Jesus said He was going to build His church. That He is, and the gates of death will never overcome this endeavor (Matt 16:18). That doesn’t negate the reality that the church must internally deal with sin. The church must deal with sin, because every Christian will struggle with sin on this side of eternity. Sin needs to be dealt with individually, as every believer is called to wage war against his own flesh (Gal 5:16). But it also needs to be dealt with relationally and believers need to help each other wage that war. Christians have the responsibility not only to deal with personal sin, but at times to faithfully confront others who are in sin.
It is true that confronting the sins of others is a difficult task for many. People are quicker to give opinions on preferential matters than to faithfully confront the sins of a brother or sister. People are quick to express how they don’t like certain songs selected by the music team, how pastor’s sermon was too long, how the children’s ministry doesn’t leave enough time for crafts, and how the chairs should be green instead of brown.
Expressing opinions is, by and large, far easier than confronting sin. And yet confronting sin is far more vital to the life of the church. Every believer, then, ought to seriously consider the responsibility to confront the sin of a transgressing brother or sister, and to do it humbly. Thankfully, we are not left alone to figure out how to do this. Just like every other matter that deals with the edification of Christ’s Church, the Word of God gives us instruction as to how to go about the discipline of humble confrontation. Consider the instruction in Galatians 6:1:
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.
Packed in this verse are five considerations for the believer to have in order to humbly confront a sinning brother.
First, consider the nature of the sinner and his sin. The first part of the verse says, “If anyone is caught in any trespass.” This is the condition of a particular sinner that warrants confrontation. While every person is a sinner and everyone sins everyday whether in thought or deed, not every sin—either of commission or omission—requires a direct confrontation from another brother. In fact, Proverbs 19:11 states that it is the glory of a man to overlook transgression.
So, when are we called to actually confront rather than overlook? It is when a brother or sister is caught in sin. To stumble into sin is different than being caught in sin, in the same way that a fleeing gazelle that trips while trying to escape a pursuing cheetah is a far different picture than a gazelle that is caught by one and is struggling to free itself from the latter’s chokehold. The Greek word for “caught” means “to be detected, to be caught by surprise, to be overtaken.” This speaks of a believer who is unaware that he has fallen into sin (such as these Galatians who were straying from the true gospel unknowingly) and thus continues to walk in it. Ask yourself, first, if the person you are seeking to confront has merely stumbled into sin or if he is ensnared in it.
Second, consider the condition of your own soul before confronting. Those trapped in their sin ought to be confronted, but not everyone is fit to confront them. Galatians 6:1 identifies those who are: “you who are spiritual.” Paul isn’t referring to some artificial, prudish form of spirituality so often characteristic of legalistic circles. He’s referring to those who are walking in the Spirit and consistently bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:16-26). He’s speaking of those who are indeed consistently putting to death the deeds of the flesh and who consistently tread the path directed by the Spirit. While your sinning brother needs to be confronted, only when you are consistently walking in the influence of the Spirit are you fit and qualified to confront him.
Too often a person who himself isn’t really walking in the Spirit takes it upon himself—possibly in an effort to redeem himself or draw attention away from his own issues—to confront another brother for his sin. It’s not that the sin isn’t worth confronting; rather, it’s that he isn’t the right person to do it. In other words, you can’t even start to take the speck out of your brother’s eye when you have the entire Redwood Sequoia National Forest lodged in yours (Matt 7:1-5)! Before you confront your fellow Christian, be sure you are walking in the Spirit at that moment. If so, you have been entrusted with the responsibility to confront those ensnared in sin.
Third, consider the goal of your confrontation. Galatians 6:1 says that the spiritual person ought to “restore” the one caught in any trespass. Confrontation, then, is not the goal; restoration is. Whenever someone seeks counsel as to how to deal with a loved one who is sinning—be it a spouse, a child, a parent, or a friend—I’ll often ask the question, “Is your goal to be right? Or is your goal to get them to do what’s right?” There’s a difference between the two. There’s a difference between confronting to prove your righteousness or confronting in order to get someone to walk in righteousness. Having the proper goal will indeed shape the spirit with which you confront. Arrogant confrontation focuses on self-righteousness.
Humble confrontation is genuinely concerned about the other person’s spiritual welfare. Think of a nursing mother trying to help her newborn who’s resisting milk and refusing to sleep. She can lecture that newborn all she wants about the physical benefits of feeding and sleeping, and she’ll be right. But you don’t see loving mothers lecturing their babies; you see them cradling, stroking, singing, and swaddling them. Why? Because gentleness, nor harshness, carries the power of persuasion (Prov 25:15). And that leads to the next consideration.
Fourth, consider the manner of your confrontation. Galatians 6:1 instructs us to restore “in a spirit of gentleness.” I’ve often heard people say that gentle confrontation means sandwiching your meat of rebuke with bread slices of encouragement. Honestly, I think this is bogus, and all this does is produce artificial encouragements. After a while, people start to pick up that the only time you ever encourage is when you have to confront! To confront and restore with a spirit of gentleness is not merely talking about your method, but about your actual spirit. It speaks of the genuineness of your own soul.
Personally, I have never been accused of harshness by those who I have confronted who, in my heart of hearts, I genuinely cared about and over whom my heart truly broke with compassion. Gentleness (or “meekness,” as translated by some). As much as I’d love to walk you through a five-step process of how to be gentle with people, the reality is that true gentleness resides in the spirit of a person. It’s what’s often referred to as a person’s “soft spot.” Do you truly have a soft spot for the person you are confronting? Are you truly concerned about breaking the bruised reed (Isa 42:3)? If so, you are in position to confront. If you are excited about confronting; if you can’t wait to confront; and if you feel yourself loaded for bear in your preparation to confront, it would behoove you to refrain. To humbly confront is to gently confront.
Fifth and finally, consider your own susceptibility to the sin you’re confronting. Galatians modifies the command to restore with the words, “looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” When confronting an erring brother, saying things like, “How could you have done that?” or “I would never do that!” or “I can’t believe you did that!” or “You seriously did that?” may emphatically denounce the heinousness of a sin, but it wrongly betrays the reality of your own susceptibility to the same sin. The mature, spiritual saint understands that while there is no temptation that you cannot bear and from which there is no escape through the grace of God (1 Cor 10:13), there is also no sin that he is above falling into (1 Cor 10:12). You cannot humbly confront a fellow believer if you yourself are not a humble man. And the humble man has both a hatred for sin and right understanding of the sinful flesh that remains in him that is so easily enticed by sin. Be watchful, then, when you confront others of sin, and examine yourself carefully lest you fall into the same sin.
Let us consider our responsibility to deal with sin in the church. May we be clothed with a spirit of humility. May we be empowered to courageously confront. For humble confrontation is truly a powerful weapon in the hands of God to sanctify His Bride progressively for that final day!