We come across this all too familiar story in Acts 15, two believers fall out.
39 And there arose a sharp disagreement so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. Acts 15
I have always thought that Paul and Barnabas emerge from the New Testament as pretty mature Christians, yet even they had a serious fallout. That strongly suggests to me that much less spiritually mature people, like me, will also probably also experience relationship problems with other believers.
So, what do we do when like Paul and Barnabas a “sharp disagreement” arises between us and another Christian?
How do we “fight right” as believers?
Here are a couple of suggestions I have that might help us
DECIDE IF IT IS WORTH IT …. I was once witness to a particularly acrimonious argument over a frankly trivial matter. I won’t go into the details, but it was over a decision to do with decorating in a church. It soon escalated into a personality-driven fight with each person disparaging the other. Sometimes we need to step back and just think, is this really worth losing a friend over or having a fight about?
Choose your battles and make sure you choose what you voice your disagreement about is important.
CHECK YOUR HEART …. I am ashamed of some of the ways I have acted towards people in the past and the ways I have misinterpreted and misrepresented what they have said and done. This reminds me that I have not always been in the right in the past, and so there is at least a 50 / 50 chance I might be wrong in the present. If we are having a problem with someone, we need to have the courage to have an honest look at our own heart to see if we are in the wrong. I recommend talking to someone we trust who is not involved in the situation and running the whole thing by them and asking if they think we are being reasonable or unreasonable in what we are feeling and doing about the situation.
DISAGREE, AGREEABLY ….When we disagree, no matter how strongly we feel, there is no place for name calling, misrepresenting, shouting (INCLUDING USING BLOCK CAPITALS IN BOLD!) or acts of frustration such as banging tables or slamming doors, never mind physical intimidation and violence. This applies as much online as in person. If you are going to disagree as a believer, you need to do it “agreeably” in a way that is in line with your faith not contradicts it. It’s important to note church business meetings are not exempt from this rule
AIM AT RECONCILIATION AND PEACE NOT VICTORY …. Our aim as a Christian should never be simply to win an argument. The church in Rome was full of warring factions, so Paul wrote to them this piece of advice, no actually it’s a command. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:18 I love that Paul starts by saying, “IF POSSIBLE”, he recognizes, probably from painful personal experience, that there are some impossible people around. There are some people that it’s just impossible to reach an agreement with. However, that doesn’t let us off the hook, we are to do everything we can to resolve our disagreements and restore peace. Make every compromise you can, say sorry when you should, and adopt a consolatory tone.
SEPARATE IF NECESSARY …. Paul and Barnabas eventually decided that their disagreement was having such a negative impact on the church that it would be better for them and other believers for them to separate and go their own ways. There may be people and situations where that will be our final choice too. If your disagreement with another believer can’t be resolved and its so divisive it’s having a negative impact on the fellowship, you should think about going to another church. If this is the decision you have to make, then make the separation as amicable as you can. It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, you don’t bad-mouth the people you have fallen out with in your new fellowship.