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When Confrontation is Necessary
July 6, 1980

St. Paul's United Methodist Church


What do you do when you feel you have been hurt, mistreated or misrepresented? What do you do when you feel people or someone is saying things about you that just are not true? What do you do when you are hurt? What do you do when you show and feel a very deep concern over a loved one or a fellow Christian about the course their life is taking? Maybe some of the decisions they're making, unintentional decisions that you see are really headed for disaster, and you feel a deep concern over the course their life is taking. What do you do when you feel a deep concern over someone else? Do you gossip? Get on the telephone and tell everybody else about it? Spread the word? Or do you do nothing and hopefully, it'll all pass away—retreat and hope it'll all work itself out? 

Let's consider this morning some principles Paul laid down to the church in Galatia. Maybe you're surprised to find so much practical help in the Bible. Paul in his letters goes off into flowery theology, climbs mountains of grandeur in his ideas, but he ended every single letter on a very practical level of what to do for Christian behavior, what to do in your living. For all that grand theology amounts to little if it doesn't make a difference in the way we relate to one another. 

Especially in the early church, there was a lot of controversy, a lot of conflict. You think we have long Administrative Board meetings, you should have seen the conflicts back then. But, they didn't fight about money like we do. They fought about principles, beliefs, practices, and methods. Because of all the conflict, tension and turmoil in the early church, Paul wrote letters which included practical help. Especially to situations of conflict, do these words apply from the sixth chapter of Galatians, continuing from last week's lesson and sermon, 

The first four verses of chapter six of Galatians are written especially to us when you feel you've been hurt, or when you have a deep concern over someone else's life. First of all, Paul says, “Confront the other.” Be open, be direct. Don't go around the edges. Don't talk to others. Don't ask for intermediaries. Will you go talk to so and so? Be direct, one to one, eyeball to eyeball, knee to knee. Listen to the words, 6:1, “If someone is caught in any kind of wrong doing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right.” Jesus said the same in Matthew 18:15, “If someone does something wrong, go and have it out with him between your two selves.” Confront, be direct, and be very personal. Don't sidestep, don't back away, don’t just hope it'll all work out. Go and tackle the situation and the person directly. Realizing that the purpose of this confrontation between you and a loved one, or you and a fellow Christian, or a fellow worker, in order to be Christian, in order to be biblical, the purpose of the confrontation is to help and improve. It's not for judgment. It's not for punishment. It's not for retaliation. It's for good. It's for helping. The Greek word that Paul uses that we translate in our Bibles is to “set right”. That word is also used in the Greek language to repair, to mend. It's a word that the surgeons use in medical terminology when they cut out a growth, or mend a broken leg. So, to cure, to mend  to bring together is the purpose of a confrontation. 

Now, how do you make this confrontation productive and not destructive?  How do you make it helpful? Paul goes on In the same sentence, the next phrase, “If someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right In a spirit of gentleness.” Be gentle. There is a way of confronting that does not produce irritation. Instead of saying, “What do you mean by saying such and such? Or what do you mean by doing such and such?” say, “I am hurt by what you're doing. Or, I am concerned about what you're doing. I am concerned about what you're saying.” Speak in the first person and not in the second person. It's not what you are doing, it’s what I am feeling. It's what I am concerned about. It's what I am considering. It’s what I am thinking. Speak out of your own feelings. Speak out of your own experience. And don't lay guilt and anger on the other person. Do it gently and through your own feelings. Use the word “I” rather than the word “you”. 

Paul goes on. Be humble. The next phrase, “Do so in a spirit of gentleness, not forgetting that you may be tempted yourselves, not forgetting that you are not perfect.” When you confront someone it is not from a superior to an inferior position. It's not lording it over anyone. It's not catching anyone in any kind of act. Approach in humility, realizing I am not without sin. I am not without error. As Jesus said, “He that is without sin, cast the first stone.” Approach someone in order to make it a productive confrontation in gentleness and in humility. 

Paul goes on. Be willing to share the load and the responsibility. In 6:2, the next sentence, “Carry each other's troubles and fulfill the law of Christ.” Carry each other's troubles, share the responsibility, share the concern. The confrontation is not to antagonize. The confrontation is not me against you. The confrontation in order to be productive is, “Together, let's work this out. I am hurt by what you're doing. Let's work it out together. Or I'm concerned about the choices or the directions you're making. Let me help you.” Let's do it together not as antagonists, but together sharing the load, sharing the burden. When confrontation is necessary, as it is in those situations, do so in gentleness and humility and be willing to share the responsibility. 

And then Paul summarizes his principles with this perspective. Get the proper perspective on this whole situation. 6:4, “Each one should judge his own conduct. If it is good, then he can be proud of what he himself has done without having to compare it with what someone else has done.” Did you get that? Look at your own conduct. If it is good, then be proud. Without comparing it with what someone else has done, measure your life, evaluate your life, not in comparison with other people. Don't compare your life with other people, and either feel that you are just as good as they, or you are better than they, or you are worse than they. Evaluate your life in terms of what you used to be, and in terms of the ideal to which you're going, Test your life by your own progress, not in comparison with other people. Isn't that freeing? 

And likewise, look at other people not in terms of how they compare with what you think they ought to be, and not in terms of how they compare with others around them, and not how they compare with your standards or some arbitrary set of standards. Realize that they can only be judged in terms of their own lives from their past to the present, to the future, and not in relation to other people. The only one they have ultimate responsibility for is themselves in relation to God. 

As Paul wrote in Romans 14:2, “This is why you should never pass judgment on a brother, or treat him with contempt as some of you have done for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.” It is to God therefore, that each of us must give an account of himself. It is to God and not one another. And likewise, this other person in the confrontation needs to give no account to you, only to God and to be looked at from the perspective of their own context of their own lives. Paul goes on to say, “For everyone has to carry his own load.” Now, that's not a contradiction. A few verses he said before, “Share each other's load.” And now he says everyone has to carry his own load. It's not a contradiction. The word he uses here for load is the pack that a soldier carried. No soldier could carry another one's pack. There are some burdens that no one else can carry. We each have to carry it by ourselves. 

Every person has a load that you will never understand. When you're confronting someone else, be humble, realizing that you're not perfect, and also realizing that you don't know all the load that person's carrying. You don't know the past they've come out of. You don't know what they're working through. You don't know what they're bringing into their lives from their childhood and from their teenage years. You don't know the turmoils, the problems and the tensions that the other person is going through. Everyone has their own unique set of loads and burdens that you can't understand. So to evaluate someone else from your own perspective is wrong for they're not walking in your shoes, they’re not living your life. They're not where you are, they are where they are. And no one ever knows what another person deals with, and agonizes with— only God. 

Today we have Communion to symbolize and dramatize again that Christ died for our burdens. Christ died for your load. Christ understands and only Christ can help relieve your own burden. As you receive the bread and the wine, may you receive strength that enables you to carry the load. 

When confrontation is necessary, be gentle, be humble, be willing to share the load. Realize that the other person is living their life in their own way that you can't comprehend but offer to work it out together.

© 1980 Douglas I. Norris