Tag Archives: Acts 15

Old Habits Die Hard

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses,you cannot be saved.”
Acts 15:1 (NIV)

Yesterday I was with a young manager my client has asked me to mentor. The manager described a particular conversation they’d had with a peer in another department. The conversation was about some procedural changes that would affect both of their respective teams. The manager described their opposing views and the conflict that arose as the procedural change was not going to be universally popular.

The manager described the conversation and the slow descent they felt themselves falling into as they dug their heels in and felt stubbornness consume them. In that moment there was no possibility of compromise. The manager recognized what had happened, even felt it happening in the moment, but had been unable to stop it. The manager then confessed that this was a deep-seeded, long-recognized pattern of behavior. And, it was not a positive one. They even recognized the source: “That’s my mother!” the manager said.

Along life’s journey it’s become clear to me that old habits die hard for every one of us. If we are to make progress on our journeys, whether personally, emotionally, relationally, and/or spiritually, it will require old habits to pass away and new patterns of thought and behavior to come.

I found today’s chapter in the book of Acts to be an inflection point. Through the first fourteen chapters the explosive and expansive growth of the Jesus Movement had everyone frantically trying to keep up. When systems experience that kind of explosive growth, the system quickly goes into survival mode, setting aside minor and/or complex matters just to address the giant issues that are staring everyone in the face. As equilibrium is found, the long suppressed issues begin to surface. That’s what I see happening in today’s chapter.

The Jesus Movement sprung from the Jewish tribe with its centuries old set of religious and behavioral customs. It was, perhaps, inevitable that some of the Jewish believers were going to want to retain and cling to their Jewish customs. Old habits die hard. In today’s chapter a few of these habitual believers from the Jewish tribe tell a bunch of believers who weren’t from the Jewish tribe that they would have to adopt all of their old habits and customs in order to be a true believer in Jesus. Primary among these old Jewish habits was the rule that all men would have to be circumcised. Yeah, I’m sure that went over like a lead balloon.

So we have conflict brewing between believers from the Jewish tribe and those from non-Jewish (described as “Gentile”) tribes. While Dr. Luke describes a fairly well-mannered meeting of the minds and peaceful solution, Paul’s description of events is different. Paul describes conflict between he and Peter. He describes conflict in the relationship between Peter, believers from the Jewish tribe, and believers from Gentile backgrounds (Read Galatians 2). In Paul’s description, Peter said that he was all for Gentiles not having to adhere to Jewish customs, but then he hypocritically acted with favoritism towards the Jewish believers. Old habits die hard.

Then at the end of the chapter we find Paul and Barnabas in a sharp dispute about whether to take John Mark on their next missionary journey. The argument ends in the two friends and colleagues splitting up. What I observe is that Paul’s behavior and words in these conflicts with Peter and Barnabas don’t reflect the new code of love that Paul himself describes in his letter to the Corinthian believers, but reflects more of the old proud, arrogant, temperamental and fiery Pharisee who persecuted the church. Yep, old habits die hard.

As I wrapped up the mentoring session with my young business protege yesterday we discussed that recognizing negative behaviors and feeling the negative results from them is the first step toward positive change. The manager described the subsequent meeting between managers, their heart-felt apology, and the constructive progress towards compromise that followed. Well done. Old things begin to pass away as new behaviors and habits are formed.

This is a journey and old habits die hard, but I’ve perpetually found that they will eventually change when I surrender myself to Holy Spirit, when I diligently pursue the person I was created to be, and when I make my mission to be a person marked and controlled by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, perseverance, and self-control.

Have a great day, my friend.

Different Times, Same Human Challenges

source: kurt-b via flickr
source: kurt-b via flickr
After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. Acts 15:36-41 (NRSV)

On occasion I will run across fellow believers who hold the early church with high esteem and want today’s church to look and behave in the same way. As I mentioned in my post the other day, I think it’s a bit silly to presume that it is even possible in most respects. Today’s chapter, however, reminded me of a couple of things:

The early church wasn’t perfect nor was it some kind of utopian organization. Read between the lines and you find that the entire period was marked by controversy, politics, arguments, and interpersonal conflicts. Today’s chapter starts with a controversy (i.e. should circumcision be required of all followers of Jesus) that broils into a debate among factions. Those Jesus followers who were of the Jewish sect of the Pharisees were vocal pro-circumcision. The Jesus followers who were non-Jewish Gentiles (and really didn’t want to go through the pain of a very intimate surgical procedure for no good reason) were passionately anti-circumcision.

The church, then and now, is made up of fallible people who inevitably find themselves in conflict. Today’s chapter ends with Paul and Barnabas having a such a sharp argument about whether to bring John Mark on their trip that they part and go their separate ways. Paul had written John Mark off because of an earlier falling out (Where was the forgiveness?) and Barnabas wanted to give J-Mark a second chance. It appears that there was no sweet agreement and reconciliation. There was no idyllic conclusion of unity. There was anger, sharp argument, and division. That sounds like every group of Jesus followers I’ve ever been a part of. So,  maybe we’re more like the early church than we sometimes realize.

Today, I’m reminded of things that change and things that never change. Daily life, work, and culture have changed drastically in the last twenty years let alone the past 2,000. At the same time, our human challenges of love, kindness, understanding, reason, acceptance, and reconciliation have never changed. They simply takes on new guises in changing times and places.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 15

from fredcamino via flickr

After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there. Acts 15:36-41 (NLT)

Like many couples, my wife and I are opposites in many ways. These polar personality traits serve multiple purposes. As a couple, our diverse strengths complement one another and make us more effective as a team in our circles of influence. Our differences also have the long-term effect of sharpening one another. I am reminded however, that when you put a blade on the grinding wheel to sharpen it, sparks fly. Hang out with Wendy and me for any length of time and you’ll see sparks flying as our differences hone our respective personalities towards a more effective edge for God to use. Humans with starkly contrasting personality types, perspectives and giftedness will create sparks of conflict when they interact with one another. It’s a natural result of the human equation.

The theme through today’s entire chapter is conflict:

  • Two men came from Jerusalem proclaiming something that stirred confusion and conflict among the community.
  • Paul and Barnabas argue with them.
  • Paul and Barnabas travel to Jerusalem where factions rose up around the issue.
  • More conflict follows the leaders make a decision that was clearly unpopular with some.
  • Paul and Barnabas have a heated argument over a previous conflict between Paul and John Mark, a former member of their team.
  • Paul and Barnabas split up and travel in opposite directions.

Conflicts are going to happen. The real issue is how we respond when they do happen. We can let them tear us apart, or we can work through them so that they positively shape us and make us more effective people – even if we choose to walk away in separate directions.