Acts 15 – Conflict is Inevitable
Life would be SO much easier (for me) if everyone always agreed with me.
BUT – I am not always right.
AND – conflict is inevitable.
Acts 15 is about a whole lot of conflict.
First, the Jewish Christians thought the new Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians needed to follow the whole law of Moses – and prove it with circumcision. However, the Gentile Christians felt their faith in Christ – proven by baptism, not circumcision – provided salvation rather than the old law. And, the church in Antioch where Paul and Barnabas were teaching and preaching was being torn apart by the division. Sometimes conflict does that.
But, here we get to see some great steps for conflict resolution.
- Go to find wise counsel. Look for spiritually mature and trustworthy individuals. In this case Paul and Barnabas were sent with a delegation to the Jerusalem church elders 300 miles away (a trip that may have taken them approximately 15 days if they were able to cover 20 miles per day – sometimes conflict resolution takes some time – but it is worth it).
- Everybody gets to share their side of the argument. And even through “much debate” (vs. 7), we see order and respect – standing to speak and not speaking out of turn. And, during the debate – lots of listening (rather than merely preparing your rebuttal).
- After everyone has had their say – listen to the leadership (in this case, James the brother of Jesus – vs 13) and be prepared to peacefully abide by their decisions.
- And don’t forget to go to God’s Word! James shares words of the Prophet which clearly say that it is God’s desire that all mankind will seek Him and that there will be Gentiles called by His name. Using this and the evidence that had been shared of how God had been working amongst the uncircumcised but believing Gentiles, James gives his judgment – no circumcision is needed, but Gentiles must follow some basic rules to be set apart to God and holy.
- Share the findings with those impacted by the decision – aiming for peacefully being of one mind. A letter is written and members of the Jewish church are sent back with the Antioch delegation to share the letter with the body of believers caught in this conflict.
The Antioch church received the letter and delegation and “rejoiced” and were “strengthened” and were at peace. Conflict resolution at its best! Unfortunately, we know this issue will come up again throughout the New Testament as other churches grapple with the change. Old traditions die hard for the Jewish believers. So too, we must be careful to be tuned into God’s will rather than traditions or merely what “I want” or “I think” or has always been done this way. Search out what God thinks on the subject. Aim for becoming of one mind – centered on God’s mind – not yours.
Just as peace is reigning once again in Antioch, a new conflict transpires! But, this time it’s a very personal one – and between our two heroes – Paul and Barnabas! Even great heroes of the faith don’t always see eye to eye. Barnabas – always the encourager – wants to take Mark on the next missionary journey. Paul – perhaps more “task oriented” – remembers that Mark left them in the middle of the last journey and doesn’t want to give him a second chance. “And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another” (Acts 15:39). It could have easily become an opportunity to grow sour and bitter toward one another, or even God’s work – allowing bad feelings to fester. However, sometimes a decision to peacefully disagree and get on with God’s work – even if it results in parting ways at least temporarily – can actually deepen relationships and be a useful thing. In this case, the missionary efforts were doubled since Barnabas went in one direction with Mark to teach and preach and Paul chose Silas and went in another direction to preach and teach. Differences remained – but both were still actively spreading God’s Word. And, what fun to later read (Colossians 4:10) that Paul would find Mark to also be very useful in ministry.
Life would be so much easier (for me) if everyone always agreed with me.
BUT – I am not always right,
AND – easy isn’t always better.
When we use Biblical models and Godly wisdom to face the conflict, we can grow through the conflict and come out stronger, wiser, and more in line with what God has designed us to be – either as a church, a marriage, a friendship or an individual. Face your conflict – with much prayer, Bible searching and wisdom and Godly counsel.
Thursday, March 16
The book of Lamentations does not make it onto most people’s “Top Bible Books to Read” list. Its title actually comes from the word “lament”, which means “to mourn (a person’s loss or death)” as a verb, and “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow” as a noun. This book is a compilation of Jeremiah’s laments about the destruction of Jerusalem and all the events leading up to it. He emphasizes that all this calamity is a result of Judah’s disobedience.
Jeremiah definitely had a good excuse for some serious lamenting. Sometimes we wallow in self-pity parties about silly little things like how the brand-new Chick-fil-A in our town doesn’t have a play place (true story, and very sad for this momma!), but when is the last time we offered up lamentations to grieve about and lament over an injustice in the world?
I live in Ohio, near the crossing of two major highways: Interstate 75, which travels from the Canadian border in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to deep into Florida, and Interstate 70, which spans the great distance from Utah to Maryland. Because of this intersection, the Dayton area is a major hub for drugs and sex trafficking; in fact, Dayton recently made national news for its record-breaking number of fatal opioid overdoses (which included at least one person I knew personally). When I think of how many lives are ruined or stolen by drug addiction and sex trafficking, I feel angry and mournful. It is cause for lament.
There are so many other injustices in the world: babies being murdered in utero every day; murder, violence, abuse, racism, discrimination; the growing porn industry; a failing mental health system; families being ripped apart … I’m sure you could add dozens to my list that are worth lamenting!
However, it is not enough to just sit on our bums and lament. God wants us to be active in His work in this world. What happenings today do you think grieve the heart of God? Pray with me that God would instill a sense of unrest in our hearts that drives us to fight against the injustices in the world, and to give us opportunities to help lead people toward freedom and hope in Jesus! While Jeremiah had much reason to lament, he was also a man of action (as we will see again in a few chapters), and we need to be people of action too!
(Photo Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8GDFPdaQZQ – this link will take you to the Bible Project – with a video of hand drawings and explanations for every book of the Bible – pretty interesting stuff!)