Do you remember the childhood pacifist response to confrontation, “I am Switzerland!” You could listen sympathetically to two friends who were mad at each other for any reason, but when a quarrel would break out in a large group the peace keepers would refuse to take sides, claiming to be neutral – like Switzerland always is – and just wait for the conflict to be resolved and everyone to be happy again. This is a fairly safe method of conflict management for seven year-olds because rarely is the offense worthy of a life-long feud and while the reconciliation process might be lacking, the conflict is quickly forgotten by distraction.
What does last, however, is the implantation of the worldly worldview that it is best not to intervene. Our young minds were molded into pacifism, cowardice and selfishness all because we were never trained to rightly and Biblically handle confrontation and sin. We think if we bury our heads in the sand, someone else will figure it out. We think that it is not our problem or business, so we turn our backs and ignore the situation. We do not recognize the eternal consequences of the situation and just wait around for things to work themselves out. We do not want to pick sides, try to befriend both sides, and end up with nothing in the end.
Does the Bible have anything to say about all of this?
Yes, actually. It has a lot to say. First of all, we must approach life, relationships and conflict in humility. If we have been saved, then we have recognized our own sin, we have recognized the weight of that guilt, we have confessed our sins (and are continually confessing them) to God and to close friends, we are repenting of our sins, and we are forgiving those who offend us (Matt 6.12, 18.22). If we all were capable of dying to ourselves at every moment and in every situation – putting one another first the way Scripture commands – this would be a non-conversation.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
– Phil 2.3-4
Secondly, we must approach life, relationships and conflict in love. It may feel like the loving thing to let people do whatever they want, but we all know that sometimes love intervenes. Loving parents do not let children put themselves in harm’s way. “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk”, right? And we all know the intervention that is required to help a friend who has been allowed to destroy themselves for years. But more importantly, we recognize that when someone’s heart has been hardened against repentance, his eternity is at stake (Heb 10.26). This is why Scripture commands us to confront sin in one another, pushing one another on to holiness, and holding one another accountable.
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
– Matt 18.15-17
– Gal 6.1
“…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”
– Heb 10.24
Notice here, that Jesus does not say “If a brother sins against you”, but rather “if your brother sins”. We often try to excuse ourselves from responsibility because we are not a part of the conflict. But Jesus says no matter what, confront him so that we might see him repent and be restored and pulled back from the snares of the devil! It is the loving thing to address sin, so as to help one another along the way to salvation. We do this with greatest humility and tenderness, knowing that we ourselves are not perfect or above temptation:
– Gal 6.1
“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
– Matt 7.3-5
Thirdly, we will be convicted to approach life, relationships and conflict when we understand God’s expectation of us:
“Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself. Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die; since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself.”
– Ez 3.17-21
If we do not confront sin in our brothers and sisters, their blood is on our hands. If love and compassion for our brother who is toying with his Spiritual walk and eternity will not drive us to say something, then perhaps the direct commandment from God and the consequence of forever having his blood on our hands will.
“Silence in the face of evil is evil itself: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
But how do we know?
Ok, so now we know that we are commanded to confront one another and it is the loving thing to do, how do we know what to say and when to say it? To oversimplify, we take note of the unrepented sin. As redeemed and forgiven children of God, we should not walk around looking to beat people up for mistakes and sins that they have committed. Rather, when we observe that someone has given in to any sin, they have made peace with it, they are not changing from it.
What this means, first and foremost, is we must know what God calls and considers sin. He is God, and He gets the final say. Everything from murder to sexual immorality (lust, fooling around with someone and sex outside of marriage, pornography, adultery), to lying, to bitterness, pride and selfishness.
“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
– Gal 5.19-21
Secondly, this means that we recognize repentance is the key. We will all stumble and fall into sins at times, we will all willingly choose to partake in sins at times, but the determining and damning factor is our response to that sin. Do we make peace with it? Do we enjoy it and continue in it? Or do we recognize it, confess it and repent from it? If you see someone repeatedly participate or give in to a sin, then we lovingly confront them and walk them through repentance holding them accountable. If we see two friends fighting, and they are unable to come to resolution, then we confront the pride, bitterness and division – walking them through repentance and holding them accountable. The expectation of God is not for us to simply point out sin in one another, but to actually enable and walk alongside one another to maturity.
We also understand that God is sanctifying us all differently and we are at different points in our Spiritual development and maturation. So when we breach a topic of sin, we first pray and rely on the Holy Spirit’s leading, then we bring the Scripture with us – because the person may not yet know that his actions are indeed sinful! The Holy Spirit might not have gotten there yet with him. The person may not be hardened in sin, but immature. This is no excuse, and it is still our role as brothers and sisters to confront and walk alongside. This is also much easier than dealing with someone who has given in to sin and has hardened his heart against God and Scripture.
Finally, this means that we do take sides. We take sides against sin. So often we gloss over confrontation and division and desire to remain neutral, but Scripture teaches us that division itself is a sin (Gal 5.20). Has a husband abandoned his wife? That is a sin. We stand up against that sin. Has a wife had an affair on her husband? That is a sin. We stand up against that sin. Is someone stealing from the Church or their job? That is a sin. We stand up against that sin. Is someone proud, sleeping around, unforgiving or a gossip? These are all sins. We stand up against those sins. It is very rare that a conflict is based purely on one person’s sin. It does happen, though typically there is guilt on both sides. What then? We stand up against all sin, and we forgive, overlook and hold accountable the repentant. Our hope and prayer is that all parties repent. Our instruction is to push all parties to repentance, and to maintain the purity of the body by removing the unrepentant from among us.
Sin is no laughing matter. It is, in fact, what merits our eternal damnation. We must, in love, push one another on to holiness and for the sake of our own conscience and confront sin. We do not want blood on our hands. We do this all in love, all in humility, and all to the glory and honor of God, hoping that we maintain purity and holiness in our families, churches and communities. Let us consider one another – better than ourselves – and hold one another accountable!