Today’s Reading: Acts 15
I’ll always be thankful for my friend and mentor, Dr. R. T. Kendall, who during a critical time in my life quoted these words from an unknown source: “Always remember that the best of men are still men at best.” We all have our faults and flaws, even the greatest Christian leaders. In today’s reading, we will see how true these words are.
First let me tell you a revival story from the First Great Awakening in the 1700s that shook two continents. The awakening was spreading from England to a nation soon to form (the United States of America). What God did during that time became the DNA for the language used in our foundational documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Though the revival was great, it was not without controversy. Two great preachers and close friends, John Wesley and George Whitefield, who played significant spiritual roles during that time often found themselves in sharp disagreement with each other. Both men led countless thousands to faith in Christ, but they were at odds theologically.
Whitefield had traveled to the American colonies and when he returned to England, the men had a heated confrontation. Wesley wrote of the event: “He told me that he and I preached two different gospels; and therefore he would not only not join with or give me the right hand of fellowship, but was resolved publicly to preach against me and my brother [Charles], wheresoever he preached at all.
The best of men are still men at best.
Before Whitefield came to the end of his life, he asked Wesley to preach his funeral sermon. Wesley agreed, and while there, a woman approached and asked, “Dear Mr. Wesley, do you expect to see dear Mr. Whitefield in heaven?”
After a lengthy pause, Wesley responded solemnly, “No, Madam.”
“Ah, I was afraid you would say so,” she said.
“But,” Wesley continued, “do not misunderstand me. . . . George Whitefield will stand so near the throne that one like me will never get a glimpse of him!”
Just like the first Great Awakening, the first missionary journey of the church to take the gospel beyond Jerusalem had problems between its leaders:
After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. (Acts 15:36-40)
The greatest Christian of his time (Paul) and the greatest encourager of his time (Barnabas) had a sharp disagreement.
The best of men are still men at best.
I heard someone say it like this: “The church is like Noah’s ark. The stench on the inside would be unbearable if it weren’t for the storm on the outside.” Many times we stink, but the world is really stormy. Paul and Barnabas only traveled together on one of the three missionary journeys because of this fight. The sharp disagreement between them was based upon whether to take the young disciple John Mark with them. Earlier, the young man seemed to have gotten scared and deserted the dynamic duo. Paul thought John Mark’s actions should get him fired, but Barnabas wanted to give him a second chance.
When things are emotional, people tend to become illogical. The disagreement over John Mark became emotional and illogical. Sharp disagreement implies the emotional; separating and going different ways is illogical.
When we read how this disagreement ended, it’s good for us to consider some questions: Who do you have in your life who will tell you the truth? Who can disagree with you without the situation becoming disagreeable and defensive? Can your spouse, best friend, family member challenge your opinion—spiritually, politically, racially, socially—without it turning into a shouting match?
Here’s the truth: when you are shouting over a differing opinion, it isn’t the opinion that is revealing, it’s the yeller being revealed.
Two quick thoughts to use for the times someone disagrees with you:
First, get the second side of everything. Job 11:6 says that “sound wisdom has two sides.” You are not able to see everything and you are not able to know everything. Go in trying to find the truth not trying to be right.
Second, surround yourself with wise people, those who feed your soul, not your ego, those who won’t be afraid to disagree with you, who will force you to practice getting the second side. As Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (NLT). Prominent 1920s attorney Dudley Field Malone said it this way, “I have never in my life learned anything from any man who agreed with me.”
I am happy the Bible records the argument of the apostle and the encourager, but not so happy about their separation. In the end, God used Paul and Silas on the other two missionary journeys, however, I wish we would have seen a resolution instead of a separation between the two. But it really is true . . . the best of men are still men at best.