Forgiveness has been the theme of my posts these past few weeks. Last week we explored when Scripture compels confrontation, repentance, and forgiveness. This week is a biblical and practical look at the confrontation itself. How should it take place? What do we say, and how do we say it?
What follows below are some “ABC’s” that try to capture some basic wisdom necessary when confrontation takes place.1
To the one who confronts the sinner:
Affirm your affection. If you are truly being faithful as a friend to openly rebuke a fellow Christian, state the obvious. Affirm your Christian affection for the sinning party with words. Don’t take it for granted, and don’t let your conservation be only about the sinner’s sin.
Be prepared to be wrong. You might state your case and find out from the would-be offender that you are mistaken concerning the facts or your brother’s intentions (Proverbs 18:17). Two or three witnesses might encourage you to drop the matter instead of bringing it before the church (cf. Matthew 18:16).
Communicate carefully. Say exactly what the issue is and then say no more. Choose your words wisely. Always avoid “always,” and never say “never” in your rebuke. The sinner most likely does not always commit this sin or never do what is right. Even in rebuke, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).
Do it right. Involve the right people—the sinner himself (Proverbs 25:9–10; Matthew 18:15) and only others as necessary (cf. Matthew 18:16–17). Use the right manner—be gentle and gracious with your words (Proverbs 15:1; Colossians 4:6). Do it for the right reason—for the other Christian’s good and not for personal vengeance (Romans 12:17–21; 1 Corinthians 13:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9).
Expect a little but hope for a lot. Don’t assume that the conversation will play out perfectly as you might picture it in your mind. Confrontations are often like a maze. You can see the entry and the exit, but the twists and turns along the way might keep you from reaching your destination. At the same time, if both parties are truly Christians, they will walk in the Spirit and avoid reactions and distractions that would keep them from their goal (cf. Galatians 5:22–26).
Forgive. If your rebuke is warranted and goes well, your offender repents and asks for forgiveness. If so, forgive and let the matter go. Perhaps there are consequences that you cannot avoid. Perhaps the matter is civil, and legalities must run their course. But that does not mean that you can do your best to put the matter behind you and remember it no more (cf. Hebrews Jeremiah 31:34; 8:12; 10:17).
To the one who is caught in sin:
Apologize. If you have sinned against your brother, repent and ask for his forgiveness (cf. Luke 17:3–4). Be diligent to put your sin to death and live righteously instead.
Be thankful for the wounds of a faithful brother. Serious sin needs rebuke, and this rebuke is Christ’s love through him to you (cf. Revelation 3:19). His love endures in adversity, and he remains faithful to you in spite of sin (Proverbs 17:11; 27:5–6).
Communicate carefully as you respond. As above, be wise in what you say. Specifically…
Don’t become defensive. Embarrassment, surprise, shame, or shock—in the moment, receiving a well-deserved rebuke can activate our adrenaline and produce all sorts of responses. As difficult as it may be, we should not become defensive. That might only heighten the tension of the situation and likely lead to more sin.
Expect a rebuke here and there. The power of sin is broken for Christians, but we still sin from time to time. Sometimes we sin against others or are exposed for habitual sin. Whatever the sin may be, we will need an occasional rebuke from another.
Fellowship again. Don’t merely apologize and walk away, never to return to fellowship again. In fact, your fellowship should be all the better because you’ve seen the faithfulness of your friend (cf. Proverbs 27:5–6). Rather than being offended and unyielding (cf. Proverbs 18:19), your brother responded with love to your sin. Friends like that are few and far between. Let your fellowship continue.
- Many thoughts in this post are gleaned here and there from Chris Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008) and John MacArthur, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998).