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What Do You Say to Someone Who Fails?

Imagine a Thanksgiving party. A bountiful and beautiful candlelit table, the air

filled with tantalizing aromas, all of your closest family and your best friends laughing together, basking the glow of each other’s company. But you’re having difficulty being good company. It’s hard to smile after reading that letter you were never meant to see - the letter that told of plans your best friend and your spouse made to hire a killer. A killer for you!

How would that feel? What would you say? How would you say it?

I don’t know how I would respond, but I know how Jesus handled it, and I marvel at his ability to separate the act from the actor.

At a holiday feast with his closest friends, Jesus knew Judas’ plan to betray him. He knew that Peter would deny even knowing him. Rather than ignore the bad behavior, Jesus announced to everyone present, “One of you is going to betray me.” And to Peter he made clear “You will disown me three times! (John 13:21, 38).

He didn’t ignore it and didn’t try to pretend it was OK. But he did show continued love and acceptance of the men who were about to behave so badly. He stooped to wash their feet, asking "Do you understand what I have done for you?” (13:12).

Do we? Jesus is a tough act to follow, but his is the only way. We must hold each other accountable. “If someone is caught in a sin,” Paul wrote, “You who are spiritual should restore him gently” (Galatians 6:1). But, we must also follow Jesus in condemning only the behavior and not the person.

People aren’t failures because they sometimes fail. They are not “always” bad. It’s untrue that they can “never” get it right. Yet, sometimes those are the things we say to our spouses, children, friends, enemies, or anyone we think has failed. We paint the entire person with the color of a particular failure and suggest that they can never do otherwise.

On that holiday evening long ago, Judas and Peter both failed miserably. One believed the message of this world and thought that made him a failure. In despair, he took his own life. The other believed the good news of his master and knew he could be forgiven. He started over and did amazing things.

Which message do we preach to those who fail? What do we say to ourselves when we fail?


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