Thursday, February 16, 2012

Theology Thursday: Dealing with Conflict

(As you know, I'm a seminary student, so I spend a pretty significant chunk of my time attempting to study theology. I thought that perhaps I would share a little of what I'm learning on the 'ole blog, and maybe, just maybe, I might be able to offer a little encouragement. If you aren't a Christian, consider this a sneak peak into the mind of one.)

One thing I've been learning about while in seminary is handling conflict. Conflict seems to be the first of a few things that we can expect in our lives as believers as we work to become more like Christ and spread the gospel.

The story of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15 is so fascinating. Paul and Barnabas were partners in spreading the gospel - the greatest mission of all. Yet, somewhere along the way, they got into an argument about whether or not they should bring along John Mark as another partner in their mission. Apparently, John Mark had deserted them previously. Paul and Barnabas had such a sharp disagreement, in fact, that they parted ways. Barnabas actually left with Mark and went one way, and Paul took a different partner and went another.

In reading this, I think, "Why didn't they reconcile? Was the disagreement really that severe?" I mean, we all have conflict, even with believers. Surely there's something we can learn from this.

I think first of all, just because we have a conflict with someone doesn't mean that we should "part ways." I believe, if it is at all possible, that Jesus wants us to work out our conflicts humbly. We should be praying constantly for that person, for the situation, and for our own hearts. As believers, the one thing we should always be fighting for is unity within the church. I believe we are much more effective when we are unified  and at peace with each other.

But sometimes there are those extra tough conflicts. Those conflicts that you have prayed and cried over. Those conflicts that make your heart ache and your mind constantly try to answer. Days pass. Weeks pass. And you don't have an answer. And the best answer really seems like it may be best to part ways, like Paul and Barnabas. Is this ideal? Absolutely not. But can the gospel be advanced through it all? Absolutely.

In the times that the "right thing" is incredibly difficult to discern, those are the moments when the "right thing" is perhaps not doing anything in the heat of the moment. Acts states that Paul went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the church. And Barnanas and Mark sailed to Cyprus to spread the gospel there. The gospel was advanced. They did not let their argument get in the way of fulfilling their purpose.

They did not let their argument get in the way of spreading the gospel.

As believers, we are all on the same team. We may experience heart-wrenching conflicts. Relationships may be deeply and painfully altered, or even ended. But in those instances, we can strive to handle them in a way that brings about the least amount of damage. We can continue to pray for those people, for the situation, and we can always be on the lookout for a way to reconcile, even if it is years later.

You see, there is no time limit on reconciliation, as long as both parties are living. I have experienced and have seen many situations where a conflict was resolved years later, and witnessed the healing and peace that those situations brought. While the best scenario is for no conflict, or immediate resolution, there is always hope for eventual reconciliation.

And what about Paul and Barnabas? We see, later, in I Peter 5 that Paul changed in his view on John Mark, when he said, "Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me and my ministry." Who he once said was a hindrance, Paul, in his last moments, said John Mark was a help to his ministry and wanted to see him.

What a beautiful picture of forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation! This story should be more than a disappointment in our expectations of first century Christians. Yes, we should  always be on guard against Satan, who is constantly working to bring about conflict and disruption. But this story also serves as an encouragement. We should always be aiming toward reconciliation, we should never let an argument get in the way of spreading the gospel. Thankfully, the Lord is in the business of restoring relationships.

What about you? Do you have a story of reconciliation? Are you in the middle of something you are praying through? Has the Lord used a conflict to grow you spiritually?


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