“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.” –Matthew 18:15, NLT
Confronting someone we care about is hard. In fact, the closer we are to a person, the harder a confrontation may be because we fear rejection, hard feelings, even loss of relationship if the discussion is not well-received. That’s why we must carefully consider how we’ll handle confrontation when it’s necessary.
When someone we care about offends us, we have options to consider—lots of options! Sadly, not all of these are healthy, but all of them are hard. In fact, the healthiest choice may actually be the hardest one of all.
Let’s consider some of the ways we may choose to deal with an offense:
1. Retaliation. At first, this probably feels like the easiest option—if not the most tempting. An eye for and eye—a tooth for a tooth. Exact justice so all’s fair. Revenge is sweet, isn’t it?
Not really. Especially if we care about the person we’re getting vengeance on. Now we’ll not only have to suffer with the pain of having been offended but also with the guilt of having offended someone else and, possibly, the end of a relationship. At the least, damage on both sides will have to be repaired. Retaliation may feel good for a moment, but once that moment passes, we’ll have a bigger mess to clean up.
2. Avoidance. This may seem like an easy option, too—unless we live with the one who has caused us pain. Even then, it’s possible to go about our business pretending that what happened didn’t really bother us. Denial can become our happy place! But only for a time.
The trouble is, when we choose avoidance or live in denial, we’re actually waiting for the one who hurt us to come to his or her senses, apologize, and make things right. But how can another do this if he or she doesn’t even know we are hurt? Eventually, we’ll become frustrated and impatient or the unknowing offender will repeat the offense, pushing us to confront in anger or to make our withdrawal from the relationship permanent. If we care about the person who has offended us, we’ll want to avoid this.
3. Gossip. This one disguises itself as asking for help. We go to a disinterested (or overly-interested) third party with the story of our wound, inviting that party to give us advice or intervene on our behalf. At the very least, this newcomer will give us sympathy . . . we believe.
Unfortunately, this only burdens the third party in an unfair way. The matter to be resolved is between the offender and the offended (unless, according to Matthew 18:16, we’ve already confronted our offender, who then refused to acknowledge any wrong-doing). Once we tell our side of the story to a third party, that person will feel obligated to act—to confront for or with us, to talk to the offender to hear his or her side of the story, or to confront us with the offense that we are now guilty of. Worse than that, if the one who offended us learns we’ve talked about the situation to someone else, the offender will feel offended, too. We’ll find ourselves owing two people an apology instead of receiving the apology we believe we deserve. I don’t think any of us wants this.
4. Direct Confrontation. I’ve already said that this may be the hardest option, but it’s the only one that keeps us from committing a wrong ourselves, from taking bitterness or malice inside of ourselves. And, like pulling a bandage off, it will hurt for a moment, but then it will be over. We’ll be able to see healing—even if the offender responds negatively! Just telling someone they’ve hurt us, getting it off our chest, begins to free us of the pain inside and allows us to move forward in a Christ-like way—so long as we’ve confronted in a Christ-like way.
Before we confront, we pray for wisdom. We ask God for the timing and the words and the love we’ll need. We also choose to forgive. We decide to offer grace before we know how the offender will respond. In doing so, we put the value of the person and the relationship above the hurt of the offense. Once we know that our heart is in the right place, we find a convenient time to meet with the one who hurt us and gently and respectfully state our case. Our goal in doing so is understanding, reconciliation, and peace. If the one we are confronting cares about the relationship, he or she will work with us toward that goal. If not, we go back to God for direction from there, knowing we’ve treated our offender as Christ would.
Jesus loved us, forgave us, and offered reconciliation before we even knew we’d done wrong. He gently confronts us by His Spirit and through His Word. Then He leaves the response up to us. When someone we care about hurts us, we can follow His example, asking for His Spirit’s help as we confront . . . in love . . . gently . . . for peace that’s real.
Father, when we need to confront, help us to do so boldly for the sake of the relationship and the good of everyone involved. Amen.