Whenever I do pre-marital counseling, I usually include the following: role expectation and is it realistic, a good theology of marriage, the importance of communication, the necessity of commitment and how to deal with conflict or disagreement. Unless one of the marriage partners is a non-thinking robot, every marriage has disagreements. The only question is how we handle it.
But whether it’s in marriage, business, sports, politics, church, world issues or personal relationships, every life situation has disagreements. Again, the important thing is how we deal with it. So, how do we deal with disagreement?
To further the discussion, I want us to consider a biblical situation. When the curtain falls on Acts, chapter 15, Paul and Barnabas are parting company. They had previously been successful partners on their first missionary journey. But now they are parting company over the future of John Mark, who had previously accompanied them.
The crux of the dividing issue was that as they were preparing for their second missionary journey, Paul did not want to take John Mark. Paul felt John Mark had deserted them on the first journey.
Barnabas, on the other hand, wanted to give John Mark a second chance and insisted that they take him with them. The result was that Paul and Barnabas separated, chose different partners and went different ways.
Now, what can we learn here about handling our disagreements?
First, we can remember the importance of prayer! Nowhere! I repeat, nowhere in Luke’s account does it say that Paul and Barnabas prayed about their situation. And this is the noticeable failure of these two servants of God. They didn’t pray about their disagreement.
The late Bishop Emerson Colaw wrote in his book:
“Modern science and industry have done a great deal to overcome barriers of time and distance, but many people still face each other across formidable obstacles of race and religion, of interest and education, of ideas and ideals. Unable to communicate and cooperate because of such obstacles, persons often find themselves unwillingly involved in incidents of hatred and bloodshed. How different is the situation when men and women are praying for one another!”
Second, we can seek to understand the other person’s point of view! There can be no reconciliation if we do not seek to understand the other person’s point of view. And this understanding will always begin with listening.
At least part of the discord in our culture today is due to the fact that no one is listening to another’s point of view. Minds are already made up, battle stations are manned and everyone else is considered the enemy or opposition.
In being open to another’s point of view, Charles Swindoll says that there are three necessary qualities that don’t come easily: honesty, objectivity, humility. Could it be that a lack of those three qualities is at the heart of our difficulty in hearing one another?
Third, we can disagree without being disagreeable! In all Paul’s letters to the churches that they had founded, Paul never took a pot shot at Barnabas. He never said anything bad about Barnabas. And such seemed to be true of Barnabas as well. He didn’t downgrade Paul. Even though they had a major disagreement that led to a parting of the ways, they were not in the end disagreeable.
It is at this point that Samuel Johnson gives us one of the most liberating sentences he ever wrote: “Kindness is in our power, fondness is not.” Kindness is not passion or affection or friendship, but an attitude of unshakable and unwavering goodwill to others, whether we like them or not.
Fourth, we can look for a way of compromise! Some people look at compromise as a weak and cowardly thing. They mistakenly think it has something to do with a lack of backbone.
Now, to be sure there is a time to hold the line. We should never compromise biblical truth, principles or convictions. But simply to be unbending is another thing altogether.
Finally, we can trust that God can use everything, even our disagreements, for His purposes! In the Narthex of the Cathedral of Belmont Abby near Charlotte, N.C., there is a baptismal font mounted on a big rock. The inscription reads: “From this stone, on which persons were sold into slavery, they now are baptized into freedom.”
If God can do that, He can transform any dead-end situation into a powerful force for good. May it be so again today!