At times it feels like the only guarantees in life are death, taxes, and disagreements between Christians.
All throughout church history, you see the unfortunate reality of Christian people not getting along with each other. In fact, disagreements between Christians is of one of the more subtle (or perhaps not too subtle) themes that run throughout the New Testament.
In the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement. In 1 Corinthians, the church was divided over who they were going to follow. In 2 Corinthians, the church was being pulled away from the apostle Paul by “super apostles.” In Galatians, Paul had to confront Peter for acts of hypocrisy. In Philippians, Euodia and Syntyche were encouraged to agree in the Lord. In 1 Timothy, Paul encouraged his young disciple to persevere in ministry as he dealt with divisive people. In 2 Timothy, Paul listed people who divided from him. In 1 John, a church split was recorded.
So the question is what to do with the reality of differences and disagreements — whether the reality is in our local church or between different churches or pastors. I want to offer four suggestions that will help when disagreements arise:
1. Do not be surprised by disagreements. Because Jesus’ tomb is empty, Christians are hopeful and optimistic people. That being said, we do not need to be naive. We live in a broken and sinful world, so we can’t be caught off guard when disagreements arise. We see disagreements between Christians throughout the New Testament, and even a short look at church history reveals even more disagreements, so it should not surprise us when disagreements come our way.
2. See disagreements as an opportunity to love. In 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, we read about several disagreements in the ancient church in Corinth, and famously tucked in between those two chapters is chapter 13 — the great chapter on love. A few years back, as I was thinking through that chapter, I realized that showing 1 Corinthians 13 love to others almost requires a difficult situation to be present. For example, if I were to show love that is patient, there must be a situation that would cause me to be impatient; if I were to show a love that is kind, there must be an opportunity for me to be unkind. When a hard situation arises because of a disagreement, see that as your opportunity to love!
3. Trust that disagreements are for your good. Even though we seek to live peaceful and quiet lives, when disagreements come, we trust that God will somehow use them for our good. Perhaps God will use it to teach you deeper levels of humility. Perhaps God will point out a flaw or a sin in your life that caused the disagreement. Perhaps God will use the disagreement to protect you from a deeper disagreement down the road. Perhaps God will use the it to make you more dependent upon him. While we do not always know why God allows things to happen, we can trust he is using all things for our good as he prunes us to bear greater fruit.
4. Use the disagreement to stir your affections for eternity. We know we live in a world stained by sin. At times, that leads to painful disagreements even between Christians. Yet we also know that one day this will no longer be our reality. When Jesus returns to set up his eternal kingdom, we have faith that disagreements will be fully removed and we will live in perfect fellowship with God and each other. The next time a disagreement arises within your church or between you and another pastor or church planter, can I invite you to thank God that a day is coming when this will no longer be a reality? Will you not only pray for grace for the situation but also pray “Maranatha,” that Jesus would come and come quickly?
Published December 13, 2017