Recently I discovered a thoughtful podcast called Friends in Formation. It is sponsored by Renovare, an international nonprofit dedicated to helping people become more like Jesus. Each month, the three presenters entertain three questions submitted to the podcast to enable us all to walk more closely with God. One question resonated with me this past week: “How do we discern when it is necessary, good, and loving to address someone else’s actions?”
Clearly, in Matthew 18, Jesus outlines a process for dealing with sin in the church. Paul reiterates at least part of that message in Galatians 6 when he says, “If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself (6:1, MSG)” So, as Christians, we have a responsibility to address our brother or sister’s sin with kindness and gentleness – but the question is about discernment – when is it specifically ours to confront another?
1: Do you have a close relationship with the person you are concerned about?
- Galatians 6:2 (CSB) says, “Carry one another’s burdens; in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” You’ll know that you are in a relationship with a brother or sister if you have been listening, connecting, and available to carry burdens. If you don’t have this kind of relationship, lift your brother or sister in prayer. Ask God to provide the assistance they need. Let someone who is in a relationship do the correcting.
2: Is it sin, or is it a matter of conscience?
- Maybe what has been done is wrong for you, but that does not necessarily make it wrong or sin for another. The Apostle Paul addresses this topic in Romans 14.
Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. … If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.Romans 14:1, 4 MSG
3: What are your motives and heart condition?
- Jesus was clear in the Sermon on the Mount that we have a problem with judgment. We tend to want to pluck the specks out of other people’s eyes without first attending to the plank in our own eyes (Matthew 7).
- Before talking to anyone else about their sin, we need to spend time with the Scripture allowing it to speak into our hearts and minds. The Scripture tells us, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires (Hebrews 4:12 NLT).”
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.Philippians 2:3 NLT
4: What insight has God given you in this matter?
- James teaches us, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” Take time to sleep on your decision to speak up and pray. Ask specifically for the Spirit of God to guide you, soften your words, and direct your thoughts. James again, “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, free of hypocrisy.” (James 1:5 NLT; 3:17 NASB)
5: How might you seek to understand more completely?
- Seek to understand when you are in conflict with another or witness their sin. Realizing that there may be more to the story is not being soft on sin; it’s being gentle with people. “To respond to a matter before you hear about it shows foolishness and brings shame (Proverbs 18:13 VOICE).” The Apostle Paul says it this way, “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had — (Philippians 2:3-5 NET)” Think, “dialogue, not a monologue!”
6: It is never our right to condemn.
- Last, it is never our right to condemn. Jesus illustrates that so well with the women caught in the act of adultery. And He says of His coming, “If anyone hears my words and doesn’t keep them, I don’t condemn him, because I didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 12:47 ISV).”
I hope these questions, verses, and thoughts will guide you when seeking discernment about confronting another person’s actions.
A Hymn of Encouragement
Bear ye one another’s burdens,
As ye struggle on thro’ life;
Turn not on your erring brother,
Add not to his care and strife;
Let your heart beat kindly for him,
For this world with sin is rife.
If his burden be so heavy
That he stoops beneath the care,
Help him bear it, of your vigor,
Give him as you well can spare.
Wipe away the tears of sorrow
Falling from his weary eyes;
Point him to a joy eternal,
In the land beyond the skies,
Ere his pining heart in anguish,
Bitter, hopeless anguish, dies.
Sympathy and love can brighten
Burdens that are hard to bear;
Angels bright will help you nobly,
Angels from the land so fair.
Wrap not close your mantle ’round you—J. William Van Namee
Mantle dark, of selfish pride;
In your bosom, gentle impulse
Do not strive to crush or hide;
There is much of good and evil
In this world so broad and wide.
Much for willing hearts of labor,
Much of good there is to do;
Then arouse! leave not the burden
Bearing heavy on the few.
I wrote about this topic a year ago, Ask Questions, Be Curious, if you are interested in thinking about relationships with others from a slightly different perspective.