“When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.” — Acts 15:2
People love to fight. They might not admit it, but fighting and arguing is a way of life for mankind. It began with Adam and Eve blaming one another after their sin in the Garden. It continued with Cain killing his brother Abel. And it continues today in every arena of life.
This type of selfish, hateful fighting is wrong. But there is another type of fight that is right, and that is a fight for the truth. It is the what we see Paul and Barnabas doing in Acts 15 when they hear people teaching that works are a requirement for salvation (Acts 15:1 “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved!”)
The Bible says that Paul and Barnabas had “no small dissension and disputation with them.” Dissension is a difference of opinion that leads to discord. The same word is translated “sedition, insurrection, and uproar” in other places (Acts 24:5, Mark 15:7, Acts 19:40). A disputation is basically a disagreement or argument about something important.
And, we are told the had “no small” dissension or disputation. This was a really big deal to them, and rightfully so. The implications of this false teaching was that all the people in Antioch and the other places Paul and Barnabas had just returned from were not really saved because they were not circumcised. (To get the heart of God and Paul on this matter read Galatians.)
So, what we learn is that there are right fights and good arguments. Most of the fights and arguments we get involved in are petty, prideful, and unproductive. But there is a time to “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3; Gal 2:5). There is a time to strongly disagree and forcefully argue. That time is when the truth of God’s Word is at stake.
There are other Biblical passages that will inform the way in which we disagree and how we argue our points, but the point here is that we cannot tolerate things that clearly contradict the Word of God and the gospel of Christ. We need to always speak the truth in love, but it is never loving to compromise on the truth.
May God give us men and women of courage who believe the Bible and love the gospel so much that they are willing to dissent and dispute when false gospels are proclaimed (Gal 1:6-10). And may we also have the wisdom to identify when we are fighting about something foolish and repent of our pride.