How to Disagree Biblically CLICK HERE TO READ

This is an extract from Craig Botha’s “How to disagree and still see lives saved” preached on 28 October 2012. Please read Acts 15:36-41. As we draw to an end of this Saving Lives series, we need to continue groing in our mission to reach the city with the gospel, especially Scottsville and the students around us, and see folks saved. People are getting on with it in the various arenas God has placed them, yet there is a continuous need for growth within GraceGen itself. I've been very conscious that we must go: wide with mission (called to the city not just our church) and deeper with discipleship; focusing on things of the Word and Spirit (Acts 19).


1.    Evangelism and Mission: We need God's help to create an atmosphere within our personal lives and GraceGen where unbelievers feel attracted to the gospel.

2.    Discipleship: To keep laying biblical life skills and foundations in the midst of a society that has largely moved away from them.



We can use Acts 15 practically to help us to disagree in a Christlike fashion: After a general dispute involving the whole church, a disagreement is settled regarding how someone may be saved… Jesus only or Jesus and the law? We will also see how personal disputes happen and what we can learn from Scripture about handling them biblically.

1.             God overrules our mistakes!

  • Note that disagreements, disputes and arguments will happen even in the church and among spiritual giants like Paul and Barnabas who had been ministering together for many years.
  • We have different ways of culturally and personally resolving issues and need the help of Scripture and God's wisdom.
  • God is big enough to overrule all things for the good and the KINGDOM OF GOD keeps advancing despite our mistakes and disagreements:
  • The gospel goes to Cyprus with Barnabas and Syria and Cilicia with Paul. All ends well later in Acts even though these two apostles didn't handle things very well here. Later there is reconciliation with Paul and Mark. As a young man Mark learnt many tough lessons at this stage (2 Timothy 4:11 ' get Mark in bringing with him, for he is very useful to me for ministry'). Mark learnt and received from different types spiritual fathers, even though his mom was widowed. Similarly there is a need today among our young men and women for such formation of life and spiritual skills and disciplines, beyond educational skills.
  • A change in the team: each apostle leading his own sphere in different regions for the gospel, also giving opportunity for the prophet Silas to join Paul and apply his prophetic gift.

2.             Neither men were wrong.

2.1   John Mark had deserted them and the next trip was going to be tough. Paul and Barnabas showed different personalities and perspectives in solving the challenge:

  • Paul wanted the right team for the job, being hot tempered and task oriented he put the work above the needs of the individual.
  • Barnabas responded as pastor and bridge-builder and family of John Mark, discerning promising qualities in his young cousin.

God used both men with their particular set of gifts and strengths to bring Mark to maturity. There doesn't always need to be a winner and a loser! Paul was right in being focused on the mission, and Barnabas was right in fathering this young man. We need both Paul and Barnabas is in the church today.

2.2    This is a question of style, not sin, and we must make sure that we don't attach a moral value or judgment to leaders that are different to us.

Jesus himself upheld truth but dealt with different people in different ways - he discerned how to deal with each person individually whether the adulterous Samaritan woman who could handle straight talk, the rich young ruler who he loved or the religious Pharisees who he confronted.

2.3   We can also handle disagreements and conflict in a largely cultural way or the way our family handled things when we grew up.

         For instance, we say that sometimes the English are too polite to be honest, and the Afrikaans speaking people are too honest to be polite. Sometimes in African culture issues don't get dealt with because we don't want to upset the peace, or you can't speak truth to power. We must ask “is the way I operate in disagreements more cultural or biblical?”.

3.            Pick the right time to speak:

3.1   Mark deserted Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:13 after a scary encounter with the sorcerer Elymas. They had different perspectives of the same issue for some time but hadn't had a chance to talk about it in depth. The same event lead to different conclusions.

3.2   Most things just need to be forgiven as we absorb the mistakes of others. Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive others. It is a choice, feelings will follow.

3.3   Matt 7:1-5 do you criticize specks and tolerate logs? Dealing with someone soul is more sensitive than a doctor dealing with the physical.

3.4    don't wait too long

3.5   begin to pray about it in order to give God's perspective

3.6   Plan your words. Don't begin by making statements “I will never take Mark with me on this trip!", but ask “do you really think Mark is ready for another trip with the team?”

4.    Learn to speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15. Paul and Barnabus were truthful with each other about their assessment of Mark. There is a need to speak out gospel truth today. If truth is not softened by love it becomes harsh, and if love is not strengthened by truth becomes mushy.

         Learn to tell the truth and empower others and yourself to receive the truth. Work on relationships so people feel safe to tell you the truth.

5.    Confront sin with wisdom. See Matt 5:23-24, Matt 18:15-17, Galatians 6:1-2.

5.1   Don't triangulate. (Triangulation is gossiping to a third party.)

5.2   Don't listen to gossip or secrets. Secrets alienate people.

5.3   Don't interfere by listening to gossip! Do the healthy thing and put the responsibility back where it belongs.

5.4   Send them back to the person who offended them or who they need to talk to. Matt 18:15.

5.5    Talk to people and not about people. Don't gossip via prayer!

5.6   Remember you can't change a relationship or situation of which you are not a part!

6.    Learn to speak truth to power - be a prophetic voice as a Christian.

         Our conscience as leaders should be governed by God's word and Spirit (good conscience 1 Tim 3:9), not primarily ruled by culture (weak conscience), or legalism (scrupulous culture). These issues constantly play out in the social arena in preparing for marriage, confronting family idols, corrupt business and government practices, personal choices, etc and need ongoing courageous biblical integrity as Christians! Traditional African morality is generally strong in areas of community harmony and sometimes weak in areas of individual moral responsibility, freedom of choice and conscience. Don't just submit to group thinking and those in authority

7.   Speak life. Not “Mark is a failure and deserter”, but “here we have a good young man who needs more time to mature. Look for good things you can affirm in others. Don't allow your relationship with a person to go back to zero after conflict. Change your thinking about the person and trust them again otherwise your belief system will be confirmed to you!

8.   Let the Holy Spirit control your speech because the devil is at work in all careless talk. When the heart is charged, the mouth has devastating effect!

9.   Make yourself approachable:

9.1   Listen when people bring you an adjustment or criticism. Look for the truth, the truth will set you free and can facilitate change and growth.

9.2    Beware of defense mechanisms used to fight off constructive criticism:

  • Denial and fear of rejection (Not me!)
  • Aggression and hostility (Hurry up I'm busy.)
  • Rationalizing mistakes (Pick holes in arguments and throw it out because the person may not be clear even though they may be right.)
  • Crying and pity parties (I knew we shouldn't have joined this church, no one really loves us here.)
  • Racism (There they go again!)
  • Interrupt and deflect truth.
  • Finding it very difficult to apologise. (Well I suppose you may have a slight point there!)
  • You withdraw from people or the Church and join the swelling ranks of the hurt ones! Notice later Mark reconnected with Paul.
  • You and your family sweep things under the carpet and never deal with stuff!
  • You make a joke out of things and keep it light hearted.
  • You settle for controlling relationships and choose needy friends where you stay in power. Notice Paul chose Silas - a strong brother and prophet after Barnabas!
  • You stand on your rights. In South Africa we now have a culture of human rights, not human responsibility.


Paul writes later (Philippians 4:2-3) to two women who are arguing, he holds up the gospel example of Jesus for them to follow. Also read Philippians 2:1-16.

Focus on forgiveness, confession, patience, honesty, truth telling, faith and love. We will have conflict in life but we must learn to handle ourselves like Jesus: Knowing God is with us always, sometimes you need the other person's perspective, pick a good time to speak, and speak the truth in love (1 Cor 13).

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