TO CONFRONT OR NOT TO CONFRONT
Whenever you are faced with an interpersonal conflict or a situation where someone is behaving in a way that is destructive to himself or others, you have to make three basic decisions:
- whether to confront
- when to confront, and
- the words to use
Perhaps you are asking, “Should I confront every offense?” Absolutely not! “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11 NIV). I believe the operative word in this passage is “an”. In general, we would be wise to overlook the one-time insignificant slights, digs, and other annoyances that are a fact of everyday life. However, we cannot overlook a negative behavior pattern. Most people will chose to avoid a confrontation and in so doing, create even bigger relational and other problems.
As always, the answer to life’s problems can be found in the word of God. The Bible admonishes us to confront in three different situations:
- when we are offended,
- when we are the offender, and
- when a brother or sister engages in sinful, self-destructive, or unwise behavior
In all three instances, we are commanded to take the initiative in dealing with the issue. Let us look at each one and see what the Scriptures says about them.
When We Are Offended:
In Matthew 18:15, Jesus said, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (NKJV). This is a clear admonition to confront the offender. In the subsequent verses, Jesus gave further instructions how to get others involved in the offending party does not listen to you. In this book, however, we will only focus dealing with personal, individual confrontations. Most Christians believe that it is a sign of humility and godliness to suffer silently when hurt or offended and to repress their anger. Repressing your anger or frustration is unwise. Every repressed emotion gets expressed somewhere. Some people will choose to eat too much; others may turn to alcohol or drug, while another may shop or become workaholics in order to work through the frustration of not confronting. The medical profession has many documented cases of illnesses rooted in resentment and unforgiveness. I sat with a woman at a Christian women’s luncheon once who had suffered a stroke. When I asked her what had led to her condition, she said that she never spoke up when things bothered her. I have since interviewed a number of stroke victims and their responses are almost identical; they consistently buried their anger and never spoke up when hurt or offended. Paul admonished us to be on guard against bitterness: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many (Hebrews 12:15 NIV). Effective confrontation is by far one of the best safeguard against a root of bitterness. Bitterness is accumulated resentment; resentment is unresolved anger that has been “re-sent” or repressed rather than being put on the table and dealt with through effective confrontation. In order for anything to take root, it must be underneath the surface. We can prevent anger from getting a stronghold on us by not allowing it to go underground. There are some people who have such low boiling points or so much repressed anger and frustration that they explode at the slightest provocation. I call this the “simmer and blow” syndrome. Obviously, this type of reaction does not fix the problem; in fact, it can make it worse. Christians who carry these emotions around become dysfunctional before they know it. Dysfunctional simply means that something is not functioning or working according to its original purpose. Any dysfunctional behavior in a Christian is Satan’s trap to keep him frustrated so that he will not fulfill his divine purpose.
When We Are the Offender:
When we offend or become aware that we have offended another, it is our responsibility to actively work toward reconciliation. Jesus said, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24).
When we sense that someone has started to avoid us or we feel a strain in our relationship, it’s time to take action. My husband and I often challenge each other to model our conviction that the person who is more spiritually mature is always the one who initiates the reconciliation. Spiritually and emotionally immature people wait for others to build bridges to them.
When We Observe a Brother’s Destructive Behavior:
You may find yourself in a situation when you have to confront someone, not because his behavior is negatively impacting you personally but rather having an undesirable effect on him or a group. The apostle Paul admonished the church at Galatia, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1).
Most people gossip when they see a brother or sister overtaken in a fault or other ungodly behavior. Few confront. Now understand that Paul’s admonition is directed to someone who is in a relationship with the one who needs to be confronted. This passage is not a license for legalistic Christians to force their man-made rules onto naive new converts. I have seen babes in Christ become turned off with the church because some unwise person confronted her about her outward appearance. Why not take the time to disciple such newcomers in the word of God and to minister to their other needs first? In other words, earn the right to be heard. Once you establish yourself as a non-judgmental and caring supporter, further admonition and correction of new converts may be unnecessary. Notwithstanding, regardless of a person’s professed level of spiritual maturity, everyone is subject to falling into sin or unwise behavior. Therefore, when we see a brother or sister straying from the godly path it is our Christian obligation to “restore such a one”. No one has 20-20 vision when looking at himself; we all have blind spots. It often takes someone with objective, spiritual eyes to shine the light on our blindness.
When confronting someone about his destructive behavior, you can expect excuses and defensiveness. No one really relishes the idea of coming to grips with his faults, weaknesses or shortcomings. It is a natural response to become defensive. *** Defensiveness helps us to protect ourselves against the pain of the truth.*** Expect it, and don’t be turned off by it when you confront someone about his behavior. Job said, “How painful are honest words” (Job 6:25 NIV). Many will either blame others for their actions or try to justify them. Biblical “blamers” include Eve (“the serpent made me do it” (Genesis 3:13)), Aaron (“you know how wicked these people are” (Exodus 32:22), and countless others. Not everyone will respond as King David did when the prophet Nathan confronted him about sleeping with Bathsheba and then having her husband killed. He said, “I have sinned against the Lord. . .” (2 Samuel 12:13).
I have shipped many packages from our local post office. After a few of them were returned, I began to see some similarities with how input can be rejected during a confrontation. The reasons that my postal packages have been returned were due primarily to insufficient postage, an incorrect address, or rejection by addressee. Let’s take a brief look at the application of each of these reasons as they relate to confrontation.
“Insufficient postage” is a result of not paying or investing enough to send the package. As previously mentioned, when giving feedback on someone’s behavior-especially in a non-work environment-you need to earn the right to be heard. This means that you have invested enough in the relationship for the person to know that you have a genuine concern for their well being.
An “incorrect address” is the result not addressing the person in a positive manner, that is, using the wrong tone, showing hostility, being judgmental, and any other approach that is deemed a turn-off.
“Rejection by addressee” occurs when a person simply is not ready to receive your input due to psychological reasons or his unwillingness to face certain realities during this period of his life. When you get that “return to sender” notice, understand that it is outside your realm of influence. You’ve done your part. Pray for his receptivity to the truth and for God to send somebody across his path that he will hear and heed.
Paul versus Peter: “Stop Your Hypocrisy!”
Paul, a “Johnny-come-lately” disciple of our Lord, persecuted and had many Christians killed in the name of religion before he submitted to God’s call on his life. Peter, on the other hand, had enjoyed a close personal relationship with Jesus during his time on earth. He was a key figure in the early church.
Paul observed that Peter was engaging in behavior that was destructive to the church, so he confronted him.
“But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who don’t bother with circumcision. But afterward, when some Jewish friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these legalists would say. Then the other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was influenced to join them in their hypocrisy. When I saw that they were not following the truth of the Good News, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you trying to make these Gentiles obey the Jewish laws you abandoned” (Galatians 2:11-14 NLT)?
Paul knew that many followers emulate their leader. Therefore, a leader walking in error must be confronted. Now some have said that Paul was probably envious of Peter because of his status as an original disciple, but this was not so. Paul simply wanted to see Peter and the other leaders walk according to the truth of the gospel which declared that the circumcision laws were no longer in effect. There was now no difference between Jews and Gentiles. There was no need to prefer one group over the other.
Paul’s opposing Peter “to his face” is a clear definition of a confrontation, that is, coming together face to face. Since Peter’s offence was public, Paul publicly rebuked him. If public rebukes were practiced more today, perhaps we would have fewer instances of ungodly leadership.
Paul admonished us to confront any brother or sister overtaken in a fault. We are not to be intimidated by anyone’s rank or background.