It wasn’t just a change of mind or even just a change of heart. It was a drastic and very public change of identity. This was a family splitting, friendship-ending shift from one extreme to the opposite end. It happened privately among a small group of people at first, but then it became public.
Change, even when it is a private, internal, baby-step type of change, isn’t easy. Public, lightening speed, monumental change usually leaves you humbled and everyone else doubting your sincerity. Change over time can be seen as an accomplishment. “That’s what I thought or did years ago. I’m different now.” Quick change involves admitting you are wrong right now leaving you easier to be kicked since your nose is currently in the dirt.
Imagine that days after an athlete physically assaults his wife, he stars in a public service announcement against domestic violence. It would be received as an unbelievable joke. People can’t authentically change that fast. He’s only sorry because he got caught.
Just several days, 20 verses, after being described as “breathing out murderous threats” against the followers of the “The Way”, Paul began “preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:20) He still had blood on his hands from his role in the stoning of Stephen! The letters giving him permission to imprison men and women for their newly found faith were still in his back pocket.
How deep is your grace? Is it deep enough for Paul? Or, would you want him to pay first? Too often our “justice” is about punishment – someone getting what they deserve. Let’s bring “those wretches to a wretched end.”(Mat 21:41) I’m not even talking about “major crimes.” It happens to someone that posts an ignorant tweet that brings him to the national stage and sends his future tumbling to the ground. He needs to pay.
When we watch the news, read their picket signs or witness their failure, our emotions cry out for our form of justice and suddenly, we are the ones breathing “murderous threats.”
Maybe justice is more about restoration. While there are consequences to pay for our actions, justice is much greater and more beautiful than consequences. It isn’t just about the thief being sentenced; it is about the family having what was stolen restored. It is about setting things right again.
It is about making things as they should be.
But, our vitriol-laden speech does just the opposite. It impedes justice. Gossip isn’t wrong because it spreads lies. Gossip may indeed be full of truth. Gossip is wrong because it impedes justice. Your talk turns people against others. It tints the lens others now see that person through. How can restoration happen if you are always talking about what they did? How can restoration take place when your speech creates dissension?
Could the restoration of Paul have begun so quickly with you around? Is our grace deep enough for his actions to sink to the bottom like rocks completely out of sight, or would they always be at the surface within our reach quickly accessible to stone him with?