When Perceptions of Reality Clash

Each one of us views life's events through our own unique position in the world.  We bring our own backgrounds, experiences, knowledge and personalities into how we view each and every situation.

As a result, when trying to sort out a conflict, differing stories risk deepening the division.  The truth is Biblical, right?  So we pile the pressure of truth on the other party.  We try to convince one another of what we see as the ultimate truth.  But often, the divide unfortunately deepens even further.

I think we can take comfort in the fact that Paul and Barnabas had different perceptions of reality in their view of John Mark as they were wrestling over whether or not to take him with them on the next missionary journey. Acts 15:36-41 records the story:

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

The disagreement was so sharp that Paul and Barnabas separated.  They perceived John Mark's action of withdrawing from them in Pamphylia differently.  While Scripture lacks sufficient detail to know exactly what happened, it appears that from Barnabas's perspective John Mark had matured in Christ, that he should receive a second chance, etc.  Paul, on the other hand, seemed to perceive that John Mark lacked maturity and should bear the consequences of his actions.

A few observations:

  1.  We can take comfort knowing that even the best of people disagree on occasion. Scripture is honest and refreshing...it doesn't gloss over this conflict.  Disagreement is part of life.
  2.  Paul and Barnabas parted ways, but ultimately, they found a way to accommodate each other's perception of reality:
    •   In Colossians 4:10-11, Paul mentions John Mark who is with him, comforting him during his Roman imprisonment.
    •   In 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul wrote, "Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.
  3. While information is lacking in Scripture regarding Barnabas, it seems that both Paul and John Mark grew as a result of the situation.

It is probably safe to say that neither Paul, Barnabas or John Mark were "perfect" at the outset of the disagreement; however, God used the situation to perfect them.

While it can be very upsetting when people don't see things the way we do, we can take heart.  Here are a few suggestions that have started helping me work through disagreements that find their root in differing perceptions of reality:

  1.   Take comfort in the fact that even the best people disagree!  God grants conflict so that we turn our eyes to Him.
  2.   Accept the fact that other people see things differently.  This does not make them evil.  It just proves that they are different  : )
  3.   Think the best of others (1 Corinthians 13:7*, Philippians 2:3*).
  4.   While you are not obligated (and may find it impossible!) to accept another person's perception of reality, try to see and understand where they are coming from (Philippians 2:4-8).
  5.   Love the other person where they are, knowing that God is working out all things for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28).

*Philippians 2:3 "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves."

*1 Corinthians 13:7  "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

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