We, as a culture, do not handle confrontation well. Many of us tend to avoid confrontation, just let the issue roll off our backs or fade away, while others of us can be abrasive and take a sick pleasure in pointing out one another’s short-fallings. Our culture, however, tends to embrace the mindset of “live and let live”. I won’t meddle in your mess and you don’t meddle in mine.
Thankfully, the Bible gives us clear guidelines for how we are supposed to handle these kinds of situations. Matthew 18 is regularly quoted when people are dealing with someone in the Church who will not repent of a sin. In short it says that if someone is sinning and you notice it, you should go confront him in private. If he will not listen, then take someone else along with you. If he still will not listen, then you are supposed to tell the whole church and if he chooses sin when the whole church is confronting him, then you kick him out of the church. This does not happen very often, I personally have only seen it twice in my lifetime.
But Scripture also talks directly to the one who is doing the confrontation:
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.
– Gal 6.1-4
Paul is not implying that the one who is caught in a trespass (sin) is not spiritual and only people who are super-spiritual can restore him. The Spiritual one is the one who has the Holy Spirit residing in him: a Christian. If you see a brother in sin, chances are that the Holy Spirit within him is already convicting him. But if the Holy Spirit within us is stirred by the sin of another, we are instructed to confront him. But thankfully Paul gives us a thorough game plan:
First of all, we must examine ourselves to be sure that we are not falling into the same sin, and we must be on the alert so that we do not. Secondly, we must not compare ourselves to the brother in sin, because the brother in sin is not the standard; Jesus is. We are all sinners and worthless compared to Jesus. In this mindset of humility we approach a sinning brother. Thirdly, we approach our brother ready to help him carry his burden. This is huge. If your brother has an habitual sin of drunkenness, the heart and intention of restoration is becoming a support for him, and walking through life with him to help him overcome it. If your brother is mistreating his wife or having an affair, we must approach him ready to walk the long road back to health in that marriage. Our role is not to simply point out the sin and run. We must be prepared and ready to restore him and to help carry his burden. Lastly, this must all be done in a spirit of gentleness.
There are times when people become so entrenched in their sins that “tough love” is the only option. And it is those types of situations to which Matthew 18 is speaking. We kick those people out of the church. Paul said we turn those people over to Satan, hoping that through the destruction of their flesh their souls will be saved (1 Cor 5). But when the brother is receptive to confrontation and repents of his sin, the process of restoration is to be a gentle one. Gentleness does not imply weakness. Jesus was Almighty God, the creator of the universe, and yet He presented Himself as gentle and meek. It is a restrained and controlled power. We deal severely with the sin, but gently with the penitent.
This all sounds really nice, but the reality is that is requires vulnerability and trust. Do you trust anyone enough to confess to them a secret sin, and hope that they will hold you accountable and help you to kill that sin? Do you love anyone enough to confront them and commit to them to walk the road of restoration and healing together? And are you humble enough to receive confrontation? Or will you bow up and say, “Who do you think you are to call me out?” We justify our sins by telling ourselves that no one is perfect, everyone sins. And we placate our conviction to call one another out by the same sentiment.
Yes. We are all sinners. But if we have removed the log in our own eye, we are commanded to then help our brother remove his splinter. We cannot remove the splinter with the log in place, but once it is out we have the experience and foundation to help. One alcoholic should not turn to another alcoholic for help. A cheating man should not ask another adulterer for accountability. Why? Because they will overlook one another’s sin and neither has learned the discipline to conquer it. We must turn to someone who does not have the same sin issue. And we must be prepared to walk together.
Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.