Written by Guy M. Richard |
Friday, May 19, 2023
Christian confrontation, therefore, must not only entail “speaking the truth,” but it must also involve love. This means that the way we confront others is just as important as the truth we say, if not more so. We aren’t simply called to “get things off of our chests” as Christians, because that is selfish and the opposite of love. Rather we need to let love dictate what we say and how we say it.
On at least two occasions, in the context of speaking about forgiveness, Jesus instructs us to confront every brother or sister who sins against us and fails to repent or apologize. In Matthew 18:15, He says that we are to “go and tell” the one who has hurt us “his fault” in private. In Luke 17:3, He calls us to “rebuke” the one who has sinned against us in the hopes of bringing him or her to “repentance.” But, as everyone who has ever attempted to do these things will know, the way that we do them matters just as much as actually doing them. We can “go and tell” or “rebuke” others and end up making the situation far worse than it was before by doing these things in an unhelpful way. We can further damage the relationship, and we can even make the prospect of reconciliation less likely than ever by “telling” and “rebuking” in ways that hurt rather than heal.
I remember one time, many years ago, when I tried to confront my wife about something she was doing that was causing me offense. I thought about what I should say to her ahead of time, and I asked the Lord to give me the right words and the right tone of voice as well. But I didn’t give any thought to the timing of the confrontation (can you believe that I actually decided to talk to her right after we had gotten into bed and were ready to say goodnight?). And I didn’t approach the whole thing lovingly. Instead, as I discovered an hour or two later(!), I came across as arrogant and unkind. I didn’t have her best interests in mind, and she saw right through it all. Rather than fostering forgiveness and reconciliation, my confrontation backfired. It accomplished the exact opposite of what I had wanted it to accomplish.
What does it actually mean to “rebuke” someone? And how exactly should we “go and tell” others when they have offended us? What should the kind of confrontation that Jesus is advocating for in Matthew 18 and Luke 17 look like in real life? Jesus doesn’t give us much to go on in these two passages in order to answer these kinds of questions. But I think we can draw out a few guiding principles from the character of Christ Himself, which Christians are clearly called to emulate, and from other passages in Scripture as well. In particular, I want to suggest four things for us all to keep in mind when we have to confront someone who sins against us. These four things will help us not only to do it but to do it as helpfully and Christianly as we can.
The first thing I would say in regard to Christian confrontation is that we need to be very slow in actually “going and telling” people their sins. When I say this I don’t mean to suggest that we should delay our obedience to Jesus’s commands unnecessarily. We should never be slow in doing what Jesus asks us to do. But what I mean is that we need to be suspicious of our motives and our desires and to let that suspicion keep us from being “trigger-happy” in our confronting of other people. We should seek to discern why we want to confront them. Is it because we want to vindicate ourselves? Is it because we want to feel better about ourselves by tearing the other person down? Or is it because we genuinely love the other person and want what is best for them in this situation?
Practicing self-suspicion enables us to be more cautious in our approach to confrontation so that we are not confronting others unnecessarily. It helps us to be more selective in the things we choose to confront and the things we choose to let go. This is important because we live in an age that is overly sensitive. We are a thin-skinned people, by and large, and we are easily offended by the things that people say and do. When we continually confront people for trivial and unintentional things and when we constantly make mountains out of molehills, we become like the boy who cried wolf. People will stop taking us seriously.