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Restoration in a Transformational Community 6: Learning from John How to Be a Safe Person

Learning to be safe requires that you first grasp what it will cost you to accept that those who mess up still belong to the family. This is neither easy nor cheap. According to all we know, John was the last survivor of the Twelve. He reportedly finished his life out as the overseer of the churches in the Roman province of Asia (modern western Turkey) after returning from his exile on Patmos. Clement, an early leader of the church in Rome, passed on the story that in John’s last years, he committed a young man who deeply impressed him to the discipling ministry of a pastor in one of his churches. John then returned to his home base in Ephesus. For a while the pastor diligently followed through. But at some point, he let up and the young man fell into the company of some pretty rotten characters, finally engaging in robbery with them. In time, he became their bandit chief, the most violent, most bloody, most cruel of them all.

Sometime later John returned to deal with an issue at this church. Asking after the young disciple, the pastor groaned deeply and burst into tears, saying, “He is dead to God, for he turned wicked and [became] a robber.” John was stunned with grief by this tale, but demanding a horse and a guide roade off  to find the young man. When he arrived at the robbers’ outpost, they took him prisoner.

Fearlessly, he urged his captors to lead him to their captain. As soon as the bandit chief caught sight of John, he ran as hard as he could to get away. But John, forgetting his age, pursued him, “My son, why do you flee from me, your own father, unarmed, aged? Pity me, my son; fear not; you have still hope of life. I will give account to Christ for you. If need be, I will willingly endure your death as the Lord suffered death for us. For you will I give up my life. Stand, believe; Christ has sent me.”

The young man stopped and wept, allowing John to embrace him. Falling on his knees, John kissed the young man’s right hand and assured him that he would find forgiveness from Jesus. He returned with John to the church. John stayed with him a long time until the young man was restored and he never wandered from his faith again.

Here is the starting point of being safe. You have to be willing to put even your life on the line for the person who messes up. If the wandering one knows you mean this, it changes the game. This is what agape looks like. “I love you no matter what you have done. You still belong and I will not let you go. I will sacrifice myself to make sure you do not.” The time you will give this person is not coming from one who is pouring out judgment or from someone who is standing in a place of superiority. The time is coming from someone who has experienced God’s love and is giving it to the person because they matter, whether they want to receive it or not.

Steve Smith