How many of us disagree with someone?
How many of us are friends with someone we disagree with?
How many of us live with someone we disagree with?
How many of us love someone we disagree with?
If we are alive and breathing oxygen, we are going to disagree with someone about something at some point. It is unavoidable. Even if you try to hide, shut yourself off from the rest of the world, or go off the grid, you’re still going to need to interact with someone to survive. I even argue with myself sometimes. Am I the only one? I hope not. I may be weirder than I thought. Since we are going to have disagreements, how do we manage them peacefully and reasonably? How do we maintain relationships in the midst of our disagreements? How do we live with the tension? Can we agree to disagree and still be friends or do we have to go our separate ways?
For the last couple of weeks, we have been using a quote by Philosopher John Locke to explore a Christian faith that is not swept away by desire or passion that leads to mischief or obnoxious behavior, but a Christian faith that is reasonable and gracious. Here is the quote again.
“The three great things that govern mankind are Reason, Passion and Superstition; the first governs a few, the two last share the bulk of mankind, and possess them in their turns; but superstition is most powerful, and produces the greatest mischiefs.”
According to John Locke our superstitions or beliefs can “produce the greatest mischiefs”. Again, “mischief” is harm or trouble caused by someone or something. Where does mischief usually begin? Most harmful or troubling behavior can be traced back to some kind of disagreement or grievance, when we don’t see eye to eye or have a “falling out” about something. Disagreements can lead to greater conflict, but they can also be resolved in a positive way and yield positive results. Disagreement and conflict is not something most people enjoy, although there are a few that thrive in it. Nevertheless to disagree is not always a bad thing. It just depends on how we handle our disagreements.
For this study, I’m focusing specifically on how followers of Christ handle disagreements with each other and especially unbelievers. Are we reasonable and gracious in the face of opposition? Last week, I shared an example of how I really blew it in a confrontation or disagreement with my college Biology professor over the theory of evolution. In those days I would get carried away. My boldness for defending the faith and winning an argument during biology class that day probably did more harm than good. No, I wasn’t yelling or foaming at the mouth, but I failed to honor and respect the beliefs and opinions of others in the room that day. I haven’t perfected how I deal with disagreements, but I’m working on it. My beliefs have not changed, but I am learning how to keep them in check. The point is we have to be careful what we say, and more importantly how we say it.
The social, political, and religious climate in the US today is toxic, contentious, and unhealthy. We seem more divided than ever. Christians and even our own denomination are deeply divided. Thanks to social media we have unlimited platforms to battle it out. As long as we continue to wage our war of words, the mainstream media will have plenty of fuel to keep the fires of conflict ragging, and they love it.
“Keeping it real” is a phrase that became popular in the late 90’s. It has different meanings. Sometimes it means you’re “taking it easy”, “being cool”, or “chillin”, but it also expresses a desire to be authentic, being true to oneself, or honest. I have no problem with “keeping it real” unless I’m using it as an excuse or permission to be a jerk. I may have been “keeping it real” in biology class regarding my biblical beliefs, but I over did my “realness”. Instead of “keeping it real” I should have applied a filter to my words or muzzle for my mouth.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 NIV
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Proverbs 14:12 NKJV
“Keeping it real” may seem right to us, but it’s not always beneficial, constructive, or good for others. When our ways and opinions are unchecked or unfiltered, they can be very destructive. So what does the Bible say about resolving conflict?
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” James 1:18-21 NIV
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-16 NIV
These are just a couple of examples of conflict resolution and face-to-face mediation that the Lord has provided from His word. When we accept and apply biblical principles, they can “save” or rescue us from destructive behavior. The righteousness or “right living” option that God offers is mutually beneficial and relevant for everyone. They make sense whether you believe in God or not. The problem is that it’s so much harder to resolve conflict, than it is to revel in it. It’s easier to gossip about someone who has wronged us than to meet with them face-to-face and resolve our differences. It’s easier to rush to anger and speak harshly. There is a reason we say we have a “short fuse” or are “quick tempered”. Doing what’s right doesn’t come easily or quickly.
Unfortunately, there are times when our disagreements cannot be resolved. We may find ourselves at an impasse or a situation in which no progress is possible. If we can’t agree to disagree maintaining a healthy relationship, the only other option or alternative may be to part company. The Apostle Paul and Barnabas were partners in ministry for several years, but a sharp disagreement caused a rift between them and they went their separate ways. You can read about it in Acts 15:36-41. There’s no biblical evidence that they ever patched things up. Hopefully they parted on “good terms”. I guess that’s the point. God wants us to be on good terms, whether we agree or disagree, whether we stay close or part ways.
Hope you have a great weekend!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Management