Saturday, May 28, 2022

Arguments and Compromise

They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.”
-- Acts 15:39

Remember the scene in the movie “Elf,” when an enraged Miles Finch huffs and puffs across a conference room table to beat up poor, startled Buddy the Elf? Well, sometimes truth is just about as wild as fiction. Years ago, one of our church leaders told me the story of a meeting at a church down the hill where he once served as an elder. During this meeting of the elders—a group of seasoned, experienced leaders in the church—an argument broke out. Two of the elders were adamantly disagreeing about something. As they argued, tempers started to flare, words were exchanged … and it escalated to a point where one of the elders pulled a Miles Finch.

Yep. He stood up and started to crawl across the conference table to exchange blows. The other elders had to hold him back before the punches started flying. Not exactly church fellowship at its finest, was it?

If you live under the same roof with another human being, sooner or later you’re going to argue about something: maybe about the bills, maybe about who’s supposed to do the dishes, maybe about who left the toilet seat up. Similarly, if you have a church family, sooner or later you’re going to argue with another brother or sister in Christ about something. You don’t live with a clone of yourself, and you don’t go to church with a clone of yourself. So, there’s bound to be some conflict along the way. In the Book of Acts, an unexpected conflict came up between two of our favorite church leaders: Paul and Barnabas.

Paul and Barnabas made a GREAT team! They did amazing ministry together in their home church of Antioch in Syria. They led great numbers of people to a saving knowledge of Christ. Then they joined forces for their first missionary trip, spreading the gospel and planting healthy, self-sustaining churches throughout Cyprus and Galatia. But at the end of Acts 15, they had an argument that tore their relationship apart.

After Paul and Barnabas had been back home in Antioch for a while, Paul suggested they go back to visit the Christians in all the towns where they had preached the gospel and planted churches (v. 36). Barnabas thought this was a great idea. But then Barnabas suggested taking along his cousin John Mark (v. 37). And Paul basically responded, “Over my dead body!” (v. 38), remembering that John Mark had jumped ship early into their first mission trip. So, the argument began. Verse 39 says that “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company”—and as far as we know, they never did ministry together again.

It pains me to say this, but it seems clear to me that these two great heroes of our faith—Paul and Barnabas—screwed up. They could have come to a God-honoring compromise … but they didn’t. And I believe God placed this incident in the Bible without sugar-coating it so that you and I don’t make the same mistakes in our marriages, in our families or in our churches.

So, how do we argue in a way that honors God and nourishes relationships? Here are 3 keys:

Key #1: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). When I think about the most immature, toxic arguments I’ve had with my wife, my kids or with other Christians, they have this in common: I talked too much. I listened too little. And I became angry too quickly. Can you relate? Never forget: God gave you two ears and only one mouth for a reason.

Key #2: Even if it seems to be out in left field, work hard to see and understand the other person’s point of view. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). So often we climb on top of our moral high horses and make the case that our opinion is so much more right and biblical than the next guy’s opinion. Believe, really BELIEVE, that the person you’re arguing with is better at certain things than you are and smarter in many ways than you are. So, listen to them, learn from them and understand their point of view. It’s valuable. They are valuable. 

Key #3: When both sides have validity, seek a wise compromise. Moral compromise is sin. But loving, submissive compromise is very Christlike. During his ministry years, Jesus routinely sacrificed his own personal comforts and preferences for the good of those around him. And He’s calling us to do the same.

Barnabas had a deep desire to give his nephew Mark a second chance. Paul had a deep desire to assemble a trustworthy, hard-working team of missionaries to do the best work possible. Both perspectives were valid. Both men made some great points. So, if they had been living out these three keys, their knock-down, drag-out argument could have turned out so much better. God ended up using their breakup in an amazing way. But that doesn’t mean their rift didn’t grieve His heart or cause their church collateral damage.

So often what we argue about is not sinful, but the way we handle the argument IS sinful. And sin always causes damage. So, let’s honor God by handling our arguments and disagreements wisely—like Jesus—with humility, love and grace.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit

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