like.” If the Holy Spirit does not take sides, no one here should be asked to take sides, and yet, that is exactly what the elders were asked to do in a recent situation. We refused, so they left. That is not endeavoring to keep the unity in peace.
Even after the disagreement, the two are still close friends. In the years that follow this event, Paul speaks of Barnabas with words of praise (1 Corinthians 9:6) and specifically mentions that Barnabas is worthy of the church’s support. They were able to get past their differences, “drop it”, and go on with the Lord’s work. We had people who, when asked to drop it by the elders, instead spent the next 6 months building up more “evidence”, most of it imagined or manufactured, to try to prove their persecution.
There is also evidence that Paul did not let this event hurt his relationship with John Mark. Paul later speaks of the man as being useful to him (2 Timothy 4:11). The lesson here is that conflicts might have consequences, but the Christ-like person does not withhold affection and regard. Paul may not have trusted Mark with this particular task, but that does not mean Mark was a worthless Christian, or that Paul did not love him as a brother.
Disagreements Often Involve Another Person
It is unfortunate but true that many disagreements involve a situation which neither party started OR they DID start it but they shared their feelings with others in the congregation who then took offense ON THEIR BEHALF. Christians will become offended on somebody else’s behalf, or take a side in a matter that was not even their business in the beginning. I cannot tell you how often I run into this as an elder. It is healthy advice that Jesus gives in Matthew 18:15-17.
Mt 18:15 "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.16 "But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' 17 "And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
If you are involved in a disagreement with another member, please keep private matters private as long as possible – do not involve unnecessary people because that just encourages “taking sides”. Unfortunately, I have been involved with too many situations when people know they ought to follow Matt 18, admit they should’ve followed Matt 18, but don’t have the courage to do so. So, instead, they tell someone else.
As the case was with Paul and Barnabas, we need to be careful not to take disagreements personally. Make sure the responsibility stays where it belongs and try to look at the positive side of the person who is disagreeing with you. Essentially, give people the benefit of the doubt, especially if you disagree with the decisions of your leadership.
We find people coming to erroneous conclusions based upon what they think they know about a certain situation and I have told people over and over: you don’t have all of the information. And you will never have all of the information. If you cannot trust that the elders have made the best decision that they can on matters of judgment, then you shouldn’t be worshipping here. Does that sound too harsh? I don’t think so. And it is not meant to. It’s just a natural conclusion if there is a lack of trust the elders have made the best decision and have all of the information you don’t have.
Bad Blood and Preconceptions
Another impediment we face is in holding on to preconceptions about people, whether it is because of their past, or their family members (guilt by association). That has happened here as well. People have brought up old information based upon what they know of someone from years ago or from research they have done to try to dig up anything they can against this person. We have told them – that is something that happened years ago and has been settled long ago. We cannot hold something against someone based upon their past behavior unless we know firsthand it hasn’t changed.
One thing we need to remember, though, is to put ourselves in the other persons shoes. Maybe you, too, were once foolish (Titus 3:3). Maybe you, too, may have at one point been the object of preconceptions. You would hope that others have seen and acknowledged your growth. Will you express the same optimism about other people?
Try to think about the kind of people Jesus encouraged to repent and become a part of His kingdom: social outcasts, people with marital problems, the homeless, capital criminals, and swindlers. If the example of Jesus teaches me anything, then I need to have enough room in my heart for my own brother or sister when conflicts arise. Or will I go through life always assuming people and their problems stay static?
In some parts of our culture people have been trained to believe it is cool to have someone “you just don’t get along with” or that “there is bad blood between us”. But the Christian has a higher calling, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 4:31, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”
However, the main culprit I have found that causes problems and disagreements with brethren is Self-centeredness – which was the cause of both of the families who recently left:
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war . . .” (James 4:1,2).
THE MORE SELF-CENTERED OUR DESIRES ARE, THE MORE FRUSTRATED OUR RESPONSE WILL BE WHEN THOSE DESIRES ARE BLOCKED OR DENIED. Some people just want things to go their way and when they don’t, they retaliate. James pinpoints this problem when he says that even among fellow Christians “wars and fights” result from the inability of people to get what they want. When what we want is the mere fulfillment of selfish demands and those demands are not met, we often react with a range of soul-shriveling emotions, including anger and anxiety.
Consider anger. If our focus is purely on the accomplishment of God’s purposes, there will be little anger in our response to obstacles, simply because we know that nothing can ultimately block God’s purposes from being achieved. If, however, what we really want is the satisfaction of our own selfish will, our reaction will be very different when someone stands between us and what we want. The response that has aptly been called “demandingness” is a sure symptom that our desires are centered on something other than God. We may not use the word “demand” but that is exactly what we are doing when we want our way and if we don’t get our way we walk out.
These are important considerations for every person whose purpose is to seek God. If we find ourselves frequently experiencing either anger or anxiety regarding a brother or sister in Christ, it is probably time to ask ourselves whether it is really our Father whom we are seeking. We must have the honesty to admit how often emotions like these are the result of frustrated self-seeking. And we must replace our demandingness with a sincere effort to ‘get along.”
“Dropping It” Starts With You
I have heard well-meaning (but stubborn) Christians justify their grudges by asserting that the other person involved in the conflict never apologized or made any attempt at reconciliation. But when you talk to the other person, he says the same thing and believes it is not his responsibility to make the first move toward a resolution. So we end up with two Christians who are expected to co-exist in a congregation, to work together in worship, benevolence, and evangelism, and who will have to spend eternity with each other – who will not even say a word! Does that make any sense?
Maybe the problem is that you are waiting around for someone else to make the first move! Does God’s example mean nothing? “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10-11). God made the first move in reconciling us to Him and now expects us to practice the same kind of love. True love finds inroads, makes the attempt at reconciliation, never leaves a grudge to sit and fester – it never takes into account a wrong suffered or seeks its own justification, but endures and believes and bears all things.
1Co 13:4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
These are words not just for our reading enjoyment, these are words to be practiced, to live by.
In conclusion, if any of us have any issue with a brother or sister, or with the elders, any issue that is not based upon something scriptural, can I ask you to consider just dropping it? Give the person(s) the benefit of the doubt. If you can’t live with that, please go talk to them, gently and humbly, seeking to find common ground, seeking to understand and do so out of love for the brethren and with a desire to preserve the unity and peace. If we have the right hearts, there should be nothing that is a matter of opinion of judgment that we cannot come to an understanding on, even if that understanding is to agree to disagree