Everyone fights. People who live together will occasionally have disagreements. Sometimes disagreements will be sharp and difficult. It is not avoiding disagreements that is the important thing, it is knowing how to handle them properly as disciples of Jesus Christ, that counts. Managing disputes well is not something we are equipped to do naturally. We have to learn how to manage disputes. Managing disputes is critical for the disciple of Jesus Christ, because the church is all about the relationships we share with one another and with Christ. Unresolved resentment, hardness or bitterness can lead to a breakdown of the church and the destruction to the work of God, not to mention damage to the kingdom of God. Disputes and disagreement among believers are the number one weapon Satan uses against the church. In God’s economy disunity is a big deal, and those who cause disunity do not fare well in the sight of God.

Disagreements in the family can cause even more damage, resulting in the break up of marriages, and the closeness between parents and their children or btween siblings. Long-lasting damage is common in families today where unresolved disputes have festered, with the results of someone is not talking to someone else over something that happened years before, personalities are warped, confidence is undermined and bad relationships skills are learned by young children. Children often learn to be enraged, angry, bitter, violent and ill-tempered because that is what they see modeled at home, are never discipline properly (only yelled at) or are not loved and nurtured by their parents.

Nevertheless, even in the best homes and in the most loving of them disputes arise, disagreements can bubble to the top. Disputes and disagreements need to be handled well if permanent damage is not going to be done to the family, or individuals in the family. There is an interesting example of a “family” dispute in Acts 15, between Paul and his mentor Barnabas (Acts 16:36-40). Barnabas had sought Paul out after his conversion and after news about revival in Antioch broke (Acts 11:22-26). While others were avoiding Paul, because they didn’t really believe in the reality of his conversion, Barnabas befriended him and vouched for him to the apostles (Acts 9:26-30). No one would take a chance on Paul, but Barnabas. Since then the Spirit had called them into missionary work together (Acts 13:2-3), and they had travelled and worked as a team for a considerable time. But now they were locked in a heavy dispute over John Mark, a young man who had gone with them on the first missionary journey, but who had turned back at Galatia when the going got rough (Acts 13:13). In fact, the dispute was so passionate that Paul and Barnabas separated and went their different ways (Acts 15:39-41).

Here was a critical moment. Two men with immense personalities, but one decidedly gentler and more compassionate than the other. The other was fiery, rigid, opinionated, strong and forceful. Barnabas enjoyed the strong approval and confidence of the church and especially its leadership. After all it was Barnabas that they sent to oversee the work in Antioch (Acts 11:22). Paul was the newcomer, but had proved himself through the recent mission venture, and the results they achieved among the Gentiles. He had suffered persecution and even danger for Christ, and his words were weighed very carefully in the first council when the issue of circumcising Gentiles arose (Acts 15:12). Paul and Barnabas were giants in the church, and this dispute fractured a strong and admired team. The question is, how much permanent damage was done? And what about the young man Mark, whose future in ministry hung in the balance between the gentleness of Barnabas and the rigidness of Paul?

The first hint of a problem comes when Barnabas expressed his wish to take Mark with them on the upcoming journey. The word Luke uses to express Paul’s disapproval, is unwilling (Acts 15:38). There is a at first a difference of opinion on Mark. Barnabas wants to take him, Paul does not. At first Paul expressed reservations about Mark’s attrition at Pamphylia. He spent some time considering whether it was a good idea to take Mark with them, in light of his earlier departure when things got tough in Galatia. Paul finally decided it was not a wise move to take him this time. It is clear that the dispute began with a difference of opinion. The compassion and kindness of Barnabas were pitted against the reservations of Paul. Somehow in the course of the discussion, this became a dispute, an outright argument, that resulted in the fracture of relationship between Paul and Barnabas, and the two of them parting ways.

It is one of the saddest moments in scripture. A great friendship, a great mentorship torn apart by a disagreement. Luke does not judge the two, but there is a hint that it is Paul’s strength of character, refusing to bend, that left no room for compromise. he indicates that although the tow had separaed, and Paul still had the approval of the church for the mission journey he about to undertake (Acts 15:40). This note of the approval of the brothers may indicate that there was some reason to have to support Paul inspite of his disagreement with the gentle Barnabas. Eventually Paul would take Silas instead (Acts 15:40). We can only imagine the hurts feelings on the part of tender-hearted Barnabas. We can only speculate how Paul eventually lamented the harsh exchanges, after his passion cooled down. But then disputes and fights are like that. They escalate and get out of control quickly, and before long things have been done and said that no apology can take back or erase.

In one sense it was Paul that ate crow over the issue of Mark. ‎At some point in the future, Paul worked with Mark, the cousin of Barnabas (Col 4:10–11; Phlm 24). Mark had proven himself to the apostle, and Paul had relented and given Mark a chance to work with him in ministry. There had been conciliation. Bridges had been mended. The dispute was put behind them. Hard feelings had been overcome, apologies made, forgiveness granted. It is one of the great underlying dramas of the New Testament that Mark and Paul found peace with one another in the end. Years later, sitting in prison in Rome, awaiting execution, Paul asked Timothy to bring Mark with him when he came (2 Tim. 4:11). In his remarks he calls Mark “helpful to me in ministry.” Paul’s remark is genuine, real and personal. Mark is profitable “to me” he says. Paul admits the value of Mark to himself personally. Paul has changed his evaluation of Mark in a significant way. Paul acknowledges that Mark is profitable to him personally, not merely profitable in general. It is a personal endorsement of Mark as a diciple and minister in the work of God. The word means to be useful, serviceable. In other words Mark had proved his worth in the context of ministry, in a practical sense. He was no longer the young man who had shied back from sacrifice and hardship. He had become a man of practical worth in the kingdom of God, and particularly to Paul on a personal level.

We cannot know on what basis or when Paul and Mark were reconciled to one another or how the fracture was mended between Paul and Barnabas. But is clear for Paul to have been able to remark on Mark’s profitability, his opinion had been changed by something on Mark’s part, and it had resulted in Paul’s affirmation, and their reconciliation. Mark had finally proved himself, and Paul had been reconciled. The dispute was not left unaddressed completely, some sort of reconciliation had occurred. Here was Paul tacitly admitting that Barnabas was right to give Mark a second chance, and that he had been wrong about him! Mark turn out to be a good and profitable servant of Jesus Christ after all.

In most disputes, where there is reconciliation, someone is going to find themselves admitting they were wrong. Although that is not always the case. Sometimes both are wrong, and almost always both parties are partially right about something! The problem with disputes is that we almost always come at it from the perspective of winners and losers. Someone is going down. My view is the one that must prevail. Rarely is a disagreement an honest search for the right course of action, it is more often than not an attempt to assert oneself, and to win. In the context of marriage and the home, if there is a clear winner, everyone looses; because in the headlong rush to win, someone has been crushed, someone’s self-esteem has been trashed, someone has been overpowered and belittled. If someone “wins” in a family dispute, usually both lose! There are no winners and losers in family disputes only reconciliation, even when there is an agreement to disagree!

Resolution is not what you think. Resolution is when both parties lay the disagreement to rest after a spirited discussion, but have reaffirmed the relationship and have not inflicted any permanent damage to the other party, either physically, emotionally or mentally. This leads us to a few principles of disagreement in the family. While many of these apply to husbands and wives in their relationship one another, the principles also carry over to disagreements between other family members.

So here are the principles: (from the book by Tim and Joyce Downs, Fight Fair: Winning at Conflict Without Losing at Love.)

1. The game must have rules – Conflict is not a game of anything goes, win at all costs… sometimes those costs are too high in terms of the relationship and the damage inflicted on the other person. There are boundaries that must not be crossed. Physical violence is never acceptable. Some words should never be spoken. Sometimes a time out is required. There are buttons you NEVER push!
2. The object of the game – The goal of conflict is to understand one another better, to create greater intimacy and to clean up toxic waste in the relationship (unresolved issues that contaminate it). The goal is NEVER merely to win the argument.
3. Why play at all? There must be a resolution of issues if there is to be growth in a relationship, and growth often uncovers more issues. Relationships cannot be allowed to standstill, without investment in them, or they will stagnate and die… marriages end that way, when one or both parties quit investing themselves in the relationship. It is NEVER best to continually ignore or leave a disputable issue, or source of tension alone.
4. Pass the dice – You have to listen as patiently as you want others to listen to you. It’s not always your turn… raising your voice always results in drowning out communication and understanding… and don’t say rash things like “You always…” or “You never….” Listen until you partner is satisfied, not until you are satisfied! The goal of conflict (communication) is to create mutual understanding and therefore to grow the relationship. NEVER let you desire to be heard stop you from listening.
5. Mastering the end game – Don’t spike the ball! If you partner admits their faults or apologizes, don’t gloat, instead be gracious and thankful… and remember forgiveness is not the mental acceptance of an apology, it is the follow through, how you treat your partner after the dispute has been settled. NEVER treat one another in a way that harbors a grudge or hard feelings over a lengthy period of time.

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