Diffusing Conflict With Space

"Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another." (Acts 15:37-39)

The Lord's heart for His people is that we love one another in such a way that it models the love that is shared within the Godhead (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). The Lord longs to see His people walking in true humility and unity and choosing to prefer one another. When this selfless love is lived out, the glory of God is manifest to the world and the power of the gospel is effectively having its way in the life of the Church.

Since there will always be diverse conflicts in a world of diverse people with differing ideas and perspectives, it is important that we apply the key principles of God's Word in resolving conflict by grace. This requires God’s TRUTH being shared, God’s LOVE being demonstrated, and God’s WILL being accomplished...remembering that every conflict is an opportunity to bring GLORY TO GOD!

However, there are times when certain conflicts arise that cannot always be solved through reviewing the doctrines of Scriptures or appealing to the Gospel as was the case in the Jerusalem Council with the Apostles in Acts 15. After a healthy resolve to that conflict which involved the sufficiency of the Gospel, we now come to a relational conflict that was more personal and preferential. These kind of conflicts are based on differing convictions about how something should be done, rather than what is agreed to be done. In other words, it is a conflict concerning the means rather than the end.

In this particular case, Paul and Barnabas were about to begin their second missionary journey together and an issue arose over whether to take John Mark or not with them.  Here we see that Barnabas wanted to show grace to his cousin and give him another opportunity to join them. But Paul wanted to leave him behind because he didn’t feel John Mark would be helpful on this trip since he deserted them on the last trip.

There are times when two godly men have two godly perspectives about how to do something they are both involved in. This goes to show that believer who are both well meaning can sometimes be at odds with one another. Both were aware of the facts but had come to a different conclusion about how to respond to these facts. Unfortunately, their contention became so sharp that neither side was willing to yield.

Sometimes, when there is a failure to come to a unified conclusion, the next best step is to diffuse the conflict with a certain degree of space between the two parties. This is the exception to the rule since the goal of all conflict is to seek to be united in one spirit and one mind as much as possible through the work of the Holy Spirit who dwells in each believer.

The Apostle Paul was devoted to the mission and he was desiring to have those accompany him who had proven themselves worthy of the mission. Paul would later exhort the believers in Ephesus to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:1-3).

Contentions have always been a part of the heritage of faith as difficult decisions need to be made. When Abraham, the father of faith, found that his herdsmen were no longer getting along with that of Lot's herdsmen, the solution to this conflict called for a separation, similar to that of Paul and Barnabas. Abraham trusted the Lord's word previously spoken to him, believing in God's promise that He would fulfill His purpose. "So Abram said to Lot, 'Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left'" (Gen. 13:8-9).

Abraham was willing to let God choose his future and therefore he permitted his nephew Lot to decide which direction he preferred to go. Paul gives similar instruction in Philippians 2 when he says, "fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others (Phil. 2:1-4).

When all was said and done, God always shows us that He is able to work all things together for good to those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).

After this failed resolution, God still allowed TWO PURPOSES to unfold:
PURPOSE 1: Paul continued his mission with Silas with the church commending him.
PURPOSE 2: Barnabas was used by God to help restore Mark for future use in ministry.

Later, the Apostle Paul would affirm that John Mark became "useful to me for ministry" (2 Tim. 4:11), proving that Barnabas' influence and investment in his life was profitable.

May God use all of us to work together in the unity of His Spirit and to follow the Lord's leading even in the difficult times when we must work harder to be agents of peace in our conflicts.

  • Always strive to be in one accord and one mind.
  • Put the time in to work toward love and unity.
  • When all else fails, agree to disagree for God’s purpose, diffusing conflict with space

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