Promoting Change

Everyone wants someone to change. Parents seek to shape their children’s behavior. You may think your friend or your spouse should work on a bad habit. In the workplace, bosses try to motivate their employees. At the broadest level, you may see things that should be different in our society or our government.

What does God say about promoting change? What changes really matter? How should we go about it? In the Gospels, we find two radically different approaches to promoting change. One is used by the Pharisees, the other by Jesus.

The Pharisees want people including Jesus to conform to their traditional regulations (Mt 15:1-2). In their concern for minute external matters, they neglect important issues of the heart (Mt 23:23-26). They are condescending, demanding, and argumentative (Mk 8:11; Lu 18:11; Lu 19:39). They use scorn and intimidation to press people to change (Lu 5:30; Jn 12:42). When that fails, they resort to irrational accusations and conspiratorial schemes to achieve their ends (Mt 12:13-14, 24).

Jesus, on the other hand, radiates compassion and gentleness (Mt 9:36; 11:28-30). He befriends sinners and calls them to repent and to believe the gospel of the kingdom (Lu 7:34; Mk 1:15-16). He offers mercy, hope, and rest (Lu 23:43; Mt 11:29). He helps them understand the heart issues of God’s commands and prays for them (Mt 5; Lu 22:31-32). He instructs his disciples to move on when people resist their preaching, but he also weeps over the stubborn people of Jerusalem (Mt 10:14-15; Lu 19:41-44). His sternest words are directed at the Pharisees and others who take advantage of people, burden them, and hinder them from drawing near to the Lord (Mt 23; 21:12-13).

So, when you promote change in someone, at home, at work, at church, or in society, are you more like Christ or like the Pharisees? We all recognize that we should be like Christ, and we want to be like him. But our flesh pulls us toward using the Pharisees’ control tactics. We might react by abandoning any attempts to change others. But that response ignores Christ’s call to make disciples (Mt 28:18-20). We must follow our Lord’s example, speaking the truth in love and trusting God to work.

– Bryan Craddock

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