Read Ephesians 4:15-5:2
Last week I avoided the word “confrontation” but this week I am going to use it to describe the conversations we would rather not have – the difficult conversations – the conversations where we confront another person. We avoid confrontations because there is the risk of damaging a relationship but, by avoiding them we also miss the opportunity to deepen the relationship. If our relationships are going to be more than superficial we have to have honest conversations but how can we do it well? How can we have a really good confrontation?
Some people would think a really good confrontation is one where sparks fly, tempers are lost, punches are thrown, insults are hurled. The more blood there is on the floor the better.
Or we might think that a really good confrontation was one in which I absolutely demolished the other person. I emerged victorious. It was a good confrontation if I won.
But Christians couldn’t be happy with either of those. Can I suggest that a really good confrontation would be one where two people were able to talk honestly and frankly about an issue, where they were able to part as friends and where both had grown as a result.
If you had to confront somebody, isn’t that how you would measure how good it had been – not by the amount of shouting, and not by whether you had emerged victorious, but by whether you had been honest and loving – especially if the other person had responded in a similar manner?
The Bible has a very good definition of a really good confrontation…
Ephesians 4:15 speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
In a really good confrontation the context is love; the content is truth and the consequence is growth.
Specifically, for Christians, growth into Christ; into Christlikeness.
Imagine the value of good confrontations in our marriages, or our families, or our workplaces or our church, when the context is love, the content is truth and the consequence is growth into Christlikeness.
Jesus Himself was described as being full of grace and truth; grace and truth. So are we to be.
How can we have a really good confrontation? I think the whole answer is summed up in those words: Speak the truth in love.
1. Stop and Think
a) Is my motivation right? Why do I want to confront this person?
- To vindicate myself. I want people to know I am right. I want to win the argument.
- To hurt the other person. He/she has hurt me. I want to get my own back.
Those reasons centre on me. I am doing it for me. Any motivation that centres on me, is wrong.
Ephesians 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
What if we put that into practice? The only talk that comes out of our mouths is that which is helpful for building others up according to their needs. It is about their needs and about building them up. Everything we say should be designed to benefit those who listen. We must be sure that is our motivation.
The motivation must be love. Love is focussed on the other person, not on ourselves. That is why we have to ask ourselves honestly, “Why am I doing this? For me or for him?”
Is my motivation right? Am I doing this to vent my frustrations or to help him grow in Christ?
b) Is my understanding right? Make sure you have the facts.
All sorts of rumours go around. Are we sure that our understanding is correct? Misunderstandings are two-a-penny. We might think we were slighted or insulted but were we really?
Speaking the truth implies that we don’t speak rumours or speculation but that we have got our facts right. It might pay to double-check before we say anything.
Proverbs 18:13 What a shame—yes, how stupid!—to decide before knowing the facts!
c) Am I right?
Matthew 7:3-5 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Jesus did say to remove the speck from our brother’s eye. We are to confront, but we have a responsibility to sort out our own lives before we try to sort out everybody else’s.
d) Is a confrontation going to be helpful?
We don’t have to react to every incident. If we love someone, we might just overlook some offence.
1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Is a confrontation going to achieve something? If not, perhaps we should just forget it.
Someone gave me this cool acronym. THINK: Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? If the answer to any one of those questions is “No” perhaps we shouldn’t say anything.
I am sure we can see the wisdom in praying before initiating one of these conversations. We will pray that we conduct ourselves well and in a Christ-honouring way. But we will also pray that God prepares the heart of the other person to respond well so that the encounter might be one we give thanks for.
3. Do it.
Test it first. If our motivation etc isn’t right then we shouldn’t confront. Most of us would welcome a reason not to confront. Whew! What we need to remember is that God says we are to do it.
Matt 18:15 If your brother sins against you, go and show him his faults, just between the two of you.
God wants us to talk to each other and to sort things out if there has been an offence.
Ephesians 4:26 also said, “Deal with it. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. If there is tension, get it sorted out that same day.” To fail to sort it out is to give the devil a foothold.
But the way it says to deal with it is quite different from the way non-Christians might deal with it – quite different. Christians are to approach confrontation in a way that reflects the new attitude that comes with the new life in Christ. We are to put off the old life and to live the new life.
4. Make it obvious that your motivation is love
a) Express your love for the person
It might go something like this, “Stan, we’ve known each other a long time and I’ve always appreciated your friendship. You’ve taught me a lot and have always been there to support me. It’s because we are friends that I can’t do nothing now. There is something I want to talk to you about, and I want you to know that it is only because I am concerned for you. I’d really rather not do this, but I care about you and feel I have to. I really hope that this won’t damage our friendship.”
By that stage you can be sure that he is nervous about what is coming next! But at least you have put it into the setting of your love and respect. Of course, we have to be sure that that is genuine, but if it is and we say it, we have increased the chances of a really good confrontation.
You will probably also be nervous. You know there is a chance it will be misunderstood and the relationship damaged. You dread that. On the other hand, for the relationship to be stronger, maybe this confrontation needs to take place. You are doing the right thing, with the right attitude.
b) Speak in a way that shows love and respect
Eph 4 says: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit… Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
That is God’s way to confront – no malice, no anger, no slander. Instead kindness, compassion and freely forgiving, just as we have been forgiven.
The temptation is to prepare ourselves by getting all psyched up and then delivering a lecture, with our voice tense, all our arguments sorted out and our mind made up. Or, to speak harshly with bitterness or slander. However, if we are gentle, kind, compassionate and very ready to forgive because we know that we also have been forgiven, then there is a much greater chance that the other person will remain open to what we are saying. Nobody likes to be lectured or bullied. That will make him/her more resistant. Let him/her know that your love is genuine. Make it clear that you come as a friend, not as an adversary.
Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Respect for the other person means:
- Never humiliate him – especially not publicly, but not even privately. That’s not your goal.
- Respect his feelings
- Respect his privacy – which may mean carefully choosing a time and place for the confrontation where he is not humiliated.
- Listen carefully to what he has to say. Listening shows respect.
Love isn’t always shown by gentleness. Sometimes, just as it was for Jesus, love is shown by our anger. There are times when it is appropriate that we make it clear that we are angry, but, in general, gentleness is much more likely to win the response you want.
c) Look for a positive outcome
Remember your motivation. You are doing this for the other person’s sake. Therefore look for a solution where he is better off. Let him know that you don’t simply want him to feel bad but that you want to help.
5. Be humble
Acknowledge that you might be wrong. Be willing to listen and, if necessary, apologise. “If I’m wrong, please tell me but I understand…”
Acknowledge your own ability to get things wrong. Speak as a fellow traveller who also needs help, not as someone who has it all sorted out. Use examples of your own struggles. Eph 4:32 said that we should be ready to forgive just as we have been forgiven by God. Remember, we too are forgiven sinners.
Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.
All of us are susceptible to temptation. All of us can fail. God says, “Be careful that while you are helping someone else you don’t let your own guard down and also fall into temptation.” Humility says, “I am no better than you.” There but for the grace of God, go I.”
6. Say clearly what is on your heart.
Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t hint at your concern so subtly that he is unsure what you are saying. Once you have demonstrated your love, speak the truth.
That doesn’t mean be brutally blunt. Be tactful, but not so tactful that the message is confused or you go away regretting that you didn’t really say what you had intended to say.
7. Express your love again.
Most of us don’t like confronting, yet God says do it. “If your brother sins against you, go and talk to him. Speak the truth in love.” Speaking the truth in love is a superb balance. If we lean too much towards the truth we will be harsh. If we lean too much towards love we may fail to be truthful. God’s balance is “speak the truth in love.”
What happens when we speak the truth in love? What happens when we confront well, and our confrontations can pass the test of being both truthful and loving? In all things, in all aspects of our lives, we grow up into Christlikeness. Our relationships are better. We are more mature – more like Jesus. There is more evidence of Christ in our lives. It is a very positive, up-building thing, but we do need to get the balance right. If it is out of balance it becomes destructive. Jesus is our model. He is full of grace and truth. And His word gives us guidelines for having really good confrontations – confrontations where people are able to talk honestly and frankly about issues – even difficult issues – and are able to part as friends both having grown as a result.
Ephesians 4:15 speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.