Healthy Conflict?

Whitney Capps

Day: 17 | Plan: Acts

Today's Reading: Acts 15

Acts 15:8-9 (NIV)“God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”

Conflict in the Church. Anybody else comforted to learn that it’s been a part of church life since the beginning? In Acts 15, the Church is in its infancy, and the apostles are proclaiming the gospel and growing the church. This new church growth involves Jews and non-Jews. The church leaders were trying to decide how they would know that non-Jews were now followers of Christ.

This brought necessary but healthy conflict. Healthy conflict? Yes. Healthy conflict. We don’t think about conflict that way, do we? We rightly consider 1 Corinthians 1:10 that tells us not to have division among us. How do we reconcile Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians in light of this debate found in Acts 15? Is it possible that there is good conflict that refines us, clarifies truth and builds up the Church? Is it possible that this is different than the petty division Paul was talking about (and the kind we often see in the church today)? I think so.

Even though there were differing opinions about circumcision and food offered to idols, when you read Acts 15 you’ll see that this was a huge issue that the church needed unity regarding. Unity is often found on the other side of conflict … healthy, Holy Spirit- resolved conflict.

So what does healthy conflict look like? Let’s look at today’s chapter for insight.

First, healthy conflict is not necessarily free from passionate debate or disagreement. Acts 15:2 says Paul and Barnabas were in “sharp dispute” with those who taught that circumcision was required for salvation. Strong opinions don’t necessarily mean sinful opinions. We can sometimes assume that passionate people are prideful people. That’s not necessarily true. Passion can mean that we, and those with whom we disagree, are equally committed to understanding the truth of God’s Word.

Second, resolving healthy conflict focuses on the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. From our key verse for today we see that Peter, James and the other apostles don’t merely appeal to their own opinion of what should be right. No, they examine what the Law and prophets taught, as well as the fruit of the Holy Spirit as evidence to God’s will and work. They could see that the Holy Spirit was active in the life of the newly-converted Gentiles. Healthy conflict allows God’s truth to triumph. This is still true for us today.

When examining Scripture, it is necessary to first look at authorial intent, meaning what did the author intend to say to his audience? We must strive to understand that truth, not our intentions, applications or presuppositions.

Third, healthy conflict can bring clarity and peace. In Acts 15:24 we read that the Jerusalem Council, the meeting called to address this conflict, was convened because the believers were disturbed and their minds were troubled. By meeting together, examining the Word, and listening to the Holy Spirit, they were able to deliver the believers a letter of instruction, and “The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message” (Acts 15:31).

Conflict in the church can help us work through issues in a healthy, biblical way. None of us get everything right all the time. Wouldn’t it be great if rather than seeing conflict as disheartening and divisive, we could embrace the challenge to be sharpened and more Spirit-led? What if Christians became the picture of how to disagree with purity and purpose?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I dislike conflict, but maybe I dislike it because I do it in an unhealthy way. I’m learning that conflict is made more difficult when I critique others, crowd out reasonable arguments and claim, “I’m right!” Conflict can help me see and live out the truth of Your Word in a way that is more honest and holy. Help me not be defensive. I ask that where there is tension, I would let the Holy Spirit soften my heart to hear truth. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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