Conflict!

 

This blog post is brief and a bit behind schedule. Last week the Mardis-LeCroy family was able to get away to the YMCA of the Rockies and it was fabulous.

But it meant returning to 254 unread emails. So my Monday has been fun!

With the emails answered and a bunch of meetings scheduled, I can finally turn my attention to the topic of the week.

Conflict! Is it always unhealthy? Does it always mean the end of a friendship?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

This week we explore an important aspect of friendship, one from which the church is not immune. This week we are talking about conflict.

Acts 15:26-41

36After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. 39The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. 40But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. 41He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches

If you grew up in certain church circles, you may have been taught that that the early church was a conflict-free zone; a time when believers were united in the work of spreading the word about Jesus.

The New Testament does not bear this out.

Our text is rarely heard in churches. I do not know of any lectionary that includes it. But it offers an important insight: Even the early church was susceptible to sometimes bitter conflicts.

Paul was restless. He always wanted to get to the next place; to preach somewhere else. (Paul is the guy at the cocktail party who does not give you his full attention because he is thinking about the next person to whom he wants to speak).

In this passage, Paul—typically twitchy, eager to be on the move—Paul proposes a return visit to churches he has planted. Barnabas is in –but Barnabas wants to take John Mark along. Paul says no.

Why?

The story is briefly told back in Acts 13:13

Then Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem;

John Mark abandoned Paul on an earlier journey. We don’t know why. The tradition has speculated that he was young (it seems his mother was prominent in the Jerusalem church), he may have had misgivings about Paul’s desire to preach to Gentiles. Perhaps, as the great theologian Origen of Alexandria (c. 184 – c. 253) suggested, he simply missed his mother.

But Paul did not want to give him a second chance. So they parted ways.

Can we learn anything about conflict and friendship from this story? Here are two quick thoughts to get the ball rolling:

  1. Conflict is inevitable. Even the early church struggled with personality clashes and different opinions about the best path forward. Like a lot of ministers, I tend to be conflict-averse. It is helpful to be reminded that conflict is a normal part of life, not necessarily a sign that everything is hopeless.
  2. Conflict is an opportunity. Paul missed his opportunity by refusing reconciliation; Barnabas modeled a different and better path by giving Barnabas a second chance. What would our friendships look like—what would our church look like—if we were more like Barnabas?

See you in church!

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