I was on the outs with five people last week. It wasn't my best week. Today I am at peace with all five of them. That fact dawned on me while driving home from the market this afternoon: bang, bang, bang, bang, bang-five brushfires doused, five bloodlettings stemmed, five fellowships restored. Praise God!
Two instances were people I had sinned against. They weren't first-tier sins, but they were sins. The way I handled those was to ask forgiveness. I made the apologies twice in the course of the conversation, just to make sure they knew it wasn't a throwaway line. So then, the modus operandi was Matthew 5:23-24: "If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."
Two other instances were people who had sinned against me. Not third-degree burns, but somewhere between first and second. I went to each of them and told them I was hurt, and each of them told me he was sorry. Just the word sorry made me feel much better-so that was two more relationships squared away: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother."
The fifth was an offense against me that I thought about a while, and decided it wasn't significant enough to make an issue of. I arrived at the determination to overlook it: "Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense" (Proverbs 19:11).
I feel quite happy at the moment. Not with myself, precisely, but with the Lord. I had done things His way, and His way paid off. I have peace. Peace is nice, I like it. Please understand, I am not viewing this repentance business mechanistically, nor appreciating doctrine from a purely utilitarian point of view. Nevertheless, it is fun to see how well God's commands "work." I feel like I just bought a new double-flex rod "pocket fisherman," and it practically catches trout by itself.
I had considered staying mad at one of the above persons and writing a long letter educating him in better ethics. But my friend Kathleen told me that people who are mad at you don't learn much from you, so it would be a waste of time. Kathleen thinks like God.
Another thing that dawned on me was that my little triumphs were answers to a specific prayer I had been praying on automatic for a long time: "Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me" (Psalm 25:4). Here, then, was one of God's "ways"-if what you really want is peace, do this. If you are not interested in peace but in your pound of flesh, do it your way. I have tried both. His way is better in the long run. Growing up means being concerned about the long run.
The theological question of the perfectibility of the believers in this world has long been hotly debated. Christ says, "Be perfect," so if He commands it, I assume it is attainable in any given moment on the clock. "Absolute perfection" would have been not to sin against Joe to begin with. But I am learning not to take lightly this present moment's opportunity for the "relative perfection" of doing the right thing now that I have done the wrong thing.
When you are on the outs with five people is actually a good time to try out all the stuff you preach and say you believe. Right? Isn't this where it all has to mean something?
One of the persons I had confronted promptly emailed the following response: "Sorry. . . . Thanks for just now making me thankful, once again, that Christ died for all our sins." I read it and thought what a clever man he is, and wise as a serpent. It was all there in one sentence-apology; reminder of his own rightness based in Christ; and reminder that I am just as guilty as he is. It gave me no choice but to accept.