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The Grace to Disagree
Scripture: Ephesians 4:29-32; Acts 13:13; Acts 15:3...
Track 8 of 11 in the The Freedom that Comes from Grace series
Running time: 59 minutes, 54 seconds.
So many ministries live on the edge of upheaval and border on controversy simply because there is no room for disagreement, no freedom to negotiate, no open ears to those who have a different opinion.

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Mike Nobis Speaker: Mike Nobis
Sunday School Teacher, Former Elder at Madison Park Christian Church. Mike is President of JK Creative Printers & Mailing in Quincy, IL. He is married to Pam and has three children, Tom, Tyler and Jennifer. Mike has three grandchildren: Ryne, Ivy and Alicia.

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The Grace to Disagree

Is it possible for Christians to disagree without being disagreeable? How is this done? What is required?

True or False: The older we get, we can expect to become more brittle in our reactions, a little more tedious and stubborn in our opinions.

For many, this is a natural trait as they grow older; but it doesn’t have to be so especially with Christians. In fact, one would expect that the longer a person is a Christian, the more impact Grace will have on a person life and behavior. But unfortunately, the church many time acts just like the world especially when dealing with disagreements. The church can be very mean and cruel when dealing with those who disagree with us.

When one thinks about grace, I bet many don’t include the topic of grace in their thoughts. How many sermons have you heard lately dealing with grace but directly preaching about disagreements? So many ministries live on the edge of upheaval and border on controversy simply because there is no room for disagreement, no freedom to negotiate, no open ears to those who have a different opinion.

Is disagreement healthy for a congregation? How can disagreements exist in a congregation that has unity and experiences harmony? Can both exist? How many of you have received critical mail before, or an email or a phone call? How many of you set things up so you never get to read critical mail, etc.?

I read once where a preacher stated publicly that he would not have anyone on his board who says, “No”. Now, is that realistic and is that preacher just asking for trouble? But there is another side of this issue we have to confront and deal with and that is how do we state our disagreements with one another GRACIOUSLY? Personally, my natural tendency is to go on the defense first unless the person delivering the message is someone I greatly trust. I am working to change that in my life and it is slowly changing for the better. But I bet most people don’t like criticism.

What do you think? Is our society today getting freer in expressing criticism? Are we more gracious or does it seem everyone is expressing their disagreements with a much harsher tone?

True or False: The general rule is that criticisms are tactless, blunt, accusatory and sometimes sarcastic. The most offensive ones are usually left unsigned.

What does a letter full of criticism sent to you unsigned say about the sender? Should a person read letters that are unsigned? Unfortunately, some of these letters of criticism can be called “Hate Mail”. Now who, within the church, would actually send hate mail? Is it going too far to suggest that “hate mail” actually exists within the church and are sent by actual Christians?

Why would a Christian send hateful letters of criticism to other Christian individuals? Even worse, why would they send these to those outside of Christ?

Sending messages of disagreements are okay and part of the Christian experience. However, there is a strong bit of wisdom to apply when doing this:

• Think before you write your disagreement. Pray your disagreement out loud before God in secret.
• After writing your disagreement, wait at least one day before sending it and then re-read what you wrote.
• Filter what you send. Have someone you trust and who knows you to read your message and make comments before sending the message.

There has been many letters and emails I stopped and never sent because they were written with my emotions and not from Godly guidance and wisdom. Allowing time has saved me from making serious mistakes. I have found that it helps to pause and put myself in the other person’s place and imagine myself opening the letter and feeling the sting of my words. In our world today with the instant nature of our communication and the many public ways to display our thoughts and words, bitter and harsh works can do tremendous damage to the person receiving the message, to the one who sent it and ultimately, to the ministry of God’s Word.

There is a very wise old saying that says:

“Write your criticisms in dust, your compliments in marble”

Paul sums it all up in the letter to the Ephesians 4. My wife Pam pasted verse 29 on the mirrors of our kid’s bathroom so they saw it every day. To this day, she still hammers them with this passage and never lets up.

Ephesians 4:29-32 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

What I find fascinating about this passage, it doesn’t say that we aren’t to disagree. In fact, disagreements are part of life. A church that lives in freedom will from time to time run into problems as it works out its freedom. All Paul is saying, just be nice. In whatever you say or write, be nice in doing it. Be tactful, use graceful ways to communicate your differences. Rudeness is never appropriate. Without exception, kindness is.

There are some things I think we can agree on concerning disagreements. In fact one older lady said it many years ago, “Life ain’t no exact science”. What do you think she was trying to say?

1. Disagreements are inevitable – One of the greatest things about God and the freedom He gives to each of us, with that comes variety and many different ways people will express life. The downside is there will be many different ways to live life and sometimes differing opinions will arise.

We will see opposing viewpoints, a variety of perspectives. There are different tastes as well as preferences. All of these are great for a church. Also, all of these have destroyed churches as well.

True or False: I am fairly firm in my theological convictions, but that doesn’t mean you must agree with me.

In our relationships with others, we must leave “Wobble Room”. Wobble room is not tolerance of the wrongs that others do. What “Wobble Room” is, it is when my theological persuasion doesn’t bend, but my involvement with others must. Is wobble room Biblical? Did Jesus use wobble room?

2. Even the godly will sometimes disagree:

How can two people who love the Lord with equal passion and love the Bible with equal zeal come to different conclusions sometimes?

Questions to think about

Is God less narrow than many of His people are? Is God much easier to live with than most of his followers? Is He more tolerant and more apt to forgive than we are? Why is that? Is there something wrong? I believe what is wrong is our understanding of what grace is. I sometime think we haven’t got a clue what Jesus would do in many situations. WWJD is a whole lot harder that we think especially when a lot of us have a false concept of God.

I want to be a little blunt here, if you are someone who goes before God regularly and asks God to forgive you of the sins you committed that day, His answer back to you is “What sin?” Not only are our sins forgiven, they are forgotten. Yet, since we struggle so much with forgiving sin ourselves, have trouble with forgetting, we assume God deals with sin the same way we do…not true. We have to get this in our heads; there will be no denominations in heaven, no categories of Christians, only a vast company of saints. Only then will there be complete unanimity of heart and perfect harmony. Until then, count on it that there will be disagreements.

3. In every disagreement there are the same two ingredients:

Issue: This is usually objective and involves a principle
Viewpoint: These are subjective and involves personalities.

Herein lies the problem. Disagreements are usually are over an issue with clashing points of view.

4. In many disagreements each side is valid.

Think about that a minute. Before you toss this aside, consider how true this really is.

Are most disagreements over a "I-am-right" matter or really over "I-see-it-from-this-perspective" matter? I venture to say that most of the disagreements are over perspective and not what a person believes to be right.

When these happen, in most cases, both sides have strengths and weaknesses which mean neither side is considered a slam dunk.

True or False: Sometimes, our disagreements are a result of God’s will and not from sinful acts.

A real good example of this is when Paul and Barnabas split over a disagreement in Acts 15. This was no little disagreement. This was a serious fight over the wisdom of keeping a certain person in the ministry with them. The person involved was Mark, the eventual writer of the Gospel of Mark.

Acts 15:36-41 Sometime later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

True or False: Grace leaves no room for a few clashes.

The great G. Campbell Morgan wrote how he was relieved that Paul and Barnabas disagreed on things. He saw this as a very positive thing. How can disagreements like Paul and Barnabas be positive? What was the disagreement about? Acts 13:13

So, when we find ourselves in situations where there is disagreement, how do we model grace to those around us?

1. In your own mind, leave room for an opposing viewpoint. There are always other ways to do things. Yours is not the only way. When we think ours is the only way, that is when we find out that we are really wrong.

2. If an argument must occur, don’t assassinate. Debate and hash things out, don’t hit below the belt or go for the throat.

3. If you don’t get your way, get over it and go on with life. Too many Christians view disputes as all or nothing events. Too many also revert back to their childhood and act like babies by running off and refusing to play.

4. Sometimes, the best solution is a separation. There is great Biblical support for this. Even in Babylon when the people refused to subdue the earth, God forced them to separate for the good of mankind.