So you’ve concluded that you must speak. You have a good relationship, God has exposed another’s sin to you, you’ve thought and prayed and sought wisdom, and you’ve determined you need to go to them. What now?
Some people enjoy confrontation. If that describes you, you must be extraordinarily careful to question yourself before confronting a Christian you perceive to be in error. In fact, you may be wise to err on the side of silence.
Most, however, are like the cartoon to the right. They have a hard time bringing up difficult matters with other people and are more likely to be sinfully silent. Thus the message this past Sunday. But the responsibility to go to a brother or sister does not change based on your personality or proclivity for confrontation. There are times when the only way we can love our neighbor as ourselves is to engage them in a difficult conversation.
How are we to go about this? Here are ten thoughts for your consideration.
- Go when your primary concern is the glory of God and your concern for this friend. Our first response to another’s sin is often itself sinful: annoyance, anger, frustration, gossip, and so forth. We are regularly tempted to go to a friend because it would make life easier if they changed their ways. But this is sheer selfishness, the polar opposite of love. And yet you’ve determined you ought to go. What to do? Pray for grace to see this sin not as you see it, but as God sees it. Consider how this pattern of sinful thinking and behavior keeps them from seeing and displaying the glory of the One True God. And consider the bondage that sin always brings. Beg God to give you a heart of compassion to approach your friend truly for their benefit and Christ’s glory. And don’t go until you’re there.
- Go when you have thoroughly repented of the sin you are identifying in your friend. We tend to think of confrontation as a sanctifying experience for them. God intends for our confrontation to be a sanctifying experience for us. Perhaps the Lord has exposed a particular sin in someone else is so that he can expose it in us. As you prayerfully consider the heart of the sin you’re confronting, look in the mirror. How is the same sin evident in your life? Perhaps you’re not guilty of drunkenness, but where do you lack self-control? Maybe you’re not a legalist about cultural issues like they are, but you are a legalist when it comes to exercising your liberty. Consider Romans 2.17–24, and ask God to expose where you are guilty of the same sin as your friend. Then take time to repent, confessing specific manifestations of this sin and entrusting yourself again to the work of Christ in your place.
- Go when you have prayed. A lot. Because I have reiterated the place of prayer in these two posts, this almost goes without saying. Almost. It’s often been said that we shouldn’t talk to someone about a concern in their life until we’ve talked to God. You cannot change a person’s heart, but the Spirit can. Yet our prayerlessness exposes just how self-sufficient—and foolish—we are.
- Go when you two can talk alone, face-to-face. It is fine to invite a person to lunch or coffee via email, text message, or Twitter. But these media are not the best way to communicate in this way. If you cannot talk face-to-face, the next best option is a phone call, with a hand-written letter coming in third.
- Go if the other person is the same gender as you. For many reasons, it is wise to avoid a male-female confrontation. Generally speaking, if you’re a woman concerned about a man in your congregation, or vice versa, you should defer to someone of the same gender. Pray to this end. God can expose the concern to another as easily as he exposed it to you. Now sometimes this simply is not possible. For example, an elder may need to warn a lady in the church. In such cases, the elder has other options, like bringing his wife or another godly person into the conversation. On a related note, if an elder must confront a woman married to a believer, her husband ought to be involved in the congregation. But cases like these are relatively uncommon. Generally we should confront only those of the same gender.
I’ll post the rest tomorrow.