Christian Living, Church, Culture & Society

Six Reasons It is Hard to Forgive / Eight Steps of Reconciliation

                                                     AN EXPOSITION OF ACTS 15:36-41

36And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.

37 And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.

38 But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.

     39 And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;

     40 And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.

     41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the Churches.”

One objective of the Christian life is to try to find a way to take the fight out of conflict. People who are hurting want the pain to stop, and the hostilities to cease. Christians want to know how to make that happen. Therefore, by way of general introduction to such a study notice two important observations.

First, failure to consider the best interest of others is the major cause of problems in all-interpersonal relationships.

Second, from time to time even the best of people fail to consider the interest of others. In Acts 15: 36-41 there is a classic example of a good relationship gone bad. The wounds were deep. The pain was sharp. The immediate result was disastrous. The biblical narrative briefly tells how the conflict started, and what initially happened.

On the surface of the narrative, it seems like this issue could have been resolved, but it is not easy to compromise once a position has been taken. The passions are stirred up and must be subdued. Traveling the road to restoration and fellowship remains difficult to tread for several reasons.

First, there is unwillingness to believe the other person will change. If this point is held too firmly, there will indeed be a self fulfilled prophecy, for what happens is everyone stops trying to be different. If no one, or only one party is trying to change, than the situation appears hopeless.

Second, there is an unwillingness to forgive. Vengeance is sweet. Mark it down. There can be no restoration without forgiveness, and forgiveness is an act of the will. While forgiveness is more or less difficult, depending upon the nature of the offense, it is also easy to enjoy this emotional sin of the soul. There is an exhilarating feeling of moral superiority. There is a perverse pleasure in inflicting rejection on another person for there is a sense of power. However, a relationship can never be restored to cooperation as long as there is failure to forgive the other person. And the forgiveness might be unconditional.

Third, there is a fear of being hurt again. There is a code some people operate by, and it goes like this, “Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice, shame on me.” There is a natural tendency to build a wall of protection around self. The bricks of the mental wall are massive. There is the brick of silence. Who has not experienced the long periods of silence saying only what needs to be said and no more. There is the brick of distance. No longer is there the friendly physical closeness. The normal eighteen inches, becomes three or four feet, or more, in deliberate avoidance. Once all the relationship bricks of the barrier are in place, and the emotional and psychological wall of protection is secure, it is difficult to stop hiding behind the structure, to come into the open and so risk further abuse and pain.

Fourth, there is the desire for revenge. Romans 12:19 speaks directly to this point. The Bible says, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.” There is a tendency to want to take justice into our own hands. The Lord Forbids His people trying to get even. The Divine promise is still, “I will repay, saith the Lord.” The wisdom of this divine restraint is found in two facts.

First, when individuals take vengeance, they go beyond the measuring out of justice. That is just the nature of sin. The United States Constitution recolonizes this dark side of the soul and prohibits cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment. “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” “This amendment prohibits the federal government from imposing unduly harsh penalties on criminal defendants, either as the price for obtaining pretrial release or as punishment for crime after conviction.” (Bryan A. Stevenson and John F. Stinneford)

Second, when individuals seek to administer vengeance, they are consumed with the situation. There is little time for anything else. Exacting vengeance is time consuming, and drains the body of energy.

A fifth reason why it is so difficult to travel the road to restoration is because pride interferes. Pride is probably the biggest stumbling block in the way of restoring relationships to a cooperation style. Pride frequently hides individuals from thinking logically, acting rationally, and reacting properly. Pride makes it difficult for a person to admit any personal responsibility in a conflict, and recognize another truth, namely, there is one person who is more righteous than the other in the argument. Someone has started the conflict by saying, or doing, something that is deemed offensive. There is a spot of origin.

On December 22, 1847, future President Abraham Lincoln, then a Whig representative from Illinois introduced in the United States House of Representative what is known to history as The Spot Resolution. The Resolution requested President James K. Polk provide Congress with the exact location, the “spot”, upon which blood was spilt on American soil, as Polk had claimed in 1846 when asking Congress to declare war on Mexico. When the spot of the conflict is dismissed, when no accountability is embraced, the scope of a conflict will widen.

Sixth, there is the inability to forget the past. To forget does not mean to pretend a wrong have never happened. It does mean to not allow the past hurts to dominate the present conscious thinking. As there are definite obstacles to taking the fight out of conflict, so there are definite steps to take in the restoration process. Several crucial components can be recognized, the most important being to consider the need for the relationship. Of course a simple “I’m sorry” will not do a whole lot to a shattered relationship. The person who feels abused will soon be asking, “Who needs this?” Life is too short to be wasted in emotional pain, either given or received. Therefore, it is essential for all involved to recognize the need for the relationship.

In discerning the need for the relationship focus of attention should be on the following points.

First, identify why the relationship is needed. Usually, practical needs will be admitted and there is nothing wrong with that. Practical needs can be persuasive. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 provides several reasons why people need relationships.

Relationships are needed in order to be more productive. “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.” (Eccl. 4:9)

Relationships are needed in order to help someone else in time of need. “For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.” (Eccl. 4:10)

Relationships are needed in order to find warmth and comfort. “Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?” (Eccl. 4:11)

Relationships are needed in order to defend and protect one another. “And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Eccl. 4:12)

Second, once the need for the relationship is perceived, even if only for practical reasons, admit your personal contribution to the conflict.

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:3)

“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16)

Third, extend forgiveness, and ask for forgiveness. No one can control what another person does, but a person can control their own response. The Bible instructs Christians what the proper response is to be.

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 16:14)

“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” (Col. 3:12)

Fourth, begin to put the needs of the other person first. Time, sensitivity, and effort are needed to reopen the lines of communication to get reacquainted.

Fifth, begin acting out the qualities of love as presented in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Love is an act of the will, even more so than the emotions. When we do what is right, the emotions tend to conform to the behavior.

Sixth, focus on the positive. This is one of the most challenging things to do, especially when someone has been programmed as a child to think negative thoughts. And yet it must be remembered that negative attitudes never produce positive actions.

Seventh, trust God like those who have believed nothing is too hard for the Lord. “Ah Lord GOD! Behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee.” (Jer. 32:17)

Eighth, plan to be reconciled. Between Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark we know that reconciliation took place, for in 2 Timothy 4:11 we find Paul writing, “Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.”

Mark was profitable, for he gave to the world the very gospel that bears his name. What a loss it would have been if John Mark had not been reconciled to Paul, and Paul with Barnabas. We can conclude, with firm assurance, that there really is hope for hurting relationships.

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