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Bruised Reeds, Second Chances and Finishing Well Part 9: How long is it going to take?

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along,… If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church… Matthew 18:15-17 (NIV)

I have dealt with many people who read Jesus’ words on reconciliation and restoration as if they are a guide to a military surgical strike. The target is there…Train your missile on the target…Fire. The target is wiped out. One, two, three. Quick, simple and precise.

In my experience, when dealing with a relationship broken apart by sin, it is never quick or simple, and often not precise. What concerns me most of all as I watch believers taking a stab at Jesus’ instructions is that they either never get beyond the first step before they wash their hands of the situation, or they jump right to a power play involving universal shaming to try and force the recreant to do what is right! More often than not, believers respond with condemnation instead out of a humble desire to see the person made whole.

How long should it take to get through this process? How long should it take for someone to get it—that they have messed up and have damaged their relationship with you and others? Or damaged themselves and their relationship with God?

It depends.

  • It depends on how much you love them.
  • It depends on whether they are defying God or just disagreeing with your assessment of the situation. Sometimes you have to work through your own blindness about what it is that needs to be addressed before you can approach them to win them over.
  • It depends on how deeply you have sought to understand why the person sees things the way they do—to convey that you are ready to empathize with them, to weep with them.
  • It depends on whether they really understand how to become whole. There is a difference between accepting that I am damaged and understanding how I was damaged. There is a difference between my desire to change and being changed so that I stop doing damage to others.
  • It depends on the work of the Spirit and prayer. Sometimes we can be right in what needs to be addressed but respond out of our own wisdom and power. That never ends well.

How long does this take?

Again, it depends on how you define the win. I was invited to work with a group of elders who defined the win as ‘them winning against the pastor’. They had been going at this the wrong way for over a year. When I pointed out that obeying Jesus in being reconciled was the win, they made it clear they were NOT going to do that. They seemed to feel that they had been in conflict long enough to justify going out the door instead of doing the hard work of being reconciled.

To be honest, the win is more eternal than a timetable. As a person who has been given a leadership role in Jesus’ church, it matters eternally how you choose to respond to what Jesus said in Matthew 18. It matters eternally because young believers are watching you to learn how mature believers handle themselves. It matters eternally for you to hang in there and be open to being wrong in your assessment of why a bruised reed is acting in the manner he or she is acting. It matters eternally whether you obey Jesus or not—whether you deliberately break a bruised reed in your desire to fix in a hurry someone who has sinned. It matters eternally because you might someday be the bruised reed who needs to be confronted. If you live by the sword, you will certainly die by that same sword.

In the pursuit of reconciliation, sometimes you will find that you will need to play the long game to win. I speak from experience here. I got caught in a conflict with believers that divided and hurt people, including some in my own family. The easier road was just to write them off and move on. But I said to my wife as we discussed the situation, “We have to do what mature Christians do and pursue reconciliation.” I did not realize that it would take two years. This was no quick fix. But we hung in there until the day came when every person involved was won over.

My wife and I were recently recalling that experience. Instead of continuing to be bruised reeds, this experience allowed us to see these believers grow up some more in their faith. Playing the long game allowed us to see God restore people who would have been lost from our lives otherwise.


-Steve Smith