George R. Foster
Confrontation and Forgiveness
There is a time to forgive and a time to confront.
There is also a time to confront and forgive.
The problem had gone on far too long, but it was not easy to deal with. How do you face the head of a nation with the double accusation of adultery and murder – if you value your own life? I am sure Nathan appeared in David’s throne room after much prayer and soul-searching.
His voice must have trembled as he began:
“There were two men in a city. One man was rich, but the other was poor. The rich man had very many sheep and cattle. But the poor man had nothing but one little female lamb he had bought. The poor man fed the lamb. It grew up with him and his children. It shared his food and drank from his cup. It slept in his arms. The lamb was like a daughter to him.
“Then a traveler stopped to visit the rich man. The rich man wanted to give food to the traveler. But he didn’t want to take one of his own sheep or cattle to feed the traveler. Instead, he took the lamb from the poor man. The rich man killed the lamb and cooked it for his visitor.”
David was angry – not with Nathan, but with the rich man in the story. “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this should die! He must pay for the lamb four times for doing such a thing. He had no mercy!”
David, the highest authority in Israel, determined a stiff sentence for a cowardly crime.
What he didn’t know was that he was declaring himself guilty of a much greater offense. For it was at this moment that Nathan declared: “You are the man. You killed Uriah. You took his wife to become your wife. . . . God will punish you publicly so all the people of Israel can see.”
In private, David must have confessed his sin a thousand times before the Lord. Now, to his accuser he said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12).
Amazingly, along with the accusation came the positive word, “God has taken away your sin.” Amazing also was the effect the confrontation had in David’s life-acknowledgement of sin, brokenness, repentance, chastisement, and restoration.
Do I really have to confront?
Very few people enjoy confronting others about their sins. Most will go to any length necessary to avoid confrontation. “Why should I get involved? It’s not my problem. Who am I to point out the problems of others? I’ve got my own shortcomings. What if I’m misunderstood? What if I appear to be the guilty one?”
Yet the Scriptures make it clear that it is our responsibility as Christians to gently, lovingly, yet boldly confront other believers who sin against us or who are involved in wrongdoing: “If your brother sins, tell him he is wrong. But if he is sorry and stops sinning, forgive him” (Luke 17:3).
Peter must have learned something about confrontation; he was confronted by both Jesus and Paul. But the confrontations had their desired effect. Peter became a great man of God and a wonderful encourager of the Church.
Following Scripture in Confrontation
A few years ago a Brazilian Christian came to me weeping. He said an American missionary had mercilessly humiliated him in front of his colleagues.
My first reaction was like David’s – empathy and anger. “We can’t let this kind of thing continue . . . I’ll go now and set things straight.”
I had taken up other people’s causes in the past and gotten in trouble for it. Foolishly, I was ready to do it again. But this time, before I could do anything to compound the problem, I remembered Matthew 18: 15-20:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him what he did wrong. Do this in private. If he listens to you, then you have helped him to be your brother again. But if he refuses to listen, then go to him again and take one or two people with you. Every case may be proved by two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, then tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, then treat him as you would one who does not believe in God. Treat him as if he were a tax collector.
I read that passage of scripture to my friend and said, “I’m going to ask you to do a very hard thing. Go tell that man that he hurt you. Tell him how humiliated you felt; how unfair he was to you. Tell him that you are coming to forgive him and extend an invitation to acknowledge his sin and repent. If he doesn’t respond as he should, come back to me and we’ll go together.” I prepared myself for the encounter that seemed inevitable.
But when my friend returned a couple of hours later, his smile told me there was nothing more to be done. He beamed and said, “I’ve won a brother.” More often than not we talk to others behind the offender’s back. Our anger grows and we put ourselves in a position where we feel we can’t back down. Or we use a wrong process to work out the problem.
A missionary once complained, “One of my board members is trying to walk off with the business. I’ve talked to him. Others have talked to him. It looks like I’ll have to take him to court.”
Scripture admonishes us not to take a brother to a civil court (1 Cor. 6: 1-11). So I said, “Why don’t you take the matter to his church? Explain to the pastor that you have done everything you know to do and everything the Bible requires, but nothing has worked. Ask for his help.”
Several weeks later, the missionary told me, “That was the best advice I ever received.
The pastor got a group of leaders together, examined the situation, and the whole problem has been worked out.”
How to confront
When Paul exhorted the Galatian Christians to confront erring brothers, he gave them some guidelines:
Brothers, someone in your group might do something wrong. You who are spiritual should go to him and help him make things right again. You should do this in a gentle way. But be careful! You might be tempted to sin, too. Help each other with your troubles. When you do this you will truly obey the law of Christ . . . Each person should judge his own actions (Gal. 6:1,2,4).
Confrontation – a Job for the Spiritually Sensitive!
Confrontation is clearly a job for those who are spiritually sensitive and whose life is in order. The objective is restoration, not just correction. If you don’t have the right motive in mind, you are not ready to get involved. So many situations are volatile. A harshly spoken word or untruth can cause a reaction that could put things out of place forever. “A gentle answer will calm a person’s anger. But an unkind answer will cause more anger” (Prov. 15:1).
A Case for Confrontation
Richard Duncan, a missionary in Brazil with Overseas Crusades developed a series of studies concerning the ministry of confrontation (Richard Duncan, Passo a Passo, Estudos em Discipulado, (Sao Paulo, Brazil: Sepal, 1991). He reminds us that confrontation is necessary when a person is headed for destruction.
“I [God] might say to the wicked person: ‘Wicked man, you will surely die.’ But you might not speak to warn the evil person to stop doing evil. Then he will die while still a sinner. But I will punish you for his death” (Ezek. 33:8).
A Series of Tests to Decide When to Confront
Duncan shares a series of tests to use when deciding whether or not the situation calls for confrontation. The following text is translated from the Portuguese and slightly adapted:
- The test of love. Do I really care about this individual and want to help him? Do I love him enough to be patient, kind, and forgiving?
- The test of truth. Do I really know the truth about the situation? Is there specific Bible teaching about this issue?
- The test of necessity. Is the situation serious enough to demand a confrontation? What will happen if the situation continues as it is?
- The test of words. Have I thought this situation through enough so that I really know what I’m talking about? Does it call for some creativity like Nathan used?
- The test of time. Is this the right time to deal with the situation? Is the person ready to face it? What kind of mood will I find the person in? How can I arrange the best possible circumstances that will contribute toward a successful encounter?
Confrontation that heals
Those few people in this world who love to confront, often seem to enjoy a fight and take pleasure in showing their power.
They can be cruel and sarcastic, and say things like: “Why don’t you grow up?” “If you don’t produce, you’ll be fired.” “Can’t you do anything right?” “You lied; you’re wrong; that’s sin!” Some only confront when they are angry, but an angry confrontation often does more harm than good.
Confrontation can be done in a friendly way: “I would like to talk with you alone about something I have noticed in your life that you may not be aware of. Because of my love and appreciation for you, I am concerned for your relationship with the Lord and your ministry to others.”
Confronting is seldom a pleasant task. It requires love, wisdom, discernment, courage, and gentleness. It also requires that we be open to having our own lives examined and corrected by others. The process can be as painful to us as it is to the person we confront. But we must not neglect this important ministry that God has ordained and that can do so much good in and for the body of Christ.
George R. Foster
6820 Auto Club Road Bloomington, MN 55438 USA firstname.lastname@example.org