And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia strengthening the churches.   Acts 15:36-41

After Paul and Barnabas had finished the first-ever ecumenical council in Jerusalem, they must have been excited about being able to be important influencers in persuading the church elders to accept Gentiles into the church with minimal constraints. Most importantly, the leaders endorsed that Gentiles would not need to be circumcised or follow the strict ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. Paul and Barnabas then decided to return to the churches they visited on their first missionary journey and to encourage them. However, they argued about whether they should take John Mark with them again. Barnabas wanted to take his cousin[1], John Mark, with them, but Paul was clearly concerned because he had abandoned them halfway through their first missionary journey together.[2] In Acts 15:39, it says they had a “sharp disagreement.” In other words, they had a “fight” about their respective opinions. Even though Paul and John Mark appear to reconcile later,[3] at that time, Paul had good reasons to not support him going along with them again, while Barnabas felt otherwise; so, they “separated from each other.”

The point I would like to make here is that it is o.k. to have “sharp disagreements.” The council meeting in Jerusalem was about reconciling differences. The argument between Paul and Barnabas didn’t seem to have a clear biblical case either way; it was about perspectives. However, they appear to have been able to come up with a win-win agreement. Barnabas went back to his home country[4] with John Mark, where he obviously knew the culture, and Paul went elsewhere with Silas.

Paul in Ephesians 4:26, says “BE ANGRY” – this is in an imperative/command form, “and do not sin.” So, it is clearly not a sin to be angry, though we must be careful to not let this anger control us.[5] Thus we can be angry, but we need to be respectful and maintain our self-control[6].

It is expected that there will be disagreements and that people will be angry with one another. As the first step in conflict resolution, Jesus exhorts us in Matthew 18:15 to go directly to those we have an issue with. Paul tells us in 1 Tim 5:1-2 how we should do this: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” It is common for people to think that Christians should be doormats and to always turn the other cheek[7] and to not confront people when we are offended or disagree. However, if you are offended or have a difference of opinion you have two biblical choices: 1) Overlook the offense and forgive[8] 2) As much as it depends on you, confront others in a loving respectful manner and pursue a peaceful win/win solution that is edifying for both of you.[9] It is NOT a biblical option to be bitter about it and to complain others[10]…even if you have a “good reason” or feel justified.

Therefore, be angry and argue in love.

by Michael Burner, Deacon

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