A good friend of mine from a wiser generation once said to me, “Your generation replaces things, my generation fixes them.” He didn’t mean to insult “my generation” or to somehow demean me. He was simply stating his observation. It struck me though and made me feel as though I was smaller or somehow - lacking. I didn’t learn the skills his generation took for granted. I don’t plumb, pound nails, bleed brakes, in fact, I don’t even pump gas anymore (I happily live in one of those states that doesn’t allow mere consumers to tackle such a challenging task). If the modern world of smart phones, iPads, texting, and Twitter came crashing down tomorrow I would have to learn how to do a thousand things I don’t presently know how to do. (Come to think of it – how would I learn them without “googling” them?)
I thought about this recently while studying the word “reconciliation” in the New Testament. It struck me that this idea of replacing instead of repairing has leaked into our dealings with relationships. Maybe leaked isn’t the right word – perhaps we’ve blown the entire gasket and precious fluid is spewing all over an overheating engine. (It was a head gasket repair my friend and I had been discussing. If you don’t understand the reference then ask a good mechanic from a "previous” generation) The point being, when relationships get tricky I think our culture (yes, our Christian culture as well) readily replaces them rather than repair them. Examples are not hard to find. Divorce rates are the same in the secular and sacred cultures. Church hopping is rampant. Our mobile culture sees families uproot and move often. Literally millions of former church-going folks are now sitting out due to damaged relationships.
Brothers, sisters, is a relationship disposable? Are we living in such a throw away culture that we discard people as quickly as plastic? Do we need a generation to speak to us about repair? Do we need to be reconnected with the teaching of reconciliation? Sadly, yes, and happily, yes! Sad that we have to relearn the art of reconciliation. Happy that Jesus Christ teaches us perfectly and with easy to understand steps. I didn’t say, “Easy to follow instructions.” They are not easy to follow but they are easy to understand.
Look at some of the simple instructions for relationship repair hidden within the reconciling actions of Christ. Jesus reconciled the Father to us and us to the Father and shows us the way to approach those with whom we need to reconcile. To keep it short we’ll just look at Romans 5:5-10.
- Start with Love. “because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” Vs. 5 When we are smack in the middle of conflict this sounds trite doesn’t it! Do you expect me to reverse and dismiss the agony and intensity of hurt this person or group has caused me “just like that”? No, and Yes. No, God doesn’t expect you to dial down true righteous indignation. Yes, God does expect you to follow the example of Christ through the unlimited power of the Spirit. How did He handle the undeserved hate, misuse, and pain of rejection put upon Him by his enemies?
- Recognize their Weakness. “while we were still helpless (having no strength)” Vs. 6 The relationship is broken due to someone’s weakness. Someone is unable to muster the might to approach reconciliation. In the case of our need for salvation – it was us. We were once the weak, helpless, unable to seek reconciliation ones. Realizing this, let’s give grace and be patient with the party we are in need of reconciling with.
- Wait for the Right Time. “at the right time” Vs. 6 We often press the issue and end up making a bad situation worse. People need time to process difficult issues and navigate hurtful relationships. We (my wife and I) had one experience that took five years to reconcile after repeated attempts – in this case timing was everything. In the believer's case, the Spirit wooed us with perfect timing. He won us with the grace of Christ patiently applied. We owe our brothers the same.
- Take the Initiative. “Christ died for the ungodly.” Vs. 6-7 The initiative of God is matchless; perfectly conceived, unselfishly provided, and generously applied. Someone needs to write a book on the initiative of God – what a boundless topic! Jesus commanded initiative in Matthew 5:23-24. He instructed us to cease (one form of) worship, seek reconciliation (another form of worship), and then return to worship. The act of worship involved in reconciliation with human brothers is actually more important (or at least precedes) our acts of sacrifice to Him. Powerful! By the way, when you take the initiative, be prepared for hell to break loose – the evil one does not like brotherly love. Expect to see anger, resistance, denial, tears, or any other tactic that will make the process more difficult.
- Demonstrate Love. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Vs. 8 Show that you meant what you said in Step 1. There’s a lot wrapped up in this word “demonstrate”. Saying something is so much easier than showing something! Salesmen say a lot of things – good salesmen prove the product. We may have to demonstrate our love for a loooong time before the other party softens enough to be approached. IMPORTANT: Sinners need to see love. Realize that you are approaching a fellow sinner and they don’t believe that you are any different than they. To have a fellow sinner reach out in love is often a scary thing but Spirit energized love will eventually win their heart. They may be an enemy for now but that didn’t stop Jesus from making the sacrifice – did it?
- Someone has to Sacrifice. “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Vs. 9-10 Notice I didn’t say, “Someone has to be sacrificed,” Jesus already did that. This step is that someone has to sacrifice something. It might be pride, position, restitution, revenge, time, money, or any number of things. In the case of our salvation, the Father and the Son were willing to pay the ultimate price to accomplish reconciliation with our black-hearted rebellious selves. God was angry and we were the objects of His wrath. He was also brokenheartedly seeking us in love. Jesus was the lovingly obedient redeemer, reconciler, and mediator of a perfect covenant of reconciliation. In cases of division, strife, disagreement, and hurt among brothers someone is often called upon to follow the example of Christ. Someone has to Sacrifice!
This is a very simple 6 Step Reconciliation Plan. Actual application of these steps can be difficult. We meet resistance because hurt, questioned motives, and self-contented denial may be at play. Note that it’s also a one-sided plan. This is all something we do without expecting any certain response. It’s an invitation. It might be rejected – we need to accept the rejection without offense. Jesus “despised the shame” but continued “for the joy” that was to be. He was not willing to discard one relationship but rather wished to reconcile all men to Himself. My brothers I hope you will seek reconciliation with every human for the simple joy of what lies ahead when brothers live in harmony! (Psalm 133) Let’s stop replacing relationships and start repairing them.