Series: Blessed are the peacemakers, by Rosie Moore. (Part 4)
Although many offenses committed against us should be overlooked to promote peace and unity, some problems are too important and need to be discussed before great harm ensues. But talking to a person face-to-face about a contentious issue is an unpleasant experience for most of us. It’s easy to sidestep the problem for so long that tensions build until they reach bursting point. Eventually we explode and bring out a long list of every offense under the sun, real and imagined. Worse still, we complain and gossip about the person, which fuels bitter divisions and deep hurt. A failure to speak the truth in love to our neighbour inevitably leads to a toxic war of words. Many precious relationships are lost this way, but the Bible gives us the framework for redemptive confrontation. Here are four verses that describe the nature of redemptive, rather than destructive, confrontation:
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted (Galatians 6:1).
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over” (Matt 18:15).
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Eph 4:15).
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph 4:29).
Overlook or confront?
Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). But how do we know when an offense can no longer be overlooked and we need to confront someone? Here is a four-fold test that Ken Sande applies in his book “The Peacemaker.”
- The sin is visible enough to affect a Christian’s witness. It dishonours God to continue to overlook it.
- A sinful pattern is damaging your relationship with the offender.
- The sin is hurting others, leading people astray, or causing division between believers (1 Cor 5:1-13; Titus 3:10).
- The sin is hurting the offender, either by direct damage, or by impairing their relationship with God or others. Leviticus 19:17 says: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so you will not share in his guilt.”
In any of these circumstances, it is loving to personally confront your neighbour.
Christians have a duty to address serious sin directly, especially in a fellow believer. Many texts relating to reconciliation involve a personal conversation as a starting point (Matt 5:23-24; Luke 17:3). Proverbs 27:5-6 says “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
Many Christians object to direct confrontation, saying that correction is judgmental and unloving. They prefer to be a soft presence in someone’s life, allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work of conviction. But even in Matthew 5:1-5, Jesus is not forbidding personal correction. Rather, Christ teaches that once you have removed your own logs, “you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”. God does not require Christians to be peacekeepers, but peacemakers. This often requires personal confrontation. The Bible narrates many stories of disastrous consequences when believers delay or avoid direct confrontation involving genuine confession and forgiveness. None is so tragic as the rebellion and civil war that sprung from David’s refusal to meet in person with his son, Absalom, to confront him with his sin and pursue genuine peace (2 Sam 14:24; 2 Sam 15-18).
Superficial agreements that beat around the bush and avoid direct confrontation do not bring about genuine reconciliation. God often uses His people to speak the words that a sinner needs to hear to lead them to repentance, as in the case of Nathan the prophet’s direct confrontation with King David (2 Sam 12:1-13).
God also calls us to be restorative in our confrontations, just as He is with us. In Galatians 6:1, Paul has in mind a Christian brother who is caught, overtaken, or surprised by sin, someone in need of help because their problems have become so serious that they are unable to free themselves. It is not loving to stand by and watch someone be destroyed by their sinful choices. Instead of ignoring him, the Galatian Christians were to “restore him gently”.
Similarly, in Matthew 18:15-17, Christ said that if someone has sinned against you, you must take the initiative to clear the matter up and restore peace. The starting point is to discuss things in private, just between the two of you (Matt 18:15). The desired goal is to “win your brother back”.
However, if that person will not listen to you, seek the help of one or two other believers to confirm disputed facts (Matt 18:16). These facts may reveal your own misunderstanding, or they may confirm the offence. If the wrongdoer will not listen to them, tell it to the church and ask the elders to rule on the matter. This is the process for church discipline (Matt 18:17).
Matthew 18:15-17 is not about compiling a grievance list and forcing the other person to admit they are wrong. This distorts Christ’s meaning. It is set in the context of Christ’s redemptive story about a loving shepherd who goes to look for a wandering sheep and then rejoices when it is found (Matt 18:12-14). It is followed by Christ’s teaching on lavish forgiveness and the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt 18:21-35). Thus, the aim of the confrontation process is to establish the truth, using all possible means to show the wrongdoer his sin and restore him to Christ.
Instead of using shame to scold someone, the Bible teaches us to be gracious and kind in our approach, holding out the good news that God wants to free us from sin and help us to grow more like Christ. In writing to the timid young pastor, Timothy, Paul describes how God uses His people to graciously pierce the heart of another person to bring about repentance. Our confrontation may actually lead a sinner to come to their senses, as the prodigal son did (Luke 15:17):
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Tim 2:24-26).
Similarly, Paul urges the Colossian Christians to put on Christ-like virtues which promote peace: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Col 3:12-13).
Christ’s gracious restoration of Peter is a perfect example. Peter could be restored to ministry only if his professed love for Christ was real, so Jesus asked him about the nature of his love (John 21:15-17). In Peter’s own letter to Christians decades later, he describes God’s restoring of those who have suffered, making them “strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10). The end goal of gracious confrontation is genuine repentance, so that Christ can mend broken people and restore them to usefulness in His kingdom.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in inter-personal relationships, it’s that there’s no one-size-fits-all formula! It’s risky to confront someone. What if we offend them and turn them off God forever? But God promises to give us wisdom when we ask and assures us that a wise rebuke can be very helpful to others: “Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear” (James 1:5-6; Prov 25:11-12). We need to trust God enough to risk offending our brother or sister.
Wise confrontation may include confessing our own sins, teaching, instructing, reasoning with, encouraging, correcting, warning, admonishing, or rebuking (Matt 5:23-24; Luke 17:3; Acts 17:17). Our approach will depend on the urgency and intensity of the wrong, as well as our relationship and role. It is wise to take a gentle approach first and to get firmer as is necessary (1 Thess 5:14). It is also wise to choose the right time and place to talk openly, without either person being exhausted or distracted.
In the case of a Christian wife living with an unbelieving husband, wise confrontation may require respectful and submissive behaviour, not words. Her “gentle and quiet spirit” may ultimately win him over to Christ (1 Peter 3:1-5). In confronting a person in authority, such as an employer or church elder, you will need to choose your words carefully so that you speak in a respectful manner, recognising that person’s authority. Daniel provides a good template for confronting a leader (Daniel 1:11-14).
In confronting wrongdoing, we can serve the person by offering helpful advice and creative solutions. We can learn from Christ’s encounter with the woman at the well by asking probing questions that led her to think and assess her own life (John 4:1-18). We can learn from Queen Esther, who took two days and two banquets to confront the King about his genocidal decree against the Jews (Esther 5-7)! It may be wise to involve other people right from the start, eg, when one person has been abused by the other and the abuser may use a private confrontation to manipulate or silence the victim.
Paul instructed Timothy to deal with people appropriately: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” (1 Tim 5:1-2). At the same time, Paul instructed Titus to take a blunt approach with “empty talkers and deceivers” in the church: “Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:13).
This illustrates the need for wisdom and discernment in confronting people.
Speaking the truth in love.
Finally, our words play a vital role in every confrontation, for “reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov 12:18). We are to always speak the truth in love to one another, even to those who have wronged or mistreated us (1 Peter 3:9; Rom 12:14; 1 Cor 4:12-13). Regardless of our personality, Christians must learn to communicate the truth in a manner that promotes peace.
Speaking the truth means that we must lay aside all falsehood and never bear false witness against our neighbour (Ex 20:16; Eph 4:25; Prov 12:22). We must also speak the truth in love, not harshly (Eph 4:15; Prov 15:1). Marriages and relationships in families, churches and communities are regularly razed to the ground by the fire of an untamed tongue (James 3:5-12).
When we lecture and hammer people with what they have done wrong, dwelling on their failures, we create a chasm between us and the person we are confronting. Similarly, when we are slow to listen, quick to speak, and prone to angry outbursts, we will never achieve God’s redemptive purposes (James 1:19-20). “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov 18:3). On the other hand, when we speak the truth in love, carefully choosing words which build up rather than break down, we will become skilled peacemakers.
Communicating the truth in love means that we keep our remarks as objective and factual as possible. We do not use opinions or exaggerations like “you always”, “you never.” We do not misuse Scripture to manipulate others. We do not judge people’s motives or accuse them falsely. We do not hurt our neighbour by gossip and careless talk (Prov 11:11-13). We speak clearly and ask for feedback to make sure that we have understood accurately.
As Ron Kraybill, a successful Christian mediator has observed, “effective confrontation is like a graceful dance from supportiveness to assertiveness and back again.”
In Ephesians 4, Paul shows us how to bring the gospel into all our communication:
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ…
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold…
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph 4:15, 25-31)
I wish you all a blessed Christmas and many opportunities to showcase the gospel with your family and friends! With Christ’s help, may you pursue peace and harmony in all your relationships, remembering to mind your own logs, confess your sins and lovingly confront with redemption in mind. May the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace give you peace and rest this Christmas season (Isa 9:6).
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:7).
Sande, Ken. The Peacemaker—A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict.
Baker Books, 1991.