Sharp Disputes and Relationships

In youth group this Sunday we finished up a series on relationships. We specifically talked about how relationships change over time. Sometimes you step away from people you once had a great relationship with because of a disagreement or a different vision.

That was the case with Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15. Paul and Barnabas had to manage their “sharp dispute” over the effectiveness of bringing John Mark with them on their missionary journey.

Here’s the story: And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus (Acts 15:36-39). 

As I read through that passage and the rest of the account throughout the book of Acts, I observed four things that I think can help when it comes to relationships.

1. They stepped back. They realized they may need to get away from the situation and not continually let this one thing be a problem.

2. They gave it time. They knew that they were not going to solve their differences and needed to take some time away from each other.

3. They didn’t let it distract them. They ultimately had a mission to live out, and neither one of them were willing to let this stop them from that.

4. They remained friendly. Each of them continued to speak highly of each other and found each other’s ministry beneficial. In fact, I feel they kept in touch because Paul had to have heard of what was going on in the life of John Mark when, in the letter to Timothy, he writes that he is beneficial to his ministry.

It’s not easy to have sharp disputes with people, and often navigating that relationship after the dispute is one of the most difficult things to do. If we’re not careful, we can fall into the trap of gossiping and slandering the people who were once close to us. We could all learn something from the way that Paul and Barnabas handled their “sharp dispute.”