Monday, October 22

It’s not easy to live in harmony

Scripture: Job 11-12, Acts 15-16

Observation

Acts 15 begins and ends with conflict between believers.

The chapter opens with a serious theological conflict.  Jewish Christians from Jerusalem arrived in Antioch and told the largely Gentile church that they had to be circumcised (become Jewish) to be saved.  In other words, Jesus wasn’t enough.  It was Jesus plus keep the Jewish law.  Paul and Barnabas engaged them in debate, and it was decided to send them to Jerusalem to settle the issue in conference with the apostles and elders.  Thankfully, they came to one mind; they agreed that we’re all saved by the grace of Jesus, not by keeping the Jewish law.  Had they come to the opposite conclusion, Christianity might be a small splinter sect of the Jewish faith, and I wouldn’t be saved!

The chapter ends with Paul and Barnabas disagreeing about whether to take John Mark with them on their next mission trip.  Unable to agree, they each found a new partner and went their own ways.  This disagreement wasn’t over a basic theological truth, but a practical consideration; and although it wasn’t resolved as hoped, it resulted in a doubling of the mission force.  

Application

I’m speaking this weekend on “Live in harmony with one another.”  This chapter shows how difficult this is to do!  

One application from the theological disagreement: get in the room, face to face, and hammer it out.  A few years ago, a number of prominent pastors who disagreed got together to talk about their disagreements.  They called it “The Elephant Room.”  While they didn’t resolve the conflicts, I believe they came out with a greater understanding and respect for each other—and that makes a difference.  

When someone disagrees, don’t write them off and avoid them.  Move toward them and attempt to resolve the conflict in face to face conversation.

Another application is to learn to distinguish primary and secondary issues.  In Acts 15, the theological issue was primary—it was about the nature of the gospel and how we are saved!  But the practical issue between Paul and Barnabas was secondary.  Sadly, they disagreed so strongly that they parted company.  While this was sad for them personally (it effectively ended their partnership, and perhaps their friendship), it may have been good for the mission since it doubled their efforts and included new people on the teams.  

Hopefully we won’t break relationships over secondary issues—we must be able to distinguish what matters and compromise on what doesn’t.  

Maintaining harmony is not easy—which is why there is so much conflict in the church.  Lord, help us!

Prayer: Lord, help me to build unity, to maintain unity, to bring people together and not drive them apart, to know what matters and what doesn’t.  Help me to live in harmony with others.