[This is the journal entry from my morning quiet time with God today.]
Acts 15, which I read for my quiet time with God today, might be titled, The Tale of Two Conflicts.
The first conflict arises over whether Gentile converts to Christian faith need to be circumcised. In other words, did Gentiles have to be Jews in order to be Christians?
The question was answered by the Holy Spirit, in consultation with Scripture, at a council in Jerusalem. “ Now then,” Peter said to Judaizing Christians, “why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:10-11) The council decided to ask Gentile Christians to refrain from a few things out of consideration of Jewish Christians’ sensibilities, but concluded that since the Holy Spirit had given the Gentile Christians faith in Christ and the Holy Spirit, the very gifts the Jewish Christians had received, they should not also have to become Jews also.
The second conflict occurred later at Antioch. Paul proposed a second missionary journey to Barnabas. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark as part of their team. Paul was still upset with the younger man for abandoning the earlier mission. Paul and Barnabas became so upset with one another that they decided to “agree to disagree” and go on separate missionary journeys. Paul took Silas. Barnabas took John Mark.
What’s interesting to note is that neither conflict harmed the Church or its witness for Christ. In fact, both conflicts helped the Church.
Through the first conflict, the Church was driven to Scripture and prayer. Both parties listened to each other and came to a resolution that was deemed acceptable “to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28).
The second conflict resulted in two mission journeys rather than the originally intended one journey. God multiplied the Church’s impact and the spread of the Gospel through division.
It’s thought that John Mark is Mark the Evangelist, author of the second of the New Testament’s four gospels. The tradition supporting this notion is very old. If true, it would seem to indicate that Barnabas’ invitation to the young disciple to go on this missionary journey was a gracious act that sustained John Mark’s faith. What would have happened had Barnabas gone on the second journey with Paul and left John Mark behind? We don’t know, of course. But I like to think that Barnabas was used by God to buttress the young man’s faith.
In any case, both conflicts ended with good results.
What this passage tells us is that not all conflict is bad.
Conflicts can send us back to God’s Word.
Conflicts can bring listening and new understanding.
Conflicts can also bring a healthy resolution of agreeing to disagree and pursuing different paths without acrimony.
As long as our aim is to honor God and love others and we pursue it prayerfully and with an eye to the ultimate source of authority, God’s Word, conflict need not be harmful.
This is good to remember in our homes, places of work, and churches. I have seen marriages strengthened through honest, loving conflict. I have seen the same thing in churches.
When the Church experienced conflict over what to do about Gentile converts to the faith and when two of the most prominent preacher/evangelists of the first century had a conflict, God brought blessings through the conflicts. Both conflicts brought great spiritual and numerical growth to Christ’s Church!
Conflict is neutral; whether it’s good or bad is in how it’s approached. Conflicts in which one or both parties are selfishly seeking their own ways can be deeply destructive. Conflicts in which one or both parties are seeking to understand the will of God and who desire to honor God can be healthy...and even result in growth of all kinds.
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]