In the two decades I’ve been a Christian, I can honestly say that I’ve never had another Christian tell me they enjoy confronting another believer.
But that’s probably a good thing.
While confrontation is a necessary element of our Christian obedience (see Matt 18:15-20)—one which we’ve largely abandoned in our contemporary church culture—it is probably not an encouraging sign if we find ourselves reveling in toe-to-toe conflict with someone over their sin. A heart that relishes the opportunity to point out someone’s failings or to stir up anger in another person is a self-righteous, immature heart. Christian growth is expressed in humility and broken heartedness over other people’s sin, not in arrogant glee. A Christian who delights in confrontation is likely not keeping in step with the Spirit but has become “conceited,” prone to “provoking” others and envious of others (Gal 5:25-26).
That’s why Paul tells Christians, when they find a brother or sister ensnared in sin, to “restore them in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6:2). Interestingly, Paul never uses the word “confront” in this passage. Nor does he use any words that bear a similar meaning. He doesn’t say “rebuke” or “admonish” or “exhort” the erring brother. He simply says to “restore” him. Why?
Well, because when we are dealing with sin, Paul assumes there will be a need to confront the person at some level and, where it is necessary, rebuke, admonish, and exhort them (e.g., 1 Thess 5:14). While the word “confront” can sound abrasive or even harsh, and may even, due to its use in our contemporary culture, carry overtones of hostile intent, it doesn’t have to. To confront another believer is simply to bring them face-to-face with their sin. But Paul doesn’t emphasize or mention the confrontation component of this personal interaction because confrontation is not the goal. Restoration is.
This goal, then, provides guidance for the way we are to conduct ourselves throughout the whole process. If restoration is the aim (not just confrontation), then we will be better able to handle our erring brother in a spirit of gentleness. If we make it our objective and heart’s desire to see our sinning brother brought back to obedience, fruitfulness, and joy in Christ, then we will be far less likely to treat them harshly. If our goal is their spiritual good and full restoration, then we will labor to make our conduct most conducive to their repentance. We will be careful to avoid harsh words that stir up anger (Prov 15:1), and, instead, patiently apply soft, yet effective words: “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.” (Prov 25:15). Soft doesn’t suggest weak or diluted in terms of the content. If we want our brother to be fully restored, then we will need to be clear and straightforward about his sin.
Nevertheless, it is possible to present the truth in a way—with frustration, anger, severity—that causes the listener to close their ears to our appeals. But gentleness disarms, defuses, and prepares the other person to receive correction. We may tend to think that gentleness is frail and ineffective. We must remember, however, that gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). When our conduct is guided by the Spirit, therefore, our attempts at restoration will bear supernatural power. And we will only be guided by the Spirit when restoration is our goal.