Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a “falling out” with someone? Maybe it was a family member; perhaps a lifelong friend, or a co-worker with whom you had shared many years of camaraderie as you labored together for the same purpose until something happened that caused conflict between you.
Conflicts are part of life. God created us with different passions. When we enter into any kind of relationship, we bring all our past with us – everything that’s happened to us that has made us who we are, the different convictions that make up our personalities and values, and we are always at different points in our spiritual growth. Without a strong faith and a recognition of the work God must do in our own hearts, we can allow conflicts to go unresolved and do great damage to the kingdom of God.
Paul’s relationships with the many people he influenced are a great example for us. Think about it – Paul was such a strong personality. Once he was convinced in his mind of the truth, nothing stopped him. Before he met Jesus, he was on a rampage – a mission sanctioned by the religious leaders he served with to destroy the followers of Christ. Nothing deterred him, and he was unmoved by the pain and suffering his passion inflicted on others.
After he met Jesus, his whole focus changed, but he still retained a strong personality that was committed to truth. God grew in him a compassion for the lost, but he held his fellow believers to a high standard. Once he had committed to following Christ, he had little tolerance for those who also claimed faith but wavered in their devotion to God’s kingdom or their obligations to live godly lives. As a result, he had a few scars in the relationships of his life. Thankfully, God continued to work in him to balance that passion for truth and righteousness with love and understanding for his fellow man.
Remember John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin? Barnabas had convinced Paul to take Mark with them on that first missionary journey (Acts 12:25). Something had happened, however, and in the middle of the trip, John Mark had bailed out and returned to Jerusalem. We’re not told what it was, but Paul evidently did not agree with his decision to leave the team. As they prepared for the second missionary journey, Barnabas again wanted to take John Mark, but Paul refused. Maybe it wasn’t personal, but he did not believe John Mark was ready or capable, or deserving of a second chance at that time. This disagreement was so sharp, that he and Barnabas parted ways and went in different directions (Acts 15:36-40).
Fast forward to years later, when Paul is sitting in a Roman prison writing to the church at Colossae. How did the relationship between Paul and John Mark turn out?
Colossians 4:10-11 – Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas’ cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him); and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me.
Whatever hurt feelings or misunderstandings that had separated Paul and John Mark had been resolved, and the young man had become one of Paul’s encouragers. God had healed the relationship and restored the friendship. They had set aside their differences, forgiven one another, and moved forward to labor for the cause of the gospel together.
Isn’t that a beautiful picture of how we should respond to one another when disagreements separate us? Paul knew there was a greater cause than his opinions of John Mark. For a time, they went in different directions, agreeing to disagree. I’m sure God used this for good; the gospel would go out to even more places as a result. Eventually, though, he brought the two back together to deal with the issues between them. There had to be conversation, apologies, humility, and repentance. Now, when Paul is in a most difficult situation, he has the friendship and support of a fellow brother in Christ.
It’s very sad when people die without resolving relationships. For that reason, we should not delay in seeking to restore relationships; we don’t have the guarantee of tomorrow. Also, how many years of good friendship and encouragement are we wasting because we won’t deal with our differences, forgive one another, and move forward?
Paul had the better perspective: Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth (Colossians 3:2). Life is short. Earth is temporary. When we have an eternal perspective, our differences don’t seem to matter quite as much.
Is there someone you need to talk to today? Don’t waste another minute. Today is a good day to prove to be an encouragement to one another. Humble yourself and make the call. It might be awkward and uncomfortable, but it will pay eternal dividends. And down the road, when you’re in a tough spot, you might just find that person is just the one you need.
Colossians 3:12-13 – So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.