Text: Acts 15:36-41. March 18, 2012
1) Differences between spouses: In May 1884, two young parents disagreed about what middle name to give their newborn son. The mom preferred Solomon, the dad, Shippe---both family names. Because John and Martha Truman could not agree, they came up with a solution on í░S.í▒ Thus Harry S. Truman would become the only US president with an initial for a middle name. Over 120 years later, we still know about this conflict, and also know they had come up with a reasonable solution.
2) Differences between coworkers: In the New Testament, we read about another disagreement that has lived on in history. This is between two faithful servants of the Lord: Paul and Barnabas. (Acts 15) Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them on a trip to check on some churches (v. 37). But Paul did not trust Mark because of an earlier incident (v. 38) Paul and Barnabas both had strong opinions that they parted ways in their missionary journeys. (v. 39) We still read about this argument 2,000 years later. Paul apparently reconciled with Barnabas later and in his final days, he asked for Mark to be with him because í░he is useful to me for ministry.í▒ (2 Timothy 4:11)
THE BRIGHT SIDE OF DIFFERENCES:
1) God created things differently: í░Then God said: Let the earth produce vegetation: seed bearing plants, and fruit tress on the earth bearing fruit with seed in it, according to their kinds. And it was soí▒ (Gen. 1:11) When we look at how God created the earth and everything in it, we see the wisdom of God in creating many different things and different ways. When God created human, he also created man and woman. (Gen. 1:27) Even with identical twins, we see many differences in them, except their looks. Why did God create things in so many varieties? Letí»s find out a few reasons.
2) Differences make things interesting: Would you like to see all people with same look, same height, same weight, same personality, same interest, have same hobby, play same game or sport, eat same food, wear same clothes, the list goes on and on. Will you like the world this way? How about trees, flowers, fruits, fish, birds, etc? Do you like to live in a house that is exactly the same as all your neighbors in size, design, color of bricks, etc? Do you like to go to a store and find out all the clothes, shoes, shirts, dishes, cups, etc are same in size and color, in material and design? God is amazing. He knows us much more and much earlier in our life, so he made so many things in so many ways so we have all the varieties to choose, to use, to enjoy. Do you agree that God is amazing?
3) Differences bring broader perspective: None of us have the ability of seeing all 4 sides of anything at the same time: a person, a house, a tree, a mountain, or anything else. When God created us with differences in seeing things, perspective in interpretation and feeling, differences in focus and value and when we all work together, we will see things in a much broader view, deeper understanding so we may make better decisions for greater results. The value of teamwork rests on this: we are incomplete and we need each other.
4) Differences make life more enjoyable: When my wife was in Dallas, helping my son and his wife raised their twin babies, I was home alone in Memphis. One of the things I missed was the varieties of food she used to cook each day. I can cook only very few things and when I do cook, usually it is only one dish and I will eat that same dish for 2 or 3 days. By the end of the 3rd day, just the smell of it made me want to throw up. When God bring different people who contribute different things to our life, they make life far sweeter than just our own. This is true in more than just food. That is why we love to travel to different places, see different people and culture, taste different food and buy different things. In most cases, monotonic life is boring life.
THE DARK SIDE OF DIFFERENCES:
1) Differences create misunderstanding: This is more evident in cultural and language differences. Many international corporations spent millions of dollars in training of their staff before they embark on business ventures in countries of different culture and language. Misunderstanding between spouses of different culture and language create many funny stories and serious conflicts. Cultural differences also relate to values, traditions and approach of doing business and personal interaction. In many cases, differences make it difficult if not impossible in getting things done properly and smoothly.
2) Differences create segregation: Segregation by differences of race, socio-economic classes, language, culture and life style, just to name a few. In any society or community, people are divided along the above mentioned lines. Segregation creates many problems in classes and between the classes. History proves that differences create discrimination that leads to mistreatment of each other.
3) Differences create tensions: Class war-fair has been political weapons for centuries: the poor versus the rich, the ruled vs the rulers, employees versus the employers, just to name a few. This is why Communism was popular in the early 20th century because they used tensions between class differences to rally revolution. Even in todayí»s America, politicians still use differences in socio-economic differences to wage war fair against each other. Racial difference is another weapon used by politicians to create conflicts between classes. Since class differences will always be there, conflicts between them will stay forever.
4) Differences hinder cooperation: When God confused the language at the building site of the Tower of Babel at Shinar, the building project was abandoned because they couldní»t cooperate to get the job done. (Genesis 11:1-9) This is true in many family, community and person groups. When Memphis City School proposed to join Shelby County School, lots of problems and distractions were encountered. Even after the proposal was approved, suburban municipals started to split from the Unified School Board by setting up their own school systems. This is because of the differences of purpose, benefits and use of resources. Cooperation from different groups of different purposes is hard to achieve.
TACKLE DIFFERENCES IN GODí»S WORK: (Acts 15:36-41)
1) Differences in Godí»s work: The need of unity among Godí»s people and work is a huge subject of importance. It is so important that Jesus included this subject in his final prayer before he was crucified. (John 17:20-26) Many churches got injured even destroyed not by the power of Satan but by the power of internal strife. Differences in opinions, ways of doing things, priority and approach oftentimes divide God work and injure many faithful. This is true particularly among leaders of Godí»s work like Paul and Barnabas, Euodia and Syntyche of Philippi. Because these were people who made decisions for Godí»s work; oftentimes they had differences on what, who, where, when and how to do things.
2) It comes from human perspective: Both Barnabas and Paul had good reasons to insist on their differences, so, there is no fault on either side. But that doesní»t make the splitting some thing right or glorious as example of godly servants. In most cases, when coworkers in Godí»s church have differences, no one is at fault, and no one is willing to back off for the unity of the church. Unless it is on doctrinal and moral issues which we need to stand firm without compromise, all other issues on what, when and who or how, etc. are trivia issues. When people are so strong on insisting their opinion and approach, differences can become reasons of splitting Godí»s work. If you are entrusted with position and authority in Godí»s work, you need to be very careful not to hurt Godí»s work by your personal pride or arrogance.
3) The end doesní»t justify the means: Some may argue that it may not be a bad thing to have two mission teams instead of one by splitting Paul and Barnabas and involved others in the process. That is a side track issue to make the end justifies the means. The record of this event in the Bible is not about starting mission teams but about strife between two faithful servants of God because of their insistence of opinions. Any time we try to justify a failure by ignoring the facts, we miss the teaching of the word of God. This story shows the weak-ness of Godí»s servants so we may not stumble as they did.
4) Never too late to mend the net: We doní»t know the details of Paulí»s change of his mindset and the way he restored friend-ship with Barnabas, later he recognized that Barnabas was right to give Mark a second chance in Godí»s work. When he wrote to Timothy in his final days of life, he asked Timothy to bring Mark to him because í░he is useful to me in Godí»s ministry.í▒ (2 Tim 4:11) In the case of differences of two women at the Philippian church, Paul sought assistance from local leaders to help them resolve their differences so they may be united in their service in Godí»s church. Never allow the wounds of strife continue to bleed. Repent, be humble and seek reconciliation to mend the net.
1) Blessed are the peace makers: I doní»t believe in compromi-sing without principle, but I believe in making peace with people who are different from us. God didní»t make all of us the same, and differences are part of real life. Remember, except in doctrinal and moral issues, all other issues are just personal preferences and are not important to create strife that may hurt God, his church and his people.
2) The beauty of differences: Not all differences are bad. Many of them are beautiful and necessary to make life attractive and enjoyable. Learn to see people and things from different positions, you may see what you have never seen before.