Today’s Reading is Acts 15
One of the hardest issues in my life right now is, how do I deal in a Godly way with people I disagree with? I know from our trip through the Gospels that God tells us to love everyone. But what does it actually look like to love someone you disagree with? I am wading through this with several people in my life, in relationships that are very dear to me. It seems wrong to disagree so strongly on issues with people I love who I know have a relationship with God and also love Him. We have relationship with the same God who has given all of us His Word, so shouldn’t we be able to figure out how to move forward when we disagree?
Today in Acts 15, we see two separate arguments or disagreements between four different parties, all who have deep relationship with God. All parties were serving God by leaving their lives behind and traveling to spread the Gospel to people who hadn’t yet heard it. These people are not just dabblers in their faith, not Sunday morning Christians, they have made a life out of sharing Gods story! These people are invested in God’s plan and are sacrificing themselves for His ministry. So how can this happen, how do they disagree on God’s plan?
The first argument is between some believers from Judea and Paul and Barnabas. The men from Judea believe that “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you can not be saved.” Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. So what are they to do? How do they solve this situation? In verses 2-7 we learn that some representatives from both sides of the argument travel to meet with more apostles and elders of the church to figure it out. In verse 7 it says, “ after a long discussion”. They did not find an easy answer, it was a long process and discussed from every angle, but eventually Peter stood and spoke the decision for the group. (Lets look at the solution to this particular problem first and then we can look at what we can learn from watching them work through their argument.) Peter said,” God knows peoples hearts, and He confirmed that He accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for He cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus”. First of all praise God that we who are not Jews are not held to their law for our salvation! Thank you Jesus that we are all saved by Your undeserved grace! Now back to our question at hand, how do these two parties deal with the argument? In this case, they got help. They went to a group of people who knew Jesus personally and got to the truth of God’s plan. The part that I wish we could see better is how the men from Judea reacted to this decision. Basically they lost this argument. The only clue that I can find is in verse 22. “The apostles, and elders together with the whole church in Jerusalem chose delegates to go out and report on this decision.” Obviously the Gentiles were encouraged and full of joy to hear this message, but we never really hear what happened to the men from Judea. Were they a part of “the church in Jerusalem” in spirit or were they frustrated and angry with the decision? I don’t know the answer.
The second argument in this chapter is between Paul and Barnabas. A team of preachers that God put together to spread His story, butts heads over whether they take John Mark on their next mission trip with them or not. Paul says no, he’s not trustworthy and Barnabas wants to take him. In verse 38 it says, “Paul disagreed strongly” and in 39 it says, “Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated”. Wow…who is right? Like in the conclusion of the last argument, I don’t know the answer. The only good I can see from this disagreement is that God ended up with two teams of preachers because Barnabas ended up taking John Mark and going one way, and Paul picked up Silas and went another direction. From God’s eyes, this argument is a win for His truth being spread. From Paul and Barnabas’ eyes, I see hurt and frustration with each other, enough at this point to cause them to separate.
So back to my original questions. What do we learn from this chapter to help us deal in love with those we disagree with? I think we learn from the first argument that getting to a solution is not easy. It takes long discussions. Sometimes if both parties are willing, a third party with wisdom and maybe more knowledge can be brought in to help facilitate discussion, and truth can be found. (Whether the injured party decides to accept the truth or not is another entire post.) From the second argument, I think I can learn that just because two people serve God and love Him doesn’t mean they wont ever argue. It happens, and in this case we don’t really get to the bottom of who was right or wrong about John Mark. After checking in my commentary from Dallas Seminary I learned that Paul and Barnabas remained friends despite their contention over John Mark. They didn’t have to agree on everything to remain in relationship with each other.
I wish we could finish this with a nice step–by-step approach of what works to settle arguments. The truth is that we get some help for some hard and sometimes unexpected situations from this chapter but its not as neat and tidy as I would like. I think for today I have to sit with the fact that it happens. People who love God and are trying to follow Him disagree. Maybe for me today the lesson is to not be surprised or ashamed of these struggling relationships I am wading through. Maybe God wants to use other people to change the way I understand His principles in a certain situation. Maybe I stand on solid ground and He wants me to help bring truth to light in someone’s life. I know I will not be able to change another person’s point of view. God is the only one who can. The thing I am sure of is that I have to stay in close relationship and communication with God for any of this to be able to take place, and it will only happen when it is His plan.