Currently we have a lot of conflict in our world and differing views over a lot of subjects. In the last year we have had riots, marches, protests and ongoing online battles on social media. There is a good deal of discussion of ‘polarization.’ Mores so in the US than in Canada. So, let’s take a look at how we see others.
Some of you may recognize that the title is a quote from a portion of Philippians 4:2. We know from what Paul wrote that there was some disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche (any of you have friends or children with these names?). We also know from 4:3 that these two women were co-labourers with Paul in spreading the gospel.
We learn from these two verses that people who are serious about the gospel can have conflict. We also have a record in Acts of conflict between Paul and Barnabas that led to their separation after they had been friends who journeyed together and taught together (Acts 15:36-40). What I want to address here is what we do with conflict. Howver, I am not going over the process Jesus presented to us in Matthew 18. Instead I want to look at our perceptions.
Our first impulse in addressing conflict seems to be determining who was right and who was wrong. However, that is not the most important piece. In fact, there may not be a right and wrong on some issues. We don’t know what the disagreement was between Euodia and Syntyche or whether it was resolved. We know that while Paul and Barnabas had a significant disagreement over John Mark, later Paul was working with the one he rejected.
10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), Colossians 4:10 (NKJV)
23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers. Philemon 1:23-24 (NKJV)
In addition to traveling with Barnabas and Paul, is believed to have also spent time with Peter in Rome where he wrote down the Gospel of Mark. A record of what was passed on to him by Peter.
Paul being reconciled to Mark does not however tell us whether Paul or Barnabas was right. It does tell us that the Lord brought something good out of the conflict and there was a later reconciliation. What we need to do in our relationships is draw on His grace to walk in wisdom. We may understand scripture passages differently. We may be Calvinists and have friends who are Arminians – two conflicting theological positions. Yet if we embrace something else Paul taught, we can walk in love and fruitfulness in the midst of differing theological positions. After all, scripture exhorts us to a unity of faith and Jesus prayed for this unity. Not a unity of dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s of our theological positions, but a unity of the Spirit.
20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. John 17:20-23 (NKJV)
1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Ephesians 4:1-6 (NKJV)
We do well to consider that many conflicts may be less a matter of right and wrong and more the inevitable outcome of fallen people living in a fallen world. People have different perceptions of the same event. At times someone is clearly wrong in their behaviour but having been involved in doing mediations for decades I could tell many stories. I have seen people who didn’t want to be in the same room together suddenly have their conflict evaporate when I got them to listen to one another. I have seen people suing one another riding home in the same vehicle after a mediation. I have seen someone who was the aggrieved party offering to help organize the wedding of the person they were suing.
My point, instead of looking through a lens of right and wrong I recommend we put on our 1 Corinthians 13 glasses and take our first look through the eyes of grace filled love that,
7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:7 (NKJV)
We may find that we simply see things differently and can learn from one another – through grace filled love.