The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.
In our previous reflection, we examined Galatians 5:26 – “Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.” This is the ideal way that we are to behave towards one another. Of course, we know that the ideal and the real are two different things, and our reality often falls far short of the ideal. How do we bridge the gap and still have loving relationships with other people? The answer is forgiveness.
When we are conceited, that means that we are self-centered. Our cares are with ourselves and not with others. When we provoke one another, we drive a wedge between us and our neighbor. And when we envy our neighbor, we also drive a wedge of separation between us. When this happens, we are supposed to work not only towards forgiveness, but to restoration of the relationship. This should be done, in the words of St. Paul, with a “spirit of gentleness.”
Oftentimes, we lash out at those who have wronged us, delighting in offering harsh words of punishment, under the guise of “well, they deserved it.” Whether one deserves something or not, the correct thing we are supposed to do, when our brethren – our families, our friends, our co-workers – are overtaken in any trespass (in conceit, provocation, envy, or anything), we are to take the spiritual road of forgiveness. “You who are spiritual” does not refer to a small subset of Christians, but rather to all Christians. It is a collective “you” that St. Paul is referring to. He is juxtaposing the Christians with the non-Christians. In others words, he is saying “When your brethren have wronged you, YOU, the ‘Spirit-filled’ Christians, are to step up and restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”
To “restore” something means to return it to the former shape something was in. In this case, the ideal in forgiving one another means restoring the relationship to how it was before the wrong happened. When we say “our marriage will never be the same,” or “this friendship has been permanently altered” is to actually go against a spirit of “restoration” and leaves the wound open. Ideally, a relationship is restored to the point it was before the wrong happened. We know that our reality is significantly different then this ideal. Perhaps, the middle ground is to say “this relationship will need lots of work in order to be restored. Are you willing to do the work that is necessary?” This does not preclude the possibility of restoration which happens when we say “our relationship will never be the same,” but doesn’t offer a quick but inauthentic restoration either. Many times I have told people, “Don’t trust so and so for the time being, but don’t totally preclude the possibility of it happening in the future, however long that may take.” Many times I tell people whose marriage (or friendship or working relationship) is collapsing, that rather than give up, lay out a path, however long it may be, to restoration. If a person who has wronged you is willing to try to make 100 steps to restore the relationship, should we not let him or her? If they fail to negotiate the hundred steps, the relationship remains strained. But if they somehow manage to negotiate all hundred steps, the relationship could be restored. Oftentimes, I ask people to give me something to work with, to outline many steps (MANY steps sometimes) that at least make restoration a possibility.
Finally restoration with gentleness stays away from a heavy hand, or “throwing the book” at someone to punish them first. Restoration with gentleness is based on humility, and the premise that we can offer forgiveness, even if sometimes it isn’t deserved, because not only this is the kind of humility that pleases God, but also because there are times we will need His forgiveness, even when we don’t deserve it. If we want Him to have a gentle spirit in restoring us, we should certainly have the spirit as we restore one another.
Lord, You taught us to forgive one another as we would have You forgive us. Lord bless my relationship with (list people you don’t particularly like, people you are mad at or people who are mad at you). Help us to come together as Christians and as friends. Restore our relationship and do not let us preclude the possibility that love and reconciliation can again be possible. Bring Your healing hand upon us and bless us. Amen.
Pray for an “enemy” today. Look for an opportunity to restore someone who wronged you today!