When Good Men Disagree
by Jimmy Chapman
Disagreements between people are going to happen. It’s human nature to disagree with one another at times because we are different people! We are made out of the same stuff, dirt, but we are different people in spirit, attitude, thinking, etc.
A naive Christian married couple both believed that because they loved each other and they loved the Lord, they were going to live in peace and never have a disagreement or an argument. And they soon discovered. It didn’t work that way! The longer they were married, the more they disagreed and the more they argued.
The wife was really disturbed. She didn’t believe in divorce, so finally one day she said to her husband, “Honey, let’s just pray to the Lord that He will take one of us home, and then I’ll go live with my mother!”
DISAGREEMENTS ARE INEVITABLE! People are different. Just as there is a difference in male and female, there is also a difference in all of us.
DISAGREEMENTS CAN BE DANGEROUS. Why? Because they can often lead to some other things, which are not good.
Church members often are like those porcupines: we need each other, but we needle each other! As Vance Havner observed, there are many “porcupine” Christians–they have their good points, but you can’t get near them!
Let us observe a disagreement in the early church!
I. The Passion Of One Man (36)
Paul’s was tireless.
A. The Initiative of Paul
Paul had been at Antioch long enough; there was a lost world waiting for the Gospel. There were plenty of people in Antioch to minister to sinners and saints. “Let us go.” These words give us a little insight into a dimension of Paul that we run into again and again and again. It was hard to keep him in one spot.
Paul had in his mind that no matter where he was there was someone else out there that needed him, and thought he may have been effectively ministering where he was, there was a tugging and pulling at his heart the regions beyond.
He was a man driven by a desire to communicate Christ. He was a tremendously motivated man.
For Paul the church at Antioch was not a parking lot but a launching pad.
An active spirit will not long be at rest. Love to Jesus sets a man at work for his cause, and leads him to stir up others, as Paul did Barnabas.
B. The Intention of Paul
Paul had a missionary heart and vision…. he had to go to the regions beyond.
He had a burden for the lost and a desire to strengthen the new believers. As a result, he suggested to Barnabas that they should march on.
Paul felt that he was not called to spend a peaceful, though laborious life at Antioch, but that his true work was far off among the Gentiles.
Paul proposed to Barnabas that they should go and review their work among the Gentiles and renew it, to conduct circuit among the churches they had planted, and see what progress the gospel made among them.
Paul and Barnabas agreed on the importance of the trip, but they could not agree on the composition of the team.
II. The Parting Of Two Men (37-39)
What happens when an irresistible force meets and immovable object? There follows a heating discussion of John Mark.
Paul and Barnabas part company.
It is encouraging to know that even though they are heroes of the faith, they were men like us.
I want to make a couple of observations about this parting.
A. Spiritual maturity does not erase personality differences.
We often think that if we all were just spiritually mature, we would never clash with one another. I agree that generally our clashes should be less frequent and less severe in proportion to our spiritual maturity.
However, until we are perfectly sanctified in heaven, I’m afraid that the little ditty will always be true,
To dwell above with the saints we love, O that will be glory. But to dwell below with the saints we know, well, that’s a different story!
1. Personality clashes can arise between men who shared the same basic theology.
Paul and Barnabas had just come away from the Jerusalem Council, where the core issue of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone had been affirmed. Both men firmly agreed about this, but their personalities clashed over a practical matter of ministry, whether to take Mark along on the second journey.
It is worth noting how much trouble can spring or find its roots from unfaithfulness on someone’s part.
2. Personality clashes can arise between men who were both godly and committed to the cause of Christ.
Paul and Barnabas were not new believers. Both men had walked with God for years. They were both fully committed to doing the will of God, no matter what the cost. They had risked their lives for the sake of Christ (15:26), and yet they clashed.
3. Personality clashes can arise between men who have served together for years in the cause of Christ.
Paul and Barnabas had a long history of serving together. It was Barnabas who had gone to Paul and listened to his testimony when every Christian in Jerusalem was holding him at arm’s length.
It was Barnabas again who went to Tarsus to look for Paul and brought him back to labor with him in the ministry at Antioch. The two men had been set apart and commissioned together to go out on the first missionary journey.
Notice that, this clash erupted out of godly concern on Paul’s part to revisit the churches that they had seen God establish on that first journey, to see how they were doing in the Lord. Both men had a heart for the well-being of the churches. And yet these two co-labors for many years in the cause of Christ, clashed. Spiritual maturity does not erase personality differences that can lead to strong clashes.
B. Personality differences can lead to personality clashes that can cause us to sin
The question always comes up, “Who was right in this clash?” Since Luke, who was obviously close to Paul, did not blame Barnabas or Paul, I need to be careful.
However, in light of the rest of Scripture, I think we can say that both men were right, but also, both men were wrong. Paul was right in that he was a rugged pioneer, venturing into enemy strongholds, and he didn’t need someone on his team who would run in the heat of the battle. He needed committed warriors who would not flinch in the face of hardship and adversity. Mark had not proven himself to be such a man; therefore, he should not go with Paul.
Barnabas was right in that he saw the undeveloped potential in Mark, and he wanted to extend God’s grace to this young man in spite of his earlier mistake in deserting the cause. History proved him right, in that Paul himself later told the Colossian church to welcome Mark (Col. 4:10). In his final imprisonment, Paul told Timothy to pick up Mark and bring him with him, because he was profitable to Paul for ministry (2 Tim. 4:11). So Barnabas’ efforts to reclaim Mark for the cause paid off.
Both men were right. But, also, both men were wrong, and I believe they fell into sin in the way they dealt with this disagreement. They both stubbornly dug in their heels and refused to give in at all to the other man’s point of view. I’m sure that they both would have said that they were standing on a matter of principle. But they could have graciously agreed to disagree.
Since God always uses imperfect instruments in His service, we should not put too much trust in men, but in God, who alone is perfect. You cannot find two more godly, dedicated servants of Jesus Christ than Paul and Barnabas, and yet here they are, clashing with one another.
While there is a proper place for trust in the leaders that God puts over us, there is an improper trust that elevates them too high. If we are trusting in men rather than in the Lord Himself, we will be shaken when those men let us down.
The fact that God uses imperfect men and women in His service should encourage all of us to get involved in serving Him. IF GOD HAD TO WAIT ON PERFECT PEOPLE TO GET HIS WORK DONE, HE WOULD NEVER GET ANYTHING DONE.
III. The Pattern For Every Man (39,40)
Neither Paul nor Barnabas quit serving the Lord. The work of Christ was greater than either of them, and so they kept on serving Him even after their clash with each other.
Neither Paul nor Barnabas let this clash stop them from serving the Lord. They didn’t even take a time out. Instead of one missionary team, now in the providence of God, there were two.
Satan tried to bring a rift and what happened? Instead of one missionary team he had two.
Also, we do not read, “Paul went through Syria and Cilicia, telling all the churches how wrong Barnabas was.” There is no indication that Paul and Barnabas became rivals or competed with each other after this.
They just kept going for the Lord. The cause was greater than their disagreement.
A. They did not NURSE their disagreement
Don’t feel sorry for yourself and be filled with a sense of self pity. Nursing your hurt will only cause you to become bitter. Bitter people lose their zeal and zest. They lose their impact for an effective life for the Lord.
B. They did not REHEARSE their disagreements
They did not gossip about it or spread it among others.
When you face a disagreement with another Christian, as you surely will, attempt to disengage your emotions and objectively think through the answers to two questions:
What is the real nature of the difficulty? This is not an easy question to answer, but you must face it as honestly as possible. We all need to be careful here, because we have a built in tendency to push personality differences into the realm of doctrine or sin. It sounds far more spiritual to say that the other person is doctrinally off base or that he sinned against me than to admit that his personality grates on mine.
Is there a godly character quality that the Lord trying is to develop in me through this clash? Sometimes God in His grace (and in His sense of humor) throws us together with people who grate against us in order to sandpaper our rough edges. Let’s face it. I don’t need patience, forbearance, gentleness, and kindness when the other person sees everything my way! I don’t need to learn to deny myself when the other person thinks that I’m a wonderful guy. But when there is a clash, God often confronts me with my selfishness and stubbornness. If I submit to Him and don’t bail out of the difficult relationship, He will use it to develop those Christlike qualities in me. The Lord works good, even from our weaknesses and failures (Romans 8:28).
Who is the real enemy? The person you are having a clash with is not your enemy nor your adversary.
The British admiral, Lord Nelson, once came on deck and found two of his officers quarreling. He whirled them around, pointed to the enemy ships, and exclaimed, “Gentlemen, there are your enemies!”
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