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November 7, 2018, 7:18 AM

Disagreeing in Love



Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.” (Acts 15:39)

The work of Christ has sometimes been seriously hindered, not because His people disagreed, but because of how they disagreed. Given our individual personalities and perspectives, differences and disagreements are inevitable. But if we can learn to maintain freedom in love, the work of Christ can continue. As we continue our verse-by-verse study, Acts 15:35-41 can instruct us in this important matter. Three factors stand out:

First, Community. Twice in this passage occurs the phrase “the brothers” (vv. 36, 40). Essentially the church is a brotherhood (today we would add, and a sisterhood!) – a family, a community of people. The community is not based upon race, class, or nationality. It transcends all of these. The community is created by our mutual participation in Christ – we are “all baptized by one Spirit into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). In Christ all are equal (Galatians 3:26-28). We belong to Jesus Christ, and we belong to one another in Jesus Christ. And because Christianity is a communal religion, it has no higher titles to confer than “brother” or “sister.”

Second, Liberty. Two of “the brothers” are shown in “a sharp disagreement” (v. 39). Community does not insure, or demand, uniformity. Differences of opinion will arise. When they do, how is community preserved? In short, by the recognition of mutual freedom. Paul was at liberty to disagree with Barnabas. “Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them” (v. 37). Paul objected. To him, John was also called quitter! He was an unreliable man who had “deserted them” on their first missionary tour. So, Paul “did not think it wise to take him” (v. 38). Barnabas on the other hand, felt perfectly free to reject Paul’s judgment in the matter. Everything we know about Barnabas assures us that he was not being stubborn out of pride or jealousy. He was simply convinced that Paul was wrong, and that Mark needed a chance to prove himself. Coerced opinion and action does not benefit the Christian mission. We are much wiser to reserve to each other the liberty to dissent, even sharply. Coercion only creates master-slave relationships.

Third, Charity. Unable to resolve the conflict of opinion, “they parted company,” (v. 39) but they parted as brothers, not as enemies. Love doesn’t hold grudges (1 Cor. 13:4-5). W. E. McCumber observes, “As far as we know, Paul and Barnabas never traveled and worked together again. But no hint, however slight, is anywhere found to suggest that either man judged the other harshly or ceased to love, respect, and appreciate the other.” Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and went through Syria and Cilicia (vv. 39-41). Soon Paul would choose Timothy, also, to share his labors. Community practiced in liberty with charity created for these three younger men rare opportunities for personal growth and fruitful service. Timothy’s career was ample vindication of Paul’s position (Phil. 2:19-22). And Mark’s proven usefulness vindicated Barnabas as an advocate of the second chance (2 Tim. 4:11). The two missionary parties became the triumph of love over disagreement. Working together or separately, Paul and Barnabas had a single aim – the welfare of God’s people and “strengthening the churches” was the result of their labors (v. 41). Men and women who honestly put Christ and the Church first will not always agree. But they will disagree and continue to serve in ways that keep Christ and the Church first. In the final analysis, the question is not, Do you always agree? The question is, How do you act when you disagree? You can walk hand-in-hand in Christian love without seeing eye-to-eye.

Let us join in prayer: Father, teach me to love and forgive others as you have loved and forgiven me. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens


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