Leslie Flynn wrote a book entitled:Great Churchfights.I've never seen a copy of it, but the title makes you want to read it. I read a story he tells of two porcupines in the freezing northern woods huddled together to keep warm. But as they approached, their spines pierced each other and they had to part. Shenecessaryeach other for the warmth, but theygraceseach other with their sharp spikes.
Church members are often like those porcupines: we need each other, but we nail each other! As Vance Havner noted, there are many "porcupine" Christians - they have their good points, but you don't get close to them!
We all know that we are called to love one another. It doesn't sound very spiritual to admit that there are Christians we just don't like. Their personalities rub against mine. The way they do things is always at odds with the way I do things, which of course I doTo the rightAway! You cannot engage in the service of the Lord through the local church for very long before you encounter someone whose personality clashes with yours.
It is important that you learn how to deal with such situations for several reasons. First, the commandment to love one another is no small one! It is the second great commandment and inseparable from the greatest commandment, to love God. John tells us that if we don't love our brother whom we have seen, we cannot love God whom we have not seen (1 John 4:20). The unity of Christians is not a side issue either. Just before he died, Jesus prayed that we would become perfect in unity, so that the world would know that the Father had sent him (John 17:23). We can't just dismiss it!
Also, I have seen many Christians become discouraged and stop serving the Lord because of a clash with another believer. Sometimes they even become disillusioned or cynical about the Christian life because of the struggles they have either observed or experienced in the church. They get hurt and wrongly conclude, "Christianity doesn't work. Christians are just hypocrites.” And they fall away from the Lord. Therefore, it is important to learn what the Bible teaches about dealing with personality differences so that the enemy does not stop you from following the Lord Jesus.
For our instruction in these matters, Luke honestly reports a clash that took place between two great men of God, Paul and Barnabas. To be honest, it's not a pretty picture. I wish he would report that they both regretted their anger and asked each other for forgiveness, but he doesn't. I assume from some brief references later that this has happened, or at least that no bitterness has remained. But the clash broke the close working relationship between these two godly men. Here Barnabas hands over the record of the Acts of the Apostles. Both Paul and Barnabas must have grieved over this in the years following this incident. The lesson for us is that...
Despite personal conflicts, Christians must strive diligently to maintain unity and continue to serve the Lord.
I would like to make four comments on our text:
1. Spiritual maturity does not erase personality differences.
We often naively think that if we were all spiritually mature, we would never clash with each other. I agree that in general our clashes should be less frequent and less severe relative to our spiritual maturity. But until we're perfectly sanctified in heaven, I fear that little ditty will always be true,
To dwell above with the saints we love, oh that will be glory. But dwelling down on the saints we know, well, that's another story!
Note three things about the men involved in this clash:
A. Personality conflicts can arise between men who share the same basic theology.
Paul and Barnabas had just come off the Jerusalem Council, where the core issue of salvation by grace alone had been reaffirmed through faith in Christ alone. Both men agreed on these and other central tenets of the Christian faith. But their personalities clashed over a practical matter of service over whether to take Mark with them on the second voyage.
B. Personality conflicts can arise between men who are 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 Christ's sake (15:26), and yet they clashed.
C. Personality conflicts can arise between men who have ministered together for years in the cause of Christ.
Paul and Barnabas had a long history of ministry together. It was Barnabas who went to Paul and heard his testimony when all the Christians in Jerusalem held him at arm's length. It was Barnabas again who went to Tarsus to seek Paul and brought him back to work with him in the Antioch ministry. The two men had been separated and commissioned together to go on the first missionary journey. On this historic mission they had suffered together for the cause of Christ.
This clash also erupted out of Paul's divine concern to revisit the churches that God had set up on that first journey to see how they were doing in the Lord. Both men had the welfare of the churches at heart. Yet these two teammates, who had labored and suffered together for the cause of Christ for many years, clashed. Spiritual maturity does not erase personality differences that can lead to strong arguments.
2. Personality differences can lead to personality conflicts that can lead us to sin.
The question that keeps coming up is, "Who was right in this clash?" Since Luke, who was obviously close to Paul, did not blame either Barnabas or Paul, we must be careful. The slight nod goes to Paul as correct, for the brothers are said to have commended Silas and Paul to the grace of God, but nothing is said of Barnabas and Mark except that they sailed to Cyprus.
Given the rest of Scripture, I think we can say that both men were right, but also both men were wrong. Paul was right that he was a hardy pioneer who ventured into enemy strongholds, and he didn't need someone on his team to run in the heat of battle. He needed dedicated warriors who would not flinch in the face of adversity. Mark hadn't turned out to be such a man. He shouldn't have gone with Paul.
Barnabas was right when he saw the undeveloped potential in Mark, and he wanted to extend God's mercy to this young man, despite his earlier failure to abandon 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 fetch Mark and take him with him because he was useful to Paul in his ministry (2 Tim. 4:11). So Barnabas' efforts to reclaim Mark for the cause paid off. Both men were right.
But both men were also wrong, and I believe they fell into sin in dealing with this disagreement. Both dug in stubbornly, refusing to even give in to the other man's point of view. I'm sure both would have said they were standing on principle. But they could have mercifully agreed to disagree and parted ways in a spirit of mutual respect. Instead, they had a "sharp disagreement."
Paul uses the verb form of the Greek noun translated “sharp difference of opinion” in the chapter on great love, where he says that love “is not stirred up” (1 Corinthians 13:5; see also Acts 17:16) . At least Paul and Barnabas were very provoked with each other. I think we're not going too far to say that both men have crossed the line into sinful anger. Neither followed Paul's later instruction to have a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience toward one another (Col. 3:12). It may have been God's will that the two men parted, but it was not His will that they be separated by a heated argument.
Two practical observations here:
1) A person's greatest strengths are often the area of their greatest weaknesses.
Paul's strength was his determination to follow Christ at all costs and to stand firm in his convictions. He even publicly confronted a powerful man like Peter. You could hit Paul, throw him in jail, stone him or whatever, but you couldn't stop him from preaching Jesus Christ and Him as the only way of salvation. Paul's weakness was his inability to accept and work with a weaker man like Mark who had potential but wasn't there yet. Paul's later comments on Mark and other scriptures he wrote (z.B.,Rome. 15:1, 7) show that he overcame this weakness.
Barnabas greatest strength was his ability to encourage the fainthearted and help the weak. He was the champion of the misfit and fringe. He knew how to show mercy to those who had failed. But he erred on the side of showing grace to those who needed to be confronted. As Paul mentions in Galatians 2:13, even Barnabas was carried away by the hypocrisy of Peter and the other Jews, who refrained from eating with the Gentile Christians for fear of offending the Judaizers.
So the lesson is: know yourself. Where are you strong and gifted by God's grace? Exercise this power for His glory. But also be careful because your strength can lead you into sin if you are not careful. A man of strong discernment can easily become judgmental. A man who is strong in accepting others can easily err in tolerating serious sins or doctrinal errors.
2) Since God always uses imperfect instruments in His ministry, we should not put too much trust in man, but in God, who alone is perfect.
You cannot find more godly, dedicated servants of Jesus Christ than Paul and Barnabas, and yet here they clash. Noah was the most righteous man on earth, and yet after God's deliverance through the flood, he got drunk and shamefully exposed himself to his son. Job was the righteous man of his day, and yet he wrongly quarreled with God because of his tormenting him. David was a man after God's own heart, and yet he fell into terrible sin. As Solomon lamented, there is not a man who does not sin (1 Kings 8:46). While there is a proper place for trust in the ladder that God places over us, there is a false trust that sets it too high. If we trust in men rather than the Lord Himself, we will be shaken when these men fail us.
Also, the fact that God uses imperfect men and women in His ministry should encourage us all to commit ourselves to Him. As long as we do not tolerate confessed sins in our lives, he can and will use us for his purposes, despite our imperfections.
3) Christian unity does not mean that we all have to work closely together, it is about life and light together.
There are many confused ideas about Christian unity. Some strive for organizational unity, but if you know anything about the World Council of Churches or the National Council of Churches, you know that organizational unity means nothing. Others try to bring all the congregations together for a one-size-fits-all service. They argue, “They will know that we are Christians by our love, not by our doctrinal agreement.” But they ignore that in the same context Jesus also said: “Sanctify them in truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). There can be no true union with those who deny the core truths of God's Word.
Unittutnot that we all have to work closely together. While we must be careful not to part ways too quickly without overcoming differences, there are times when two strong leaders must recognize that God is calling them into different spheres of ministry. Any separation should be done in a spirit of mutual respect and without bitterness or bitterness. While I wish something was said here about Paul and Barnabas putting things right before they parted, at least Paul later spoke of both Barnabas and Mark in a supportive way (1 Cor. 9: 6; 2 Tim. 4:11). ).
Unity does not mean that we must all agree on every doctrinal or practical matter. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, there are a few core doctrines that every Christian must adhere to or be in denial. But there are many issues on which godly Christians who are committed to Scripture disagree. We must treat each other kindly in these matters. And there are many differences in the methods we use to do the Lord's work. We should strive to follow Bible methods. We are not free to do things without biblical justification. Some methods are so unscriptural that they deserve criticism. But as with doctrine, godly people dispute which methods are biblical. We must be charitable to those whose methods we disagree with, even though we have not been able to work closely with them.
The Bible recognizes two types of unity. In Ephesians 4:3 Paul mentions the unity of the Spirit, which he says we must be diligent in maintaining. This implies that it is a spiritual fact based on a shared basisLifein Jesus Christ. When a person is born again into the body of Christ, we are members of one another and we must be careful not to damage that unity. Then in verse 13 he mentions the unity of faith that we are to achieve as we mature in Christ. This is the unity of the dividedLichtin relation to biblical truth. It is the communion that deepens as we grow together to understand and love the great tenets of the Faith.
I would add that we need the wisdom of the Lord to select compatible teammates in ministry. Paul did well to choose Silas, a man supported by the Jerusalem congregation, who could assist Paul in taking the council's decisions to the various congregations. Like Paul, Silas was a Roman citizen, which benefited them when serving in cities under Roman jurisdiction (Acts 16:37ff.). He was a gifted prophet who could boldly declare God's truth in a way that encouraged and strengthened believers (15:32). While no two men agree on everything, there should be a basic compatibility in approach to ministry.
We have seen that spiritual maturity does not erase personality differences. Such differences can lead to clashes that lead us to sin if we are not careful. Christian unity does not require us all to work closely together, but life and light together in the Lord.
3. We should not allow personal conflicts to stop us from serving the Lord.
Christ's work is greater than any of us, and we should continue to serve Him even if we have had a conflict with another Christian. Neither Paul nor Barnabas let this clash deter them from serving the Lord. They didn't even take a break. Instead of one missionary team, there were now two in God's providence.
We alsonotread: “Paul traveled through Syria and Cilicia telling all the churches how wrong Barnabas was.” Rather, he went about strengthening the churches (15:41). There is no indication that Paul and Barnabas became rivals or competed with each other afterwards. Both men were determined to know Christ more deeply and to proclaim Christ to every human being. As I said, every time Paul mentions Barnabas or Mark, he does it in a friendly and supportive way.
Sometimes it is necessary to warn other Christians about someone who is unethical or whose doctrine is erroneous. Paul did that occasionally. But our primary focus must be proclaiming Christ, not taking our grievances against others in order to justify ourselves and put the other person down.
When you face a personal conflict with another Christian, try, as you certainly will, to resolve your emotions and objectively consider the answers to these four questions:
1) What is the true nature of the difficulty?
This question is not easy to answer, but you must face it as honestly as possible. We all need to be careful here because we have an inbuilt 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 wrong or that they have sinned against me than to admit that their personality hurts on mine. It's especially difficult because our feelings are usually hurt in these situations. Sometimes a more objective third party can help us deal with these issues (Phil. 4:2-3).
2) Is an important biblical principle at stake?
Be careful here too! Is there more than one principle that applies? I can hear Paul quoting Jesus: “No one that puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” And Barnabas probably replied, “Yes, but God is the gracious God of second chances. Look at Jonah. Look at Peter. Mark deserves a second chance.” Both men had Scripture to support their opposing views! Sometimes, because of personality differences, one man will exalt one Bible principle while the other exalts a different Bible principle. In such cases it may sometimes be better to agree on separate work if the principle is fundamental to one's approach to service.
Some of you may be thinking, "What if you can't break up with the person you're falling out with because you're married to him (or her)?" Which leads to the third question you need to ask:
3) What divine traits of character is the Lord trying to develop in me through this clash?
Sometimes God, in His mercy (and in His sense of humor) throws us together with people who rub against us to polish 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 have to learn to deny myself when the other person thinks I'm a wonderful guy. But when conflict arises, God often confronts me with my selfishness and stubbornness. If I submit to him and don't step out of the difficult relationship, he will use it to develop those Christlike qualities in me.
4) Would the cause of Christ be furthered or hindered if I continued to work closely with this person?
This would be the case for two Christians married to one anothernotfurther the matter of Christ to divorce because of irreconcilable personalities. They need to learn to appreciate each other's strengths, affirm each other in love, and agree to disagree on certain issues of daily life. Divorce harms the work of Christ.
In the case of Christian workers, the beauty of the body of Christ can be demonstrated through their working relationship when they can learn to validate each other's strengths. God gives us various gifts, and the hand has no right to reject the foot because it is not a hand (1 Corinthians 12:12-30). But there are times when two employees have to spend so much time ironing out matters between them that it prevents them from moving forward with the work of the service. At such times, it is probably better to seek different areas of service in a spirit of mutual respect and affirmation.
British Admiral Lord Nelson once came on deck and found two of his officers arguing. He spun them around, pointed at the enemy ships and called out, "Gentlemen,Thereare your enemies!"
When faced with personality differences in the Church, we must be diligent in maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We must try to resolve our differences in a spirit of love and kindness whenever possible. If we must separate, we should continue to serve the Lord and not let the enemy lead us to attack those to whom God has given different personalities than He has given us.
- When is it a sin to belong to a particular denomination? Are denominations sinful by definition? Defend Biblically.
- How is liking someone and loving him (or her) related? Is it wrong not to like everyone?
- If my personality clashes with someone else's, how do I know when I'm crossing the line into sin?
- How can we work on genuine Christian unity with other believers? What practical steps can we take?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2001, all rights reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation