28.7.13 – Confrontations That Are Not Gentle – Peter Cheyne

I realise that you might have had enough of confrontation. My concern though is that often we avoid issues and when we do we stop talking to people or relationships break down. Jesus wants us to deal with issues in a Christ-like ways. Last week I talked about speaking the truth in love and I suggested that “in love” means we treat people with respect; that we speak genuinely wanting to benefit the other person; that we come as a friend, not as an adversary.

But I have a problem: not all confrontations are like that. What about those where we actually come as an adversary; we come opposing the other person; we stand up to somebody and we say, “You are wrong! I cannot let you carry on doing what you are doing.” What about those confrontations where we rebuke another person or we draw a line in the sand and say, ‘Do not cross that line”? What about the times when it is anger that motivates us?

We might think, “O surely not! We are Christians.” But sometimes Jesus did and so sometimes those confrontations are Christ-like. When Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple, He didn’t follow my guidelines! He didn’t first express His love for the moneychangers and His pain at having to confront them. He didn’t speak gently and respectfully. He didn’t invite them to show Him if He was wrong.

Sometimes the call on us is to confront strongly. Sometimes, if a relationship is going to be real, we have to say, “No.”

I think what I said last week was biblical and is God’s way for maybe 98% of confrontations. And most of the time Jesus was gentle, respectful, etc. However, Jesus’ demonstrates, that sometimes a different approach is required. And yet, I think we will see that it is still a case of speaking the truth in love.

If this applies in only a tiny handful of cases, that should be a warning to us. This is not the norm. If we are acting aggressively, or in anger, more than very occasionally, we have probably got it wrong.

When is it justified that we act in anger? And, what is God’s way of going about it? I am not sure that I understand this sufficiently. Can we look at some incidents in the Bible to see if we can learn from them?

In Galatians 2:11-21 Paul recalls how he had had to oppose Peter publicly. Let’s read that. GAL 2:11-21

The early church had to decide whether the gospel of Jesus Christ was just for Jews or whether it was for Gentiles as well – and did Gentiles need to act like Jews and obey the Jewish laws to be Christians. Fortunately they realised that the gospel was for everyone and people didn’t have to become Jews, but there were ongoing differences of opinion. Paul, as a missionary, had more of a Gentile focus, but there was still a “circumcision party”, a group who said circumcision and Jewish food laws etc were essential to being a Christian.

God revealed to Peter that the gospel was for Gentiles. He mixed with them and ate with them until some from the circumcision party turned up. He was afraid of them, so he stopped mixing with the Gentiles.

Paul said, “This is wrong!” Publicly he said, “This is wrong!” There are perhaps five things to note here.

1)      He opposed Peter to his face

If we are going to oppose, let’s be courageous enough to do it to the person’s face.

There are easier ways. We can talk about them and not too them. We can undermine them giving them no chance to respond or state their case because it is all behind their backs. Letters to the Editor have their place, but it is also true that people would rather attack each other through the media than talk together. We can even hide behind anonymity and oppose someone without revealing who we are.

That is not God’s way. If we are going to oppose let’s have the courage to be up-front about it and be identified with it. Relationships with integrity grow from the honesty and vulnerability required to speak face-to-face, not from hiding.

Matt 18:15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” We need to be willing to talk to each other, face-to-face.

2)      Paul says he opposed Peter “because he was clearly in the wrong.”

There’s a bold statement, but perhaps it shows us another Biblical requirement.

Christians have an unfortunate habit of fighting over all sorts of things. In the past Christians have killed Christians over questions of baptism or the method of church government. Romans 14 talks about “disputable matters.” There are some issues where the godly approach is to respect that there are different points of view or to discuss the issue. Romans 14 says that we should not condemn people whom God has accepted. Both we and they will have to stand before God and answer for our actions.

If we are going to have a sharp confrontation, let it not be over a disputable matter but one the person is clearly wrong. That means we must do some soul searching ourselves first, to be sure of our ground. Is it a matter where the other person is clearly wrong?

I had a bit of a profile in the arguments about homosexual leaders in the church. That debate wasn’t always civil. I was called some less-than-complimentary things. Several times I had to ask myself, “Am I right?” You might think, on an issue like that the answer is obvious, but I still had to ask myself, “Am I right in my understanding? Am I right in pursuing this? Am I right in how I go about it?

Paul opposed Peter because he was clearly in the wrong. In Matt 18 Jesus went on to say, “If he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” In other words, is the person wrong? Are there two or three people can witness to that – not just you.

3)      v.13 says other Jews joined Peter in his hypocrisy… Even Barnabas was led astray.

That raises the question: Is it doing any harm? Does it matter? If it doesn’t matter, then maybe it is not worth the fight. Here other people were being influenced and the Gentiles were becoming second class Christians. That sort of belief does matter. This is not only a theological issue but a justice issue.

In these sorts of cases the love that prompts the confrontation is not love for the other person but love for those people who are being hurt. Here it was Paul’s love for the Gentiles. When Jesus cleared the Temple it wasn’t love for the moneychangers but love for God who’s house of prayer was being used for greed.

I am sure you can think of many instances where you might feel the call of God to stand up because other people are being hurt – whether it is unborn babies, or pensioners or people being bullied or people living in poverty or whatever. Is harm being done? Does it matter? Yes, it does. This is a justice issue and people are suffering. If harm is being done, maybe someone has to stand up.

Titus 1:10-14       There are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain… Rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.

There are cases where a sharp rebuke is the Christian thing to do, for example, where people are being deceived and led astray by false teaching. Damage was being done. Whole households were being ruined.

4)      v.14 “in front of them all”

In Matt 18 Jesus says, “Do it privately – just between the two of you” but the longer it goes on with no response, and the more serious it gets, it becomes more public. In the first instance it should be private, but there are exceptions when it should be public.

Paul may not have been rebuking only Peter but all those others who had followed him. They all needed to hear the rebuke. There are times when the wider community needs to know that someone has been put on notice. But let’s be sure that the particular instance warrants it.

5)      State you case clearly

v.14 says “I said to Peter…” and the next 8 verses are a summary of what Paul did say.

We need to state our case – clearly, logically, rationally and compellingly. We need to have thought it through and presented it well. The whole point of the confrontation is for a point to be made and a warning issued. The point is not to make a scene. The point is to make a statement. That statement needs to be clearly and forcefully made, and that requires some disciplined thinking and disciplined communication on our part.

Another brief incident. READ Mark 10:13-16

Jesus was indignant! He was upset and angry that children should be pushed aside and de-valued. The disciples were wrong and Jesus told them they were wrong. The confrontation was prompted by Jesus’ love for the children. Again it was face-to-face. Again it was in public.

But notice that the rebuke was couched in instruction: “the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Anyone who will not receive the Kingdom like a little child will never enter it.” The disciples were wrong. It did matter. People were being hurt. They needed to know that they were wrong, but Jesus wasn’t condemning them. In fact, He wanted them to understand and grow. That suggests the rebuke is designed to bring growth. It is designed to be constructive, not destructive.

6. Let your purpose be constructive, not destructive

In Matt 23 Jesus criticises the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees mercilessly. Mercilessly? No, even though they were very, very wrong, there was mercy. At the end, in vv.33, 34 Jesus says, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers.”

What was the point of sending them prophets and wise men and teachers? That they might hear a word from God and change their ways and escape being condemned to hell. Despite their wrongdoing and the ways they were hurting other people, Jesus still wanted them to repent. It was a harsh rebuke but it was designed to confront them with their sin so that they might repent.

In Jesus’ most aggressive confrontations, He still wanted the best for those He rebuked. We see on our TVs callous criminals who do terrible things. We rightly feel revulsion but do we also pray for their salvation? Do we pray that they too will be in heaven? Jesus confronted people He was very angry with but He still wanted them to discover salvation.

You may have noticed that Paul said to Titus, “Rebuke them sharply, so that they will be strong in the faith.” The goal must be people’s redemption. The purpose of the rebuke is not to show how right we are but the other person’s redemption. Even sharp confrontations are a case of speaking the truth in love and making sure that our every word is to build others up according to their needs.

If you look at the accounts of Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the Temple, you will see that Mark’s gospel says, “And, as He taught them, He said, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations but you have made it a den of robbers.” In the midst of tossing them out, He taught them. He wanted them to have a Kingdom of God understanding. Even though it was a head-to-head clash, Jesus was working for good to come out of it.

In John 2, after Jesus had cleared the Temple, the Jews asked Him what authority He had to do that. That may be a point too. For example, parents have the God-given authority to rebuke their children, but, in general, children do not have the same authority to rebuke their parents. Maybe a question to ask is: 7. Do I have the authority to confront this person? For example, Paul warned Timothy, a young man…

1 Timothy 5:1      Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father.

I am not sure I understand adequately God’s mind on sharp confrontation – the times when we must say “You are wrong!” I simply offer those thoughts to you for you to think through, and I urge great care.

If we are regularly aggressive, that is not God’s way. But occasionally God calls us to challenge someone in a way that isn’t gentle. When is that justified and how should we go about it? Do these incidents give us some clues?

When?

  • when the other person is clearly wrong
  • when serious damage is being done
  • when we have the God-given authority to confront

How?

  • face-to-face
  • maybe publicly
  • stating our case clearly
  • with a desire to build, not destroy
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