Summary: Churches are composed of people from every perspective, heritage, and history. The diversity of people in each church leads to conflicting views on everything.
Acts of Discipleship
Disciples Overcome Differences
Dr. Debra Dupree wrote, “Anytime two people come together, there are likely to be differences in their beliefs, expectations, attitudes, concerns, hopes, and values.” In every group of people that we have been a part of, we have experienced this truth - and the church is not exempt. Churches are composed of people from every perspective, heritage, and history. The diversity of people in each church leads to conflicting views on everything.
Every person who becomes a Christian brings with them a set of ideas, perspectives, and attitudes. Conflict is uncomfortable, but not always bad. Author Patrick Lencioni says, “Failing to engage in conflict is a terrible decision, one that puts our temporary comfort and the avoidance of discomfort ahead of the ultimate goal of our organization.” This is not a modern problem - it is a struggle that disciples have dealt with from the beginning. As we have talked in our series so far: Disciples…Get Together, Work Together, Reach Out Together. Today we want to talk about how disciples overcome differences together. We will be looking at Acts 15.
The greatest conflict in the early church regarded Jewish believers struggling to accept Gentile believers. There may have been nothing more earth shattering to the Jewish Disciples than the entrance of the Gentiles into the church with full acceptance. In our text the conflict reaches a boiling point when a group decided that the Gentiles had to become Jewish to become Christians.
Acts 15:5-6 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles and elders met to consider this question.
The Apostles and elders had a conference in Jerusalem to discuss how to navigate these difficult feelings. Peter stood up and reminded them:
-The Gentiles heard the Gospel (7)
-The Gentiles believed (7)
-The Gentiles received the Holy Spirit (8)
-The Gentiles are purified by faith
-The Gentiles are saved by the grace of God (11)
Barnabas and Paul testified that there had been signs and wonders among the Gentiles (12).
James spoke up and quotes the prophet Amos, signifying that the open door to the Gentiles is part of God’s plan. (13-18)
When conflict arose, the disciples worked hard to overcome their differences. They weren’t perfect, they were human. But they were devoted to building bridges instead of walls because they were following Jesus.
How Can We Build Bridges Instead of Walls in a cancel culture that seeks to shout down the opposition?
1. LISTEN TO LEARN
(Acts 15:7a “After much discussion”)
Listening is hard work - it demands that we lay aside our thoughts for a moment and learn from someone else. Stephen Covey wrote, “the biggest problem about communication is that we do not listen to understand, but instead listen to reply.”
Calvin Coolidge: It takes a great man to be a good listener.
James 1:19 …Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…
2. TESTIFY TO LOVE
(Acts 15:7b After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. )
Peter reminded them that the message was from God! It resulted in the Gospel being preached. It resulted in the Gentiles becoming believers.
Offer words that point to the Gospel / Jesus. When we attempt to build bridges, we build on the foundation of Jesus. Too often we can be so intent on winning the argument that we lose the person. Can our words be heard in light of helping others believe?
1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
3. ACCEPT THE OTHER PERSON
(Acts 15:8-10 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? )
God knows the heart of everyone in a conflict. (8) Accepting another person doesn’t mean that you agree with everything they say. It gives us an even place to be able to talk about our differences.
13th C Poet Rumi wrote, “Out beyond the ideas wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
The basis of our being able to accept others is grace (11 We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”).