Are You Making Pearls or Just Getting Irritated? Rev. Tony Cooke

Are You Making Pearls or Just Getting Irritated? Rev. Tony Cooke

There is a great lesson for us in understanding the formation of pearls.  Natural pearls are formed when a grain of sand or another object slips in between one of the two shells of the oyster.  Because of the irritating nature of the sand, the oyster encapsulates it in layers of “mother of pearl” secretion, and the pearl grows in size as the number of layers increases and the iridescent gem is formed.

So the next time you find yourself in disagreement with someone (or someone in disagreement with you), ask yourself this question: “Am I just getting irritated, or am I making a pearl?”  Wisdom teaches us to benefit from disagreements and to make each incident, no matter how irritating it may seem at first, into a redemptive growth experience.

Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher (his friends just called him Cletus), said: “The unlike is joined together, and from differences results the most beautiful harmony, and all things take place by strife.”  My natural reaction to the word strife is to recoil against it as being evil and undesirable, and there certainly is a toxic form of strife that destroys and injures.  But there is another understanding of this principle that is far less sinister. 

When people with good hearts disagree, but are respectful and teachable, there is a great benefit that occurs.  This is the kind of advantage that is derived from the principle spoken of in Proverbs 27:17 (NLT): “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”  I have seen wonderful men clash over a disagreement, but because they kept an open-heart and didn’t write each other off, became best of friends (or resumed a great friendship), and both of them learned and were broadened because of what they learned in working through the disagreement.

George Whitfield had sharp disagreement with John Wesley on the Calvinistic-Arminian issue, and yet when Whitfield was asked (antagonistically) if he thought he would see John Wesley in heaven, Whitfield responded, “I fear not, for he will be so near the eternal throne and we at such a distance, we shall hardly get sight of him.” 

Cultivating the Art of Redemptive Disagreement

I have long been amazed at the graciousness, character, and maturity displayed by Peter after incurring the public rebuke of an angry Apostle Paul.  Paul not only corrected Peter in front of the congregation in Antioch, but then he related the event in his epistle to the Galatians, which resulted in the conflict being “replayed” over and over for believers in countless generations (Galatians 2:11-14).

While Paul was correct doctrinally, you’ve got to admire how Peter so humbly responded.  He probably felt hurt and chafed at the rebuke initially—that’s something we can only speculate about.  What we do know is that he ultimately allowed this experience to make him better, not bitter.  Lesser men, embarrassed, would have likely held a grudge and been driven to discredit Paul.  But Peter allowed the disagreement to season him and refused to let it to poison him.

Instead of operating out of insecurity because of Paul’s great intellect, Peter later honored and even defended Paul: “This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him—speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture” (2 Peter 3:15-16, NLT).

When I was younger (and operating out of much insecurity myself), it was vitally important to me to be right.  When I graduated from Bible school, I was nearly omniscient (or thought I was) and was on the alert to quickly defeat any belief or idea that did not agree with mine.  As I’ve aged a bit, it’s amazing how much less I know now than I did nearly 30 years ago.  I still hold strongly to certain core beliefs, and I think that is important.  But I’ve also learned to be more respectful of people’s beliefs, ideas, and viewpoints that may disagree with mine.  Instead of seeing them as threats to be defeated, I now see them as learning opportunities.  I’ve found it very liberating to embrace the attitude (in many non-essential matters relating to styles, methods, etc.) that “You don’t have to be wrong for me to be right.”  I appreciate the oft-stated principle, ‘In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.’”

Many wise individuals have learned to benefit, grow, and learn through conflict—they have cultivated the art of redemptive disagreement.  Consider the following:

“Agreement makes us soft and complacent; disagreement brings out our strength.  Our real enemies are the people who make us feel so good that we are slowly, but inexorably, pulled down into the quicksand of smugness and self-satisfaction.” (Sydney Harris)

“We find comfort among those who agree with us – growth among those who don’t.”  (Frank A. Clark)

“When we are debating an issue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I’ll like it or not.  Disagreement at this stage, stimulates me.  But once a decision has been made, the debate ends.  From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own.”  (Colin Powell)

“I have never in my life learned anything from any man who agreed with me.” (Dudley Field Malone)

“The people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know.”  (Napoleon Bonaparte)

“He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of a diplomat.”  (Robert Estabrook)

“A certain amount of opposition is a great help to a man; it is what he wants and must have to be good for anything.  Hardship and opposition are the native soil of manhood and self-reliance.”  (John Neal)

"Get a friend to tell you your faults, or better still, welcome an enemy who will watch you keenly and sting you savagely. What a blessing such an irritating critic will be to a wise man, what an intolerable nuisance to a fool!" (Charles H. Spurgeon)

• Benjamin Disraeli humorously said, “My idea of an agreeable person is a person who agrees with me.”

In “The Grace Awakening,” Charles Swindoll shared the following guidelines for modeling grace through disagreeable times:

  • Always leave room for an opposing viewpoint.
  • If an argument must occur, don’t assassinate.
  • If you don’t get your way, get over it, get on with life.
  • Sometimes the best solution is separation.

On that fourth point, Swindoll cited Paul and Barnabas, and said, “If I can’t go on with the way things are in a particular ministry, I need to resign!  But in doing so I should not drag people through my unresolved conflicts because I didn’t get my way.  If separation is the best solution, doing it graciously is essential.

I trust that we’ll all be receptive to the wisdom and grace that will enable us to do what Paul said in Romans 12:18 (NKJV):  “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”