"See, it's right there," eager to prove my point, I stabbed the page, almost ripping the delicate paper. I flung open my Bible, sharing the story of Paul and Barnabus ( Acts 15: 36-41). They disagreed and decided to go separate ways, so why wasn't that an option for me?
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A Word of Caution
I'd just returned home from a meeting at church where the tension was high, tempers were hot, and the conversation was heated. On the ride home, I'd convinced myself that the only solution was to separate the team, proceed with opposing plans, and hope for the best.
As I shared my thoughts with my husband, he proposed that perhaps this was not the only way. Maybe we could continue to work out our differences? And how dare he even suggest, compromise, or even worse, concede, our personal preference on the matter?
After talking with my husband, I saw that I used Scripture to justify my actions. We should be cautious of slinging verses to validate us instead of asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate the text. There are lessons from Paul and Barnabas' disagreement and more examples in Scripture. Let's look at five ways Christians can move past divisiveness.
1. We Can Disagree without Being Divisive
We must understand the difference between disagreement and division. A disagreement is defined as a lack of consensus or approval. Divisiveness happens when a disagreement ends with hostility between the parties involved. However, every disagreement doesn't have to finish in division. Even though disagreements are unavoidable in life, and some may end with division, we can do so in a Christ-honoring way.
Looking at the interaction with Paul and Barnabas, Scripture doesn't tell us precisely the words spoken, but we do know there was "a sharp disagreement" ( Acts 15:39). Here were two godly men doing ministry for the glory of God, yet they were still human and prone to disagree. It was merely a result of two fallen men working together. While their approach differed, they were united in the truth of the Gospel. The men ultimately decided to go separate ways, but we see that their separation strengthened the churches, and Christianity grew as a result ( Acts 15:41). We, too, will have interpersonal quarrels, and there might be times we need to separate, but we can do that in a Christ-honoring, God-glorifying, peaceful way.
2. Be Quick to Forgive and Move On
Forgiving isn't difficult for me; it’s the forgetting that's the struggle. But, continuing to harbor feelings of betrayal only leads to bitterness and stifles true reconciliation. Unfortunately, isn't a magic wand we can wave to empty our hearts and minds of hurt, but we can choose to move past our feelings. Matthew 18:15-20 describes how we should deal with sin or conflict within the church. We first go to the offender and privately work towards repentance and forgiveness. If restoration is unattainable, the next instruction is to invite in a pastor or godly counsel. Finally, bringing in the church as a final solution to pursue restoration of the relationship.
The goal is not to shame or prove who's right but instead to reconcile and continue to work together for God's Kingdom. While we were still sinners, God sent His Son to die for us. We are utterly undeserving of His grace and mercy. Each time we decide to forgive those we think are unfit and unworthy, it is an opportunity to share the Gospel.
3. Remember We Are on the Same Team
Aren't you glad your name isn't associated with a disagreement in the Bible? Those were my first thoughts when I read the account of Euodia and Syntyche. But the truth is, Paul wasn’t addressing these ladies in anger, but love. He desired unity among the body of believers. Scripture tells us that they were godly women who contended for the Gospel with Paul ( Philippians 4:2-3). He knew that they had a more significant impact on the Kingdom together, urging them to agree in the Lord.
How often are we just like these women? We cling tightly to our preferences. Or criticize others in ministry, thinking our way is better. We mistakenly believe that some of God's children are more important than others. On the contrary, Paul tells us that each member contributes to a healthy church (1 Corinthians 12:27). Every person matters to God, and each person's role is valuable. Our diverse functions work together for a common goal: to know God and make Him known.
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4. Choose Humility over Pride
I like to be correct, not sometimes, but all the time. My desire to have the last word has cost me greatly. Instead of choosing to humble myself for the good of others, I’ve allowed pride to drive wedges in my friendships and create division in my relationships. Romans 12:16 tell us, "Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited."
This idea of being in harmony doesn't mean we all have to share the same views and opinions but instead work towards compatibility. Paul is urging us to adjust our preferences for the greater good. We don't all have to hold hands around the campfire singing "Kumbaya," but we should demonstrate a mutual submission of respect and love for each other. He tells us that we shouldn't think too highly of ourselves. There are times that we should stand by convictions, but for the most part, it is not our convictions but pride that prevents us from unity with others.
5. Strive for Peace
In the South, we have a saying, "You catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar." Simply put, a sweet, kind word brings people together, whereas sour, hurtful words drive people apart. Romans 12:18 encourages us, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." This verse doesn't use commands like "you must" or "you have to;" instead, it tells us "if possible," live at peace with everyone. Paul knew that it is difficult to live at peace with others, and some circumstances are out of our control. That's why he is sure to add, "as far as it depends on you," meaning we need to do our part to keep the peace. Most of Romans 12 speaks about laying down ourselves not just for other Christians but also for our enemies. No one says setting ourselves aside for the good of others is easy, but we have the perfect example in Christ Jesus.
Let us be people who strive for unity as we seek to glorify God in all we say and do. Conflict will arise, but we choose how we respond with disagreements among believers and non-believers. If you find yourself dealing with divisiveness, try practicing these five principles from Scripture and humbly seek God's direction and guidance through prayer and His Word.
Originally published Monday, 07 March 2022.