Reading: Matthew 16:13-28
Are there conversations you don’t want to have?
Many years ago, there was an advertisement that said, “Even your best friends won’t tell you.” It was about bad breath or B.O. or something. Here’s the question: Shouldn’t your best friends tell you? If they loved you, wouldn’t they tell you so as to save you from more embarrassment?
But that is difficult, isn’t it? Have you ever told someone that he/she has bad breath?
What if someone is making decisions that are going to cause them, or others, pain? What if someone has an annoying personality defect that was causing problems? Or, what about helping someone who does something well, do it very well? Might they think you are critical of their current efforts?
It is not easy saying something that might be for the person’s benefit but also might cause offense. And so, generally, we don’t. We say nothing or we talk about other thing – superficial things. We tend to be nice. We talk about the weather. But nice isn’t loving. We would be more loving if we said something and we saved them from embarrassment or from causing havoc or from further pain or helped them grow. How can we have relationships that get beyond the superficial and pointless and make a difference?
On the other hand, some people don’t mind being confrontational. They are abrasive and hurtful. They don’t seem to realise, or care, that people might be hurt. If nice isn’t loving; neither is nasty! What is the middle road that is loving? What is the road between bland and pointless, and aggressive and rude?
Colossians 4:6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Does that seasoning with salt mean there is an element of challenge? Yes, gentle and gracious but also wanting to do some good and so a touch of challenge.
- Jesus challenged people all the time.
We can think of the obvious examples. He drove the moneychangers out of the temple. It was a dramatic and noisy and violent confrontation. Jesus was angry that these men should have turned God’s temple into a place for commerce. He overturned their tables and Mark’s gospel says He would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the Temple courts. How did He stop them? Did He physically prevent them?
He spoke strongly against the teachers of the law and the Pharisees and called them hypocrites and a brood of vipers – a nest of snakes.
He turned on Peter in Matt 16 saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” after Peter had tried to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem.
Those were very “in-your-face” examples but I think we could probably list a hundred other times when Jesus challenged people and they weren’t like that. They might have been no more than a question that made the other person think. He did it to make a difference; to help someone grow.
After the resurrection, Jesus met Peter on a beach. Peter, of course, only days before had denied that he knew Jesus. Jesus asked, “Peter, do you truly love me?” Three times He asked, “Peter, do you love me?” and Peter felt uncomfortable. John 21:17 says that Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him three times. That was a confrontation. Jesus confronted Peter with a question, but it wasn’t born out of anger. It arose out of Jesus’ love for Peter and His desire to forgive him and reinstate him.
Jesus had asked the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” There was nothing aggressive at all about that, but it challenged them to think through that question. Who did they believe He was? Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
He blessed Simon Peter and prophesied over him: “Blessed are you… You have heard God…I will give you the keys of the Kingdom.” That was very positive and affirming but it would also have been a challenge. What did it mean? What responsibilities would Peter have to shoulder?
He warned the disciples not to tell anyone he was the Christ. He talked about His death. That would have been a challenge. What was going on? Was He out of His mind? Would they still follow Him?
Peter thought he knew better. Jesus rebuked Peter harshly.
He then taught about discipleship. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
All of those challenged them in one way or another. We shouldn’t think only of the rebuke as being a challenge. Jesus constantly wanted to make a difference.
When the disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, there are 15,000 people here and they have no food” Jesus said, “You feed them!” That was a challenge. It was a test of their belief in miracles and their faith in Him.
When Jesus said to the Pharisees who had brought the woman caught in adultery to Him, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” it was a confrontation. I think it was gentle and compassionate, and Jesus simply bent down and wrote on the ground as He waited for a response, but it was a challenge to them.
He said to the woman, “I do not condemn you” and He didn’t. He had compassion on her. But when He said, “Go now and leave your life of sin” He called her sin “sin” and challenged her to make a change in her lifestyle. It was gentle. It was loving, but it was a challenge.
We could list dozens and dozens of other examples. Jesus challenged people all the time.
What can we learn from this?
a) Challenge is a good thing
Jesus did it all the time. Jesus didn’t shy away from speaking the truth. Is it reasonable to therefore say that the followers of Jesus should also be doing it all the time? We’ll come back to that.
b) Challenge is not always confrontational.
Confrontational describes an attitude. Some people seem to like being argumentative; like opposing people. But that wasn’t Jesus.
Jesus’ example shows that challenge can be a major clash – dramatic, head-to-head challenges – but far more often He challenged people gently, and simply because He loved them and wanted to see them forgiven, restored, set free, having new understanding, learning practical lessons, growing.
c) Without some challenge – there can be no growth.
Ephesians 4:15 speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
It is through speaking the truth in love that we grow up to maturity.
If nothing challenges our current state – if nothing motivates us to change something in our lives – we will stay exactly where we are. That may be as simple as the discussion in a small group confronting our understanding of some topic or confronting our behaviour. And it may be that no one else in the group even knows that something in us is being challenged. It is not necessarily a clash of heads. It may be completely harmonious but something about our life is confronted.
That is what Jesus so often wanted for people – growth – new understanding, stronger faith – and He prodded a little bit to stimulate that growth. Every time Jesus taught, he confronted people’s current understanding with a new understanding. Should followers of Jesus also be constantly stimulating growth in others? We are called to be like Jesus, so yes, we should have that same concern to stimulate growth.
d) Christlike challenge is an expression of love.
Why should our conversation be always seasoned with salt?
- To get us thinking and deepening our understanding – stimulating our thinking with questions and different insights
- To encourage a new level of commitment. Remember that Hebrews says, “spur one another on towards love and good deeds.”
- Maybe because someone has hurt us. Why would we confront that person? Because the relationship needs to be healed and at the moment it is unresolved. Or because that person might be in danger of doing the same thing to others – perhaps without realising it. We would be helping that person if we helped him/her understand what he/she was doing, but are we willing to?
- What if you saw someone falling away – becoming less and less committed to Jesus – adopting a lifestyle that was inconsistent with the gospel? Would you take the risk of challenging that person?
In all of these cases, to challenge is an expression of love. Some of us are hesitant even to do that – even to ask a question or share something from the Bible. Almost always that is because we are more concerned for ourselves than we are for the other person. We are more concerned to protect ourselves from conflict or rejection or to maintain superficial relationships than we are concerned to help other people. Me too. Often I won’t say anything. We would rather avoid issues than talk about them, but, as a result, our discipleship is weaker. When we keep our conversations at a superficial level, we keep our faith also at a superficial level. We have to learn to talk to each other.
Evangelism is confronting people with their need for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, but again many of us are more concerned for ourselves than we are for the people going to hell.
If that is true of us, we need to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus. Is Jesus confronting us with that today?
Wouldn’t you rather that your friends loved you enough to tell you?
Proverbs 27:5, 6 Better is open rebuke than hidden love.
Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. (NIV)
Or, as the CEV has it:
Proverbs 27:5,6 A truly good friend will openly correct you.
You can trust a friend who corrects you, but kisses from an enemy are nothing but lies.
Are you that truly good friend who will openly correct? Jesus is. He won’t leave us in immaturity or in sin, and not care. He confronts us all the time. That is why we read our Bibles – because we want God to speak to us – to teach, rebuke, correct and to train us in righteousness. Maybe Jesus is confronting us now. Is Jesus saying, “Please don’t avoid speaking the truth. Imitating me so that my church doesn’t remain weak.”
Do you know someone who needs you to swallow your pride, or your fear and speak the truth to him/her? If we will not challenge, we are not following Jesus’ example and we are not obeying the Bible. “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”
But equally, those who do confront might not be following Jesus because there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. The Bible says quite a lot about how to challenge. Hopefully we will look at that next week.