There is plenty of disagreement these days, about everything from sports to politics to church doctrine. From what I have observed, though, while some seem to embrace this conflict (!), I think that a lot of people are just tired of it.
In order to get a break from the chaos and arguments, some people just never bring up subjects where the other person might have a different point of view. By never asking or mentioning it, they avoid all possibility of disagreement. Others cut themselves off from sources where contentious subjects might surface, like social media platforms or certain situations. Still others just “agree to disagree”. On the surface, this latter approach might seem like the most peaceful solution, and I agree that there should be many times when polite people can have different opinions on something, and still get along.
For another perspective, let’s turn over to the second chapter of the book of Galatians (a letter from the apostle Paul to the church in Galatia). By way of context, though, Paul (in chapter 1) has – among other things – talked about his Judaism, and his conversion. Here, we learn that he spent time in Arabia, and only after a period of years did he go to Jerusalem where he met Peter and James. After that, Paul went to Syria and Cilicia, where his reputation as a converted persecutor of Christians seems to have preceded him.
In the second chapter, we learn about another trip that Paul took.
Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.
Galatians 2:1-2 NIV
So now, about a decade and a half has passed since Paul’s conversion. He has been busy, but he comes back to review his message with those in Jerusalem.
There are a couple of ways of looking at what Paul did, here. One interpretation is that he was double-checking what he had learned from Jesus and what he was preaching. However, once you’ve received a clear message from Jesus Christ, confirmed by miracles from God, you really don’t need anyone else – even an apostle – to agree with you.
Another viewpoint, and one that I guess that I hadn’t thought of, is that Paul wants the entire church to be united on this point of having both Jews and Gentiles in the church. In that sense, Paul is bringing a message and evidence (including witnesses like Barnabus) to those in Jerusalem, to make sure that they can clearly see how God has accepted Gentiles into His kingdom [ref. Boles, cited at the end of this article].
Within Galatians 2, verse 3 and verse 12 make me further believe that the corrupted message that Paul is battling against is that of the Judaizers, since he points out that Titus wasn’t required to become circumcised. By not compelling Titus to do so, those in Jerusalem confirm their agreement with the fact that one doesn’t have to become a Jewish person (nor follow all of the Jewish ceremonial laws) in order to become a follower of Jesus.
And, this fact (that Paul and the leaders in Jerusalem agreed upon) is indeed good news: Salvation is available for everyone, not just for the Jewish people, even though God chose to bring the message (and means) of salvation through His own people.
Going on in verses 7-9, we find other apostles welcoming Paul to continue in his ministry to the Gentiles. While other human beings’ points of view should not keep us from sharing the truth, the fact is that it feels a lot better when you find that other Christ-following people have learned the same thing as you did from the Bible and God’s leading. More importantly, when we can agree on God’s Word in the church, we maintain the unity that Jesus prayed for (see John 11:20-21, cited by Boles).
Paul, plus God, plus the truth, should have been enough, but now Paul wasn’t on his own in accepting non-Jewish people into the church.
So, I’m not looking to create more arguments in this world (see 2 Timothy 2:23), but sometimes we need to be bold enough to talk through a topic where we might not agree with someone. If it’s important enough to the Kingdom of God, it should be important enough for us to discuss it politely at the right time, even if there is some risk to our relationship with another person. Agreement isn’t necessary to teach the truth, but sometimes it can allow us to achieve something even greater than our own convictions.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for August 1, 2021
- The Lookout, August 1, 2021 © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Galatians & Ephesians, by Kenneth L. Boles. College Press Publishing Company, © 1993, p.32-60.