I have friends all over the world, literally. I separated from Marine Corps active duty in 2008 and was honorably discharged from the reserves this year. Today, my dear friends from the military are populating the entire East Coast, California, Japan, Iraq, and Afghanistan just to name a few locations. Despite these once intimate connections, there have been times when some of the relationships have unexpectedly turned for the worst. I have been left with a frown on my face, a question mark in my head, and a bruise on my heart.
What's worse is that the church is not exempt from wounding our own warriors. Particularly in women's ministry, the tragedy can occur by a woman who has been hurt or offended, so she inflicts her pain onto others. Recently, I saw this manifest with the woman leader whose pain makes her territorial, keeping her from allowing anyone else to come in with skills, giftedness, and ideas concerning her ministry.
The reality of these tragedies brought me to the Book of Acts, where I dissected Paul's relationship with Barnabus. We watched for several chapters as these men encouraged one another, ministered along side each other, traveled together, discipled believers, suffered persecution, and brought many to the knowledge of Christ. As a matter of fact, God set them apart specifically to minister in this capacity (v 13:2). Then BOOM, at the end of Chapter 15 they have a huge disagreement and part ways.
There are a few things that I observed about this disagreement that are critical to understanding the situation:
1. They were both godly people. We know that Paul was God's chosen man to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. The bible describes Barnabus as, "a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith" (v 11:24) and one who brought several people to the Lord. Paul and Barnabus were not only good men; they were strong godly men who had kingdom work as their priority. One did not intend to do the other harm.
2. They were in agreement concerning the issue. Both Paul and Barnabus agreed to visit the churches where they had previously ministered to see how the brothers were doing. Their desire and focus were exactly the same.
3. The division was a result of "how" to go about accomplishing the mission at hand. Isn't that often the case? We may all agree about what to do, but not how to do it. Barnabus wanted to take John; Paul wanted to take Silas. As far as we know in the Scripture, this was certainly the end of their ministry together, and might have even been the end of their relationship.
There is wisdom in these short passages concerning our friendships:
1. It is important to discern the healthiness of a relationship, and whether or not God is drawing it to a close. I have heard it said that we get into trouble when trying to turn "seasonal" people into life-long partnerships. In other words, God places certain people in your life for a season (it may be a short or lengthy period of time); however, it was not God's intention for the relationship to be a long-term or permanent one. Yet, because we love a person, have become attached, and value the relationship, we do not want to let go, even when it is clear that we should do so.
In different situation, a friend may simply be disagreeable. We are called to live in peace with each other, and if that is not possible, we may have a good cause to part ways.
2. If you must part ways with a friend, do not sin in your anger. This is a tough one because we all have a strong desire to be vindicated. Yet, we are emotional people and sometimes can become bitter, yield to the desire to tell our side of the story, and thereby cause division among friends. We do not have evidence that Barnabus or Paul did those things. I think that Paul could not have ministered as effectively as he did after this disagreement, had he harbored bitterness and resentment in his heart against Barnabus. When placed in a disbanding situation with a friend, I encourage you to speak the truth in love, then remain silent concerning the issue or only speak words that will uplift your friend, and finally, make a clean break.
It is tough to follow these lessons because a period of grieving is sure to follow if you make the tough decision to part ways. Unfortunately, these lessons could also result in rumors and untruths circulating about you. However, take comfort in knowing that if your friend meant evil against you, God will know it. If you have done the right thing, God will know that too.
Have you experienced a significant loss of a friendship, and wondered to yourself, What happened?