Conflicts between us happen. Sometimes we are unable to see eye to eye with another person on a particular issue, sometimes our conflicts simply come from misunderstanding and poor communication. Whatever the case may be, from time to time we will run into problems with other people. We must expect to encounter conflicts. But how to we handle the conflict? The New Testament helps us to see what we must do in these circumstances.
I. Examples of Conflict
A. Simon the Zealot & Levi the Tax Collector
- As we have studied the people that Jesus befriends, we noted that one of the men Jesus chose was a tax collector named Levi, who is more commonly known as the apostle Matthew. Remember that tax collectors were considered traitors to the Jewish cause. Further, tax collectors were known to be thieves and extortioners, giving reason why tax collectors were classified as prostitutes in society. Tax collectors were a hated group of people by the Jews.
- By contrast, Jesus also chose as one of this apostles Simon the zealot. We fail to recognize the gravity of the zealot’s background until we consult history. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states that a zealot was "one who had advocated revolutionary opposition to Rome." Ryrie agrees, stating that zealots "advocated the overthrow of Rome by force." Josephus, a Jewish historian in the first century, says that zealots "resorted to violence and assassination in their hatred of the foreigner." Vincent in his book Word Studies says that zealots were "a sect which stood for the recovery of Jewish freedom and the maintenance of distinctive Jewish institutions."
- Therefore, we must consider the political spectrum involved in Jesus’ selection of apostles. One of the apostles worked for the Roman Empire, taxing the Jews unfairly to line his own pockets. Another apostle hated all that the Roman Empire stood for, believed in the overthrow of Rome, and perhaps would have worked to revolt against Roman power. One apostle agrees with the Romans and another apostle hates the Romans. One apostle accepted the presence of Roman power in Judea and profited from it and another apostle would be willing to die to rid Judea of Roman authority. It is not hard to imagine the conflict that would have existed on the first day as Matthew was introduced to Simon. It is not hard to envision the first thoughts that came through Matthew and Simon’s minds when they learned they both had been called to follow Jesus.
B. Paul & Barnabas
- But we do not have to wonder if there were conflicts that arose between Christians. The New Testament records such a conflict between Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41. Paul desires to go back to the cities he and Barnabas have preached in to see how the disciples in those cities are doing. Barnabas is determined to take Mark with them on this journey. Mark had gone with Paul and Barnabas on the first journey, but returned to Jerusalem early in the trip (Acts 13:13). It is Barnabas’ expectation to take Mark on the journey with them again.
- But Paul insisted that they should not take Mark with them because he had left them before. Verse 39 tells us that the dispute became a sharp disagreement. One does not have to think too hard to understand that the disagreement was about. Barnabas says that Mark went with them last time on the journey, and Mark is ready to go again. Barnabas is not bothered by the fact that Mark had returned to Jerusalem on the first journey. Paul, however, does not want Mark to come. Mark left before any of the cities had persecuted them. Mark had not seen the Jews of Antioch of Pisidia chase them through the cities of Asia Minor persecuting them. Mark had not seen what happened in Lystra where Paul was stoned, dragged out of the city, and left for dead. If Mark bailed out on the first journey before the going got hard, what will happen this time when Mark experiences the persecutions of the Jews!
- So who is right? They both are right. Both of the opinions of Paul and Barnabas are valid and truthful. No one is making up a story nor has an ax to grind. These are the facts. In verses 39-41 we read about the solution Paul and Barnabas came up with for the problem. Paul and Barnabas divide up the territories they had visited. Barnabas takes Mark and they go to Cyprus to see how the disciples are doing there. Paul takes Silas and they go through Syria and Cilicia strengthening the churches.
- We see the reason for the disputes we have looked at in this lesson. People have different backgrounds, different values, and different perceptions. From time to time we will have these conflicts because we will not see things that same way as other people. We are not robots who do all things the same way. I would not make the decisions that I see other people make and many people would not make the decisions I have made. Much of that has to do with our backgrounds, values, and perceptions. But what are we to do about this? How can we deal with these conflicts so that there is resolution and so that we are remain pleasing and obedient to God.
II. Dealing With Conflicts
A. What Not To Do
- Tell others. I find it interesting that Paul and Barnabas do not drag the Antioch church into the dispute they are having with each other. Paul and Barnabas do not turn this sharp disagreement into a drama for the Antioch church to sort out. The problem remained with the people with whom the dispute was about. How often we pull people into problems that it is not their business to know about. If we have marriage conflicts, we tell others about it, rather than deal with the problem quietly. If we have friendship conflicts, rather than try to come to an understanding, we like to pull in our other friends to have them weigh in on the matter. Let us realize what we have done: we have broken trust. In a friendship, we have broken the trust of the relationship by telling others about the problem. The same is true in a marriage. We break the trust of the marriage when we tell others about our problems. Do not tell others.
- Cold shoulder/lash out. Depending upon our personality, we often act like children when a conflict arises by either lashing out or giving the cold shoulder. Some people think they are acting appropriately by just not talking to the person or speaking in short sentence bursts. Do we really think that this is acting like Christ? Do we really think that intentionally ignoring someone in an attempt to either hurt another’s feelings or to "make a point" is acceptable? Neither is lashing out at someone. The other reaction, which is just as wrong, is venting. We have had it so we just unload on someone. These reactions are not acceptable and are not found in the scriptures as righteous.
- Complain. Many times we just complain about the situation. If we cannot have things our way, we are going to complain as much as possible about what happened. I am sure that Paul went through to the cities in Asia Minor, telling the disciples about how Barnabas wanted to take that deserter, Mark. I am sure that Barnabas went through Cyprus telling the disciples how awful Paul was for not wanting to take Mark with them. While we are convinced the apostles did not act this way, we sure act that way. We make sure that everyone knows what the other person did to us and paint them person into something terrible. Again, we are not acting like Christians.
B. What We Are To Do
- Try to work it out. We have to realize that we may be wrong. We like to think that our opinion is always right and knowledge about someone or some situation is always correct. But such an egotistical attitude prevents us from trying to find common ground and resolution. Too often we just want to be right and we will misuse scripture or misrepresent other people just to justify ourselves. We must sincere try to work out our conflicts. The language of the Greek in Acts 15:36-41 indicates that this was an ongoing discussion. Barnabas did not simply say he wanted to bring Mark and Paul said no and so they split. This was a long discussion that finally turned into a sharp dispute. We must attempt to work out solutions.
- Overlook it. We must realize that we will not see eye to eye on everything. Too often we think that everyone is coming from our point of view, and it is not true. Too often we think that the answer is clear from our vantage point, but we are not thinking about the other person’s vantage point. When Paul said to look out for the best interests of others in Philippians 2, he was certainly including the need for us to put ourselves in another’s shoes as best we can. Many times the reason for the conflict is that we are not considering where the other person is coming from.
- Move forward. We must realize that I will not always be able to change people’s minds. Are we arrogant enough to think that everyone should think the way we think? Are we so egotistical that we think our wisdom will change every person’s mind to our side? We have to have the ability to let some things go. I personally would love for everyone to see eye to eye with me on the interpretation of Revelation, but I cannot hijack a relationship because someone does not. I cannot treat another badly because they do not think as I think. We have to move forward and let those things go.
- Unite under a common cause. We have to realize that we will not believe all things alike. There are many issues that we will disagree upon. Paul and Barnabas disagreed about what to do with Mark. But they united under the common cause of Christ and their desire to help the new disciples in the cities. Paul and Barnabas had work to do for the Lord and their disagreement would not stop them from that work. In the same way, Simon the zealot and Levi the tax collector had many issues they would have disagreed upon concerning the involvement of the Roman Empire in Judaism and Christianity. But they had to unite under the common cause of following Jesus.
- In Arkansas, a church in another city disagreed with how we advertised ourselves to visitors and what we did with our Wednesday evening Bible studies. So vehement was their belief that we were wrong, that they dissuaded people from going to our church. So many, rather than go to our church in Fayetteville, went to very liberal churches that were in clear error of the scriptures. Some brethren think they are justified in such actions. But we need to rethink what we are doing if we think that is a good thing. I may disagree with the church in Boca, Hollywood, or Fort Pierce, but better that someone go there than go to a place where clear error is taught. We have to unite some of our differences under the common cause of Christ, realizing that we will not believe all things alike. If we think we must believe all things the same to be in fellowship, then we will end up in a church of one.
- Be defrauded. We must always remember Paul’s words that it is better to be defrauded than to make a point. In 1 Corinthians 6:7 Paul said, "Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?" Instead of always trying to be right, we need to simply close our mouths and let many things go. We may be right, but Paul says we ought to be wronged instead. We may be right in dealing with the conflict in our marriage. But we need to be willing to be wronged. Rather than demand that we are right in our relationships, we can be defrauded. What does it really hurt? It does not hurt anything more than our own pride.
We know how to resolve our conflicts. The problem is that we usually are more interested in showing ourselves to be right rather than fixing the conflict. We just want to justify our thoughts too much. Rather than making a show, causing a stir, lashing out, or complaining about what has happened to us, let us simply and quietly try to act properly and resolve our conflicts, even if it means we may be treated unfairly. God will bring his justice later and knows of our righteous actions.