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.
CONTROLLING YOUR TONGUE
“Sorry that I’m late for the meeting. Traffic!” With frequency, such half-truths were becoming easier and easier to tell. Of course, there had been some traffic on the freeway but nothing out of the ordinary that would have delayed my arrival had I left on time. The real truth was that I had overslept because I had stayed up to watch the late night edition of the Oprah Show. Notice I didn’t actually say that traffic was extremely heavy; I just implied it so that the team members would conclude that my tardiness was outside of my control. For quite some time, my husband had been trying to convince me that any intent to deceive is a lie. Besides his stern warning, my conscience was faithful in reminding me of Proverbs 12:22 (NIV): “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful”. Therefore, whether the misrepresentation took the form of half-truth, flattery, exaggeration, or blatant deceitfulness, it was still a lie-plain and simple.
It seems that I’ve been challenged with sins of the mouth for as long as I’ve been able to talk. However, a couple of years ago, I reached the height of frustration with my tongue trouble after my indiscreet words wreaked havoc in a valued relationship. The moment that I spoke the words, I regretted them. I knew that trying to get them back was as impossible as recapturing a pillowcase of feathers released in the wind. I decided then that it was time to bring my tongue, that little unruly member, under control.
I began my journey by researching every negative use of the tongue that I could find in the Bible. I ultimately identified 30! I’m sure there are more but I knew that if I could conquer even half of them, I would have gained a major victory. I made a commitment to go on a 30-day “tongue fast”, a period of verbal abstinence from all ungodly speaking. With my arsenal of Scriptures, I embarked upon my quest for a wholesome tongue that would be a well spring of life in every situation. I knew that the task would be impossible without Divine empowerment. I was well aware of James’ warning, “But no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8 NIV). Notwithstanding, I took courage from the words of my savior, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27 KJV). Each time I caught a negative talker in the act, I drafted her to join my mission. My strategy when faced with the temptation to dishonor God in any way with negative speech was to catch myself; stop mid-sentence and exclaim, “Tongue Fast”! It seemed that I had to restart the fast a zillion times during the first few days. I would succumb to some of the tongue temptations even though the Holy Spirit was flashing a yellow caution light, warning me to stop. Sometimes I deliberately ran the red light and said the wrong thing; other times I stopped and won the battle.
It was eye opening and disappointing to find out how many of God’s children suffered from tongue trouble. I realized that this was big problem in the body of Christ. Many seemed to be oblivious to the power of their words to build or tear down, motivate or discourage, heal or hurt, spread or squash rumors, and, to delight or deceive. Perhaps you can identify with my struggles and triumphs in the instances below.
Complaining: “Why don’t they just get more tellers?” whined the woman standing in the line behind me at the bank. In my desire to relate to her misery, I chimed in and agreed. What else was I supposed to do? Isn’t commiserating how you instantly bond with people? Was I going to risk her alienation by disagreeing? Heaven’s no! This incident seemed like eons ago. I now have a new strategy. When faced with a long wait, I pull out some reading material, intercede for the salvation of each person in the particular environment, or try to get the complainer to see the bright side of the situation. I have not forgotten that it was their murmuring and complaining that caused most of the Israelites to die in the wilderness and miss the Promised Land. I frequently challenge myself to note the number of times I am tempted to complain within a 24-hour period. My goal is to resist the temptation to express displeasure with any person or situation. I once expanded the no-complaints challenge to seven days when I took an exciting trip to the Hawaiian island of Maui. Before I boarded the plane, I had to resist murmuring about the traffic at the airport, security procedures, the lack of meals on the plane, the length of the flight, and a host of other unimportant issues-all before we arrived in Maui! I am making every effort these days to “pour out my complaint before Him” (Psalms 142:2 NIV) – only. Sure, it’s okay to solicit a friend’s input on a problem, but constant complaining is a contagious and God-dishonoring pastime. I’m trying to make gratitude a lifelong attitude.
Judging: Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers once said, “I will speak ill of no man, not even in the matter of truth, but rather excuse the faults I hear, and, upon proper occasions, speak all the good I know of everybody.” His philosophy paralleled my grandmother’s age-old advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Easier said than done! During my tongue fast, I went on a mission to stamp out my tendency to judge people who speak too loudly, women who overexpose their bodies particularly in their church attire, people who smack their lips while eating, and a host of other behaviors that caused me to silently reject people. Whatever happened to love covering a multitude of faults? For sure, I needed more love and I knew the Source of it. I also knew that whatever way I judged others, God would use the same criteria to judge me (Matthew 7:1-2). Yikes!
Gossiping: “Deborah, we have to pray. I hear that John, the Music Director, might be having an affair with the sexy soprano who just joined the choir.” Now, we all know that such statements are an invitation to gossip-cloaked in a prayer request. And rare is the person who has not been a bearer or eager hearer of information about somebody else’s personal affairs. Because I have been the subject of a few “newsy” conversations, I have an aversion to such non-productive exchanges. I found that the best way for me to resist gossip is to catch myself before I start! I engage in a little self-interrogation: Why am I willing to use the temple of God as a “trash receptacle” by being a receiver of gossip? Is this my way of establishing a rapport with someone? Do I need to be the center of attention? Does it make me feel superior to know something negative about somebody that the hearer doesn’t know? Am I envious of the subject’s good fortune? What do I plan to do with the information a gossip shares with me? Am I bored with my life and need more meaningful pursuits? Of course, my best anti-gossip strategy is to heed Solomon’s admonition in Proverbs 20:19 (NLT): “A gossip tells secrets, so don’t hang around with someone who talks too much”. Wherever I am, I declare it to be a gossip-free zone.
Retaliating: I have little respect for wimpy people because they remind me of a few significant people in my life who have allowed others to treat them as doormats. It stands to reason that I am adamant about setting a better example in my own life. However, I found that I often failed to make the distinction between being assertive and setting healthy boundaries and responding in kind to negative behavior directed my way. My motto was, “Whatever you say to me is what you’re going to get back”. And then I stumbled upon 1 Peter 3:9: “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate when people say unkind things about you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God wants you to do, and he will bless you for it” (NLT). This is still the area that I have to commit the most to prayer. I know that I make God sad when I take his job in avenging the verbal wrongs; however, I feel ten feet tall in my spirit when I “pay them back with a blessing.” I find that the best way to do that is to remain pleasantly silent. Enough said.
Cursing: Cursing? Do you mean as in “profanity”? Christians? Yes, many of God’s children use profanity. “Oh, that just slipped out”, some say. Well, the truth is that it slipped out of the heart. “. . .for out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34 NIV). While I was not given to a profane tongue, when I would stomp my toe, break something of value, upset a stack of papers, spill a drink, have an encounter with an extremely difficult person or any other frustrating situation, I would silently use profanity. When I saw that it was becoming the norm, I ran to God. “Lord, I understand according to Luke 6:45 (NLT) that â€˜A good person produces good deeds from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil deeds from an evil heart. Whatever is in your heart determines what you say.’ Would you please take the four letter words out of my heart and replace them with your expressions? I thank you in advance for purging me of profanity and for allowing the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart to be acceptable in your sight.”
Every day presents us with an opportunity to respond or to speak in a manner that would dishonor our heavenly Father. But is it spiritual naivety to think that we can always say the right thing, at the right time, and in the right way? And, how in the world was that woman in
Proverbs able to come along and set a communication standard that raised the bar so high?
“When she speaks, her words are wise, and kindness is the rule when she gives instructions” (Proverbs 31: 26 NLT). Looks like she was able to tame her tongue! One of my spiritual mentors, Dr. Marlene Talley, held the secret. Over 25 years ago when she observed my tendency to speak without much forethought, she cautioned, “Stop, think, and pray before you speak!” When we stop, think and pray before we speak, we will find ourselves blessing rather than blasting others, exhibiting patience rather than pushiness, sharing good rather than gossip, and, choosing caring rather than cutting words. Otherwise, we find our tongue in drive while our brain is in neutral. It is then that our words become verbal shrapnel that lodges in another person’s emotions with disastrous, long-lasting results-for words never die.
So, here’s what I have concluded. Words are verbalized thoughts that emanate from our heart. When I use Philippians 4:8 as my thought-sifter, my communication will always go from negative to positive: “. . .Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (NLT). I find that memorizing “tongue” Scriptures such as this is essential to transforming my speech. I store them in my spiritual war chest for use whenever a situation arises. King David declared, “I said, â€˜I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth. . .’” (Psalms 39:1 NIV). Do you share his desire to honor God in your speech? Why not try a day-to-day tongue fast to get started? And, don’t forget that the Holy Spirit, your helper, is standing at attention ready to give you all the grace that you need to succeed.