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The challenge of change

Toward the end of Les Miserables, Inspector Javert, the thorough going man of law and order for whom no grey area is possible, has his life saved by Jean Valjean—a man he has been pursuing for a decade. To make matters worse, Valjean then surrenders himself to Javert and to everyone’s astonishment (including himself), Javert turns around lets Valjean go free!

Later as the inspector walks along the Seine and tries to get his around what has transpired. On the one hand he is hard pressed to explain how a criminal such as Valjean could have such goodness in him to spare his life as he did. On the other hand he is equally confused at his own behavior in allowing a criminal to go free. His world has been rocked.

In Acts 18:24ff, Luke introduces us to a man named Apollos. He tells us no less than half a dozen virtuous things about him that make him worthy of our admiration. After establishing this, he goes on to tell us that Apollos is ignorant (through no fault of his own) in regard to the baptism of Jesus—“he knew only the baptism of John” (18:25). Rather than call him out publicly, a sensitive Christian couple invite him into their home where they humbly share with him the basic information he is lacking.

In the case of Inspector Javert, he ended up throwing himself into the Seine because he couldn’t live with the idea that he had been wrong. The accomplished Apollos simply took the new information and moved forward (v. 27-28)—as if learning how to change and adapt was how he had achieved his competency in the first place.

Change can be difficult, especially when making it involves admitting that we have been mistaken or wrong. But much of the time it’s not that simple. Many times when change is in order it is because the situation or circumstances are different. Therefore, what was previously the right response no longer is. For Apollos, there was a time when there was only the baptism of John and he was absolutely correct in proclaiming that. With the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost the baptism of Jesus took effect and John’s baptism became obsolete. Apollos' proclamation then became wrong even though before it had been right. 

All of this means that change is a challenge. It requires some mental and emotional remapping on our part. We have to integrate a new set of circumstances and decide what would be the best response.

What makes change easier? Awareness of what’s going on is certainly helpful but an attitude of humility is probably the most important quality. The ability to recognize that not only do we not have all of the answers—we don’t even have all of the questions is fundamental to the kingdom of God. God doesn’t change because He doesn’t have a reason to—but for us change is a constant.

Keep that in mind the next time you come face to face with the need to change and think about our friend Apollos.

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