Sharpened Under Tension
“…I opposed him (Cephas) to his face…” Galatians 2:11
One of the more intriguing verses in the New Testament is tucked away in the letter to the Galatians, chapter two, verse eleven and following. Apparently Peter (Paul addresses him as Cephas) was living the double life—embracing the Gentiles on the one hand, but when the Jews arrived, “withdrawing and holding himself aloof” from the Gentiles on the other. Paul took offense at the behavior and we are told that on meeting with Peter, opposed him to his face.
Two type A personalities from an expressive culture at cross purposes to one another would make most westerners very uncomfortable, to say the least. I imagine the tension in the room being so thick that, proverbially speaking, you could slice it with a knife. But it is important to understand the essential nature of such a confrontation was imperative to the progress of the Gospel and the extension of faith to the Gentiles.
Tension of this nature was not that uncommon. Consider Paul addressing two (unknown to us) women in the church at Philippi: I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony (literally to be of the same mind) in the Lord. We can believe that their tension was having an adverse effect upon the congregation there, and Paul was admonishing them to find reconciliation, for their sake, the sake of the church, and ultimately for the sake of the Gospel.
Or consider the events surrounding Paul’s second missionary journey. If you will recall, Paul and Barnabas were commissioned by the church at Antioch, under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, to take the Gospel to the frontiers of the Empire. It was a huge success! After some time elapsed, the two men determined that a second trip, more a follow-up endeavor, would be a splendid idea. However, such a sharp disagreement occurred that they separated from one another. We know from hindsight (a view that can offer tremendous perspective) that they actually were able to double their efforts, and Gospel of Christ went further still. To that we can say, “yay!”
Nevertheless, truth be told, many believers are quite uncomfortable with such tensions. I have found that we are really afforded three alternatives when encountering similar conflict: ignore it—People under tension can just go on with life with a blind eye in the hopes that it will resolve itself or simply just go away! It can be an attractive option for some. Run away from it—go in the opposite direction and get as far away from it as possible. Disassociate yourself from it altogether and declare that it is not my problem! In fairness to these alternatives, there may indeed be occasion where it is most prudent to ignore or run.
That said, the third alternative, in most cases, is the preferred route, face the issue head on. Too much is at stake, whether it be the growth potential in individual lives or the progress of the Gospel in our age. Quite frankly, conflict resolution, done correctly, always produces a life-transforming effect. Just as Solomon wrote, Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. But the key is to do it correctly. Here is the template I use:
- It’s a “hill worth dying on”—that is, either the gospel or the person would be adversely affected without intervention.
- The goal is always reconciliation—we are not WW2 bombers who fly into people’s lives, drop our payload, and fly off into the sunset. The purpose must always be to right the ship, as it were.
- It is saturated in grace and truth—that is how Jesus lived among us, we are compelled to behave likewise. Imbedded in grace is love (and thus see 1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
While division is rarely good, tension can generate opportunities not otherwise afforded us!
Blessings on the Journey,