Recently, I said something I thought was innocuous to a good friend. I didn’t know how bothered she was about it until two days later, when she texted, then called me to talk about it. She was upset, but remained appropriate as she shared her side. I listened intently to hear her heart, then asked her to forgive me.
Later I pondered what she said and what I said. She was right. It was bad. I texted her back, taking full responsibility for my words. I thanked her for feeling comfortable enough to rebuke me, as my statement was rebuke-worthy. And I thanked her for being a forgiving friend.
Our friendship is stronger today.
Maybe the above incident is common where you live, but it’s not common where I live. Not because I rarely sin or make mistakes, but because we live in a westernized, individual-focused culture where the mentality is we ought not to be too nosey, tell each other what to do or confront sin.
We just plain don’t like confronting sin, whether in our own lives or in others’.
What’s up with that?
We sin. We make sincere mistakes. Sometimes we deliberately hurt someone.
So do others.
What to do when our sins collide?
Jesus gave us a blueprint for managing our relationships (we are stewards over our relationships, after all) when believers hurt one another.
The classic passage on personal confrontation is Matthew 18:15-17:
If a believer does something wrong, go, confront him when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have won back that believer. But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you so that every accusation may be verified by two or three witnesses. If he ignores these witnesses, tell it to the community of believers. If he also ignores the community, deal with him as you would a heathen or a tax collector.
My friend did step one, and it was awesome. It rarely happens so biblically, and it felt really good. Often I quickly get defensive or dismissive because of my pride.
Jesus breaks it down for us in steps, based on the offender’s ability to receive the confrontation. First, let’s look at what Jesus did not say.
Notice Jesus said it was a believer doing something wrong; they sinned against you. It wasn’t just a difference of opinion or preference. It’s really sin, and what your brother or sister in Christ did or said really hurt you.
We’re not to use the silent treatment, as though they’re supposed to read our minds or figure it out. We’re supposed to go to them.
Just as my friend did with me, first go to the offender privately. Not to social media. Not to the breakroom. Not to Sunday school.
Pray about the situation first, like she told me she’d done. Pray about how you will present your case, when you will present your case (timing is important) and the state of the offender’s heart when you talk to them.
Try to use “I” statements, expressing how you feel about what they said or did, instead of accusatory “you” statements, which can slather on the vitriol and shame. If you do it right, and the other person’s heart is right, you will have won your friend. This is the best time to win a friend back.
Let’s say the offending party takes a really defensive or disdainful stance and rejects your words. Then you have to return with two or three honest witnesses (not a whole crowd) and repeat the confrontation. This is not to establish a gossip network or a tribunal, but to spiritually document how you share and how they receive your words.
Let’s say they still reject your words. Then it’s time to go to a spiritual leader over both of you, if possible (e.g., pastor, deacon or Bible study leader). Going with the witnesses would be helpful.
Try to select a leader who you know will be fair, honest and compassionate, and who will take action. Many church leaders, especially in today’s individualized culture — or just by personality — are passive and hate to confront anyone.
Continue to pray for the offending party. Reach out and love them like you would an unbeliever, according to Matthew 18:17.
If you’re on the receiving end, pray and practice so as not to be defensive, but receptive. Appreciate that they thought highly enough of you and the friendship to speak up.
Biblical confrontation is a key means of winning people who have offended us. May we learn to do this well in a culture that hates it.