Appropriate Confrontation in a Spirit of Christian Love
By Doria Saros
“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!” There is a lot of wisdom in this old adage. In truth, as Christians we should only speak in love to our fellow man, including when the time comes that there is a need to confront one another. In the following paragraphs I will share some simple tools to assist our efforts in what remains one of our greatest challenges in ministry and relationships in general.
Phase I- Self Examination
The first step in appropriate confrontation is one of self-examination. We must ask ourselves, “What have I brought, or what will I bring to this issue?”
As we read in Luke 6:41-42: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in you own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?” We must have the courage to take our own inventory before we dare attempt to address the issues of another.
We cannot effectively confront others until we can successfully confront ourselves. That being said, we have no control over another’s willingness to take his or her own inventory. We can only examine our own issues. Here is perhaps the single most vulnerable step in the ultimate success of appropriate confrontation. If both the parties involved are not sufficiently self-aware, the chances for the best outcome are markedly reduced. But this does not mean that we won’t have any success. If we feel we must still try, our efforts must remain forthright and loving, not manipulative and guilt producing. After all, if nothing else, there is a lot to be learned in providing an appropriate confrontation, even if the other party is unwilling to be a full participant.
If we determine that confrontation is indeed appropriate, we must prayerfully ask ourselves three simple questions:
1. Is it loving? Am I willing to be loving in my approach to this confrontation? A review of 1 Corinthians 13 is in order here, especially verses 4-7, “Love is patient and kind: love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Many times when we think we are loving, we fall short, especially in regard to our own sinful tendencies of being judgmental in conflict. To be judgmental is one of the fastest, and surest ways of failing in appropriate confrontation, and in a lasting relationship!
2. Is it honest and/or true? Is this issue based on hearsay or on firsthand testimony? Am I expressing myself honestly in regard to my own feelings?
3. Is it necessary? Am I offering unsolicited advice? Is it really in everyone’s best interest to confront this issue, or am I simply seeking to fulfill my own needs? On the other hand, if our brother or sister in Christ is traveling down the wrong path isn’t it our responsibility to say something? Galatians 6: 1 reminds us, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you, too, be tempted.”
Only when we can answer yes to all three of these questions should we proceed to confront the issue/person. If we cannot answer yes to all three questions, then more prayer and thoughtful self-examination are in order.
Phase II- Confronting Others
Jesus provides us with the ultimate model of appropriate confrontation in the book of Matthew 18: 15-18.
Verse 15: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” Go to the source. Don’t gossip and complain to others. Go directly to the person who has offended/hurt/sinned against you. Approach him/her lovingly with respect. “...if he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Caution: Meeting ‘alone’ in this day and age never means isolated with another, without being in full view of a witness.)
Verse 16: “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” This verse harkens back to Hebraic Law in Deuteronomy 19:15, “A single witness shall not prevail against a man for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed; only on the evidence of two witnesses, or of three witnesses, shall a charge be sustained.” If he/she cannot own the behavior or will not accept/validate your concerns, take along two or three objective witnesses, and allow them to impartially hear the concerns. The one-on-one power struggle can be quickly neutralized by one or two eye-witness accounts or the collective wisdom of several witnesses, hearing and addressing the issues. As a community of believers we all have an obligation to be accountable to one another.
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” (Matthew 18:17, part one). By the church we refer to the priest, pastor, or spiritual father/mother primarily. In some instances a parish council could serve in this role as well. In the first century, the parish as a whole was involved in addressing such disputes. However, in the much larger parishes of today, practicality lends itself to a smaller, more representative conciliar body of believers.
“And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17, part two). Sometimes the only thing left to do is to lovingly walk away, always keeping the door open to a repentant heart.
Rage and dysfunction dictate an enormous amount of irrational behavior. Here, it is appropriate in the presence of witnesses to share your agape love for your brother/sister in Christ, to identify the impasse of the circumstances in no uncertain terms, to close the door to any dysfunctional behavior, and, by God’s grace, to illuminate a path to healing.
Appropriate confrontation is one of the greatest challenges for any personal or working relationship. While it is one of the most difficult skills to master, it is also one of the most vital to preserving a relationship. Like many skills, it gets much better with practice.
With both careful and prayerful self-examination, we begin the two phases of appropriate confrontation by first confronting ourselves. After identifying that we are: being loving, being honest and have the truth, and finally that it is indeed necessary to speak, we are ready to confront the issue/person.
By following Christ’s model in the book of Matthew 18: 15-18, we are guided with each step in the confrontational process.
By appropriately confronting, with the grace of God, we will indeed, more often than not, “gain our brother.” In some rare instances we will have no choice but to, “let him be to us as a Gentile and a tax collector.” But as long as we can remember to hate the sin, and love the sinner, we leave the door open to future healing.