6. Go with the assumption that your assessment may be wrong. After all this thought and prayer and your consequent conclusion to go to your friend, it’s easy to go in convinced that you’re right. And we forget that we might, in fact, be wrong. No one bats a thousand, and none of us is so spiritually attuned that our judgments about others is always right. So if you must go, give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Presume that you’re misreading the situation, given their profession of faith in and obedience to Christ. It will cultivate a kind of humility in you that will serve them in the conversation. Besides, it’s honest. Because you could be wrong. Really.
7. Go with questions. I’ve often heard it said: “Questions convict, accusations harden.” We err when we approach others like prosecuting attorneys—our minds made up, the evidence crystal clear, the argumentation watertight. We know from our own experience that when someone comes to us like that, we stop listening and thinking and instead adopt a defensive posture. Far better it would be to approach with questions: “what happened at the church luncheon the other day?” “was it just me or is there something between you and so-and-so?” And as they answer, continue asking questions: “what did they do?” “what did you say?” “are there any Scriptures that come to mind that might relate to this situation?”
8. Go over and over again. One might conclude that the conversation just described might take ten or fifteen minutes. But one would be wrong. We may have thought and prayed about these matters for weeks before addressing our friend, but for them we are bringing fresh thoughts to their attention. Thus we need to give room and not expect everything to be resolved in one conversation. This realization liberates you to take time working through the issue and gives our friend time to process what is really going on.
9. Go for the heart. The issue we want to address is their heart, and the question we want to ask is, “What do you want?” Consider Proverbs 4.23: “from the heart flow all the issues of life.” If I am to understand my thoughts and actions, I must understand my heart and affections. And if I can honestly answer what it is I want in a given situation, I can more easily identify the idols I am serving in place of submission to the One True God. In order to help our friend, we must lead them beneath their words and actions to address their heart.
10. Go with the gospel. No moment is more critical than when our friend recognizes their sin. And we can err in two different ways. On the one hand, we will be tempted to drive the point home, to throw out two or three more examples, to show the rightness of our assessment. But this does little more than rub their noses in what they’ve already acknowledged to be sin. On the other hand, we may rush to application: tell them what to do next, offer a few practical steps to change their behavior, and so forth. Both of these skip that which is of first importance. Our aim is not to expose their sin so that we can be proven right, or so that they can save themselves from it. Our aim is to bring them to Christ. So as soon as our friend sees the weight of their sin and identifies the idols of their heart, we must respond, “Yes, and for these too Christ died.” Help them to see how Christ fulfilled the law in their place. Assure them that the blood of Jesus keeps on cleansing them from all their sin. Share with them the joy you’ve experienced from Jesus’ forgiveness of this sin in your life (see #2 above). The only answer to the problem of their heart is the gospel of Christ. So offer Jesus to them as freely and fully as God offers Jesus to you.
So much more can be (and has been) said on this topic. If you’re interested in reading more, here are a few resources I’ve found helpful.
- Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods (WTS | Amazon | Kindle): helpful especially on understanding the idols of our heart
- C. J. Mahaney, ed., Why Small Groups? (WTS | Amazon): note particularly the chapter on confronting sin in others
- Ken Sande, Peacemaker (WTS | Amazon): the fullest resources I know of dealing with confronting sin in others
- Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands (WTS | Amazon): a tremendous introduction to interpersonal discipleship
- _____, War of Words (WTS | Amazon): helpfully discusses our role as ambassadors for the King
- Jay Younts, Everyday Talk (WTS | Amazon | Kindle for just $1.99): a parenting book that is golden