Summary: This sermon relies heavily on Charles Swindoll's Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit, Word Publishing, 2002, Chapters 12. The sermon covers the part of Acts 15 when Paul and Barnabas parted company. From their situation, we draw lessons about handling conflict.
A. The story is told of a little boy who got into an argument with some boys twice his size.
1. He drew a line in the dirt and dared the bigger boys to cross the line.
2. The bigger boys accepted the challenge and crossed the line.
3. Immediately, the little boy smiled and announced, “Look, now we’re on the same side!”
4. Don’t you wish conflict resolution was that easy? Let’s just be on the same side!
B. There is a story told about a sharp dispute that divided worshippers of an ancient synagogue in Eastern Europe.
1. The disagreement surrounded whether they should stand or sit during the reciting of the Shema, which is that wonderful prayer from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength…etc.”
2. Half of the worshippers insisted on standing and the other half just as adamantly remained seated during the prayer.
3. Those who were seated often yelled at the others to sit down. The ones on their feet screamed at the pew-sitters to rise out of respect for the Almighty.
4. You can imagine how this created a wonderful worship experience for everyone!
5. This groups’ rabbi was a renowned scholar and a wise man, but this fuss had him at his wits’ end.
6. Someone suggested that they consult a 98-year-old member of the synagogue, the only surviving founder of the group.
7. So, with a representative of each faction in tow, the rabbi set out to the nursing home.
8. Quite sure that his position would be affirmed, the leader of the Standers asked the old man, “Is it the tradition to stand during the Shema?”
9. “No,” the old man answered quietly, “that is not the tradition.”
10. “So,” beamed the Sitters’ top man, “the tradition really is to sit during the prayer!”
11. “No,” the old man countered sadly, “that is not the tradition.”
12. The rabbi then said with tears of frustration, “My congregants fight all the time about this. Every time we gather to worship, they begin yelling at each other to sit or to stand…”
13. “Ah, yes,” the old man interrupted him, “that is the tradition!”
C. I think we would all agree that that is not the tradition that God wants for His people.
1. God doesn’t want His people to be characterized by conflict and division.
2. God wants His people to be characterized by peace and unity.
3. Jesus prayed for the unity of His followers in John 17.
4. In many of Paul’s letters to the churches, he pleads with them to be of one mind and heart.
5. And in his letter to the Philippians, he even pleads with two women who are in conflict to agree with each other in the Lord, and he calls on the entire congregation to help these women get along with each other.
D. One of the characteristics I find most attractive about the Bible is its raw realism.
1. When God paints portraits of His servants in the Scriptures, He resists airbrushing away all the warts and blemishes.
2. We learn from the Scriptures that:
a. Moses was a murderer.
b. David has adultery and hypocrisy on his record.
c. Abraham lied more than once.
d. Jacob had deceitful ways.
e. Jonah was a proud, stubborn and disobedient prophet, who nearly missed the assignment of a lifetime because of his prejudice and bigotry.
f. Peter waffled when the pressure was on.
g. And even John the Baptizer struggled with doubt, as did the apostle Thomas.
3. Since Scripture doesn’t hide the faults of spiritual leaders, we shouldn’t be shocked when we come to a part in the story of Paul when Paul and Barnabas face an interpersonal conflict, right?
a. When the curtain closes at the end of Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas are parting company.
b. Let’s look at the story of how something like this could happen.
I. The Story
A. In the last sermon from our series, we saw that Paul and Barnabas finished their first missionary journey.
1. Together, they had planted numerous churches, and became known throughout Asia Minor and points beyond for their remarkable giftedness, their ministry savvy, and their partnership.
2. During a lengthy rest-and-recovery period in Antioch, they were summoned to Jerusalem to help settle a debate over circumcision.
3. Acts 15 records the issues and events surrounding the Jerusalem Council, which was a meeting of Jewish Christian leaders to resolve the matter, once and for all, about whether the Gentiles who wanted to become Christians had to follow the requirements of the Jewish Law.
4. Almost the entire chapter is devoted to the hammering out of this emotionally charged debate.