Wednesday, April 6, 2022

People Never Change

Suggested Reading:  Acts 15:36-41

"People never change."

How many times have you heard that statement? For some reason, there is an ongoing debate about whether or not people change that has been raging for centuries.  On the one hand, there are examples of people who make the same mistakes over and over again. No matter how many times they promise to never make the same mistake again, no matter how many times they start over, no matter how many chances they get, there are some people who obviously don't change. On the  flip side, there are people who obviously do change. Some people have a pivotal experience in life that causes them to re-examine everything, who they are, what they believe, and how they act.

But I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Those people who do change, who do pull their lives together and overcome the problems that they have faced and the mistakes of their past, inspire us so that we have hope for ourselves that we might be able to change, but they rarely inspire us enough to believe that other people will change. The dynamic is often pushed even farther when we believe we have changed and we want other people to acknowledge that we have changed, but we don't want to extend that courtesy to others. For some reason, human nature allows us to believe that change is possible for ourselves but rarely in other people. Even the Apostle Paul struggled with that dynamic.

Paul had been a persecutor of the Church, one who opposed Jesus at every turn and abused Jesus' disciples, but Paul had an experience with the living Christ that changed him, that caused him to become one of the very people he had been persecuting. You would think that he could believe that anyone could change. But at the end of Acts chapter 15, we see Paul and Barnabas get into such a major argument that they part ways. The nature of the argument? Barnabas wanted his cousin John Mark to accompany them on their next missionary journey while Paul thought it was a bad idea because Mark had abandoned them on a previous journey. Barnabas believed that John Mark was worth the risk, he believed in Mark. Paul, on the other hand, apparently felt that Mark was unreliable and unworthy of a second chance. Paul, recipient of, perhaps, one of the most undeserving second chances in history, did not believe that Mark could be relied upon, did not believe that Mark had changed or that Mark could change.

Fortunately, Paul's inability to see the potential for change in Mark did not last forever. Years later, when writing 2 Timothy, Paul instructed Timothy, "Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11, NIV). Then, in Colossians, Paul reminded the Colossians how to receive Mark if he happened to come to them from Paul (Colossians 4:10). Not only did Paul eventually change his mind about Mark, but Paul came to rely on Mark and counted Mark as an asset in his own ministry.

One of the great miracles of life in Christ is the opportunity for sinful people to become new creations, the opportunity for change. And while we must keep our eyes open and not naively trust people who have proven themselves unreliable, we must also keep our minds open to the reality that, in Christ, people change. Far too often, we judge people for mistakes that have been left far in the past and refuse to see the evidence of a changed life right before our eyes. Paul may have done that with John Mark, but he eventually opened up to the possibility that Mark had changed and Paul's life and ministry were blessed as a result.

If we have received new life in Christ, if we have been changed by the Spirit of God, we must be open to the possibility that other people can change as well. When we won't allow for the possibility of change, we might be missing out on some of life's biggest blessings. 

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