Lesson 9: Go and Restore, Part 3
Topic: Topical Passage: Proverbs 12:18
Lesson 8: Go and Restore, Part 3
[Note: This lesson is adapted from Ken Sande, The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004). For more information, see Peacemaker® Ministries (https://pm.training).]
Good morning! Turn in your Bibles to Proverbs 12:18. It’s good to be back with you this morning. Lord-willing, this will be our last lesson on one-on-one confrontation. The principles we’ve covered so far are “deal with it face-to-face,” “only confront significant sins,” “match your manner to your motive,” “confront privately,” “go tentatively,” “be patient,” “be quick to listen,” and “confess your own sins first.” You might think, “What more is there to say?” but there actually is another lesson’s worth of material. So this week, we are going cover four more principles regarding how to confront.
But before we do, I’d like for us to consider Proverbs 12:18. The word for “speaks” means “speaks recklessly.” The NASB reads: “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing.” There are two main lessons in this verse: “Use edifying words,” and “Be careful what you say.”
According to this verse, we can do one of two things with our tongues. What are they? (We can cut people down or we can build them up.) Often when it comes to conversation, we are tempted to lash out. But wisdom demands that we use our words to promote health. This verse cross-references with Ephesians 5:29: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” That word “corrupt” in that verse means “unwholesome” or even “rotten.” When we tear people down with our words, it is like we are feeding them rotten food. Or to Proverbs 12:18, it is like we are piercing them with a sword. Instead, of doing that, we need to build them up and promote their spiritual health.
But in order to do so, we have to be wise and careful. So let’s talk about some biblical wisdom principles that will help us to build others up, even in the context of confrontation.
How to Confront
- Be Loving.
I know we already discussed this when we talked about getting the beam out of your own eye, but it’s worth reemphasizing here. Ephesians 4:15 says that we are to speak the truth in love. There are no magic words or techniques that will cover for your unloving heart because your attitude usually counts for more than what you actually say. If you don’t love the other person, they are going to sense that.
But there’s a problem, isn’t there? Are we naturally loving? No! That means that the first step is to pray to God for a loving heart.
I remember learning this lesson at camp. You give your entire summer to serve children and teens, but sometimes, you just find yourself getting annoyed with them! You have to pray over and over, “Lord, give me a heart of love for these kids,” because without the love, all of your ministry will be empty. Turn to 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. These words should shock us. It doesn’t matter what heroic acts of service you do; you will receive zero reward if you don’t do it in love. The underlying determiner when it comes to spiritual rewards is not how hard you work, but where your heart is at.
One of the ways you can tell you have a heart of love is when you make charitable judgments about others. We ought to strive to believe the best about people until the facts prove otherwise. If something can reasonably be taken in one of two ways, we ought to take it the better way. This is a simple application of the Golden Rule. Jesus said, “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.” If you jump to conclusions when you confront, people will most likely resist what you say. They will assume that you have already made up your mind and that it is pointless to talk to you.
- Be Humble.
Again, we dealt with this in a former lesson, but is worth reiterating that when you go to confront, you must do so humbly. Don’t talk down to the other person as if you were perfectly righteous. Now I will say that there are times in which it is appropriate to appeal to your God-given authority, for instance, when a parent is talking to a child, an employer is talking to an employee, or even when a pastor is talking to a member of the congregation. However, even in those instances, your tone ought to reflect your understanding of Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” You are nothing more than a person in need of change helping a person in need of change.
On the other hand, there may be times in which you are called upon to confront a person who is in authority over you, like an employer. 1 Timothy 5:19-20 indicates that there are times in which a pastor will need to be confronted. In those types of situations, humility is especially important. In fact, you should probably view at least the initial conversation as more of an appeal than a confrontation. Make sure to be respectful and to clearly affirm the leader’s God-given authority. Can you think of anyone in the Bible who addressed a leader in this way? (Daniel, Abigail)
Turn with me to Galatians 6:1-3. According to this passage, a qualification for confronting someone else about his sin is that you must be spiritual and gentle or “humble.” In addition, Paul says that we are to bear one another’s burdens and that we are not to think of ourselves as being anything special. He also says in Galatians 5:26 that we are not to be conceited; in other words, we are to be humble. Clearly, humility is vital when it comes to confrontation.
If you are eager to confront, you probably ought to stop and examine your motives. Often, the best confronters are people who would rather not do it, but do it anyways out of fear for God and love for the other person.
One way you can tell if you are humble is to observe how you handle “failure.” When it comes to confrontation, there are real limits to what you can accomplish. You can love, you can speak the truth, and you can be wise, but you cannot change the other person’s heart. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 is a great reminder of this. Paul says to Timothy, “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” This passage is talking about salvation, but I think the basic principle still applies. In order for someone to change, what has to happen? Paul says that unsaved person has been taken captive by the devil, and that in order for him to be freed, God must grant him repentance.
So we are gentle and avoid arguing, we patiently teach, and we lovingly correct in the hopes that God will do just that. But at the same time, I understand that I am not finally responsible for anyone but myself. Isn’t that liberating?
- Be Helpful.
This goes back to what we said about our motives. Our motive in confrontation should always be what? (reconciliation) So if that is our goal, we ought to do our best to help others along to that end.
What are some ways you can be helpful while confronting?
Help others examine their heart desires. In a previous lesson, we talked about how our heart idols contribute to conflict. So try to help the other person discern his own heart idols. I was just in a conversation last week in which God gave me the opportunity to do this. “So you said that this is something you struggle with. Why do you think you are tempted in that way?”
One of the best ways to help another person identify his idols is to share with him about your own idols. So back to that conversation from last week, I said something like, “I have found myself in similar situations do basically the same thing. Here’s why I did it. Is that the same motivation you are having?” And that paves the way for the other person to think about and discuss his or her own idols.
Now remember, you can never know for sure what is in another person’s heart, so don’t accuse or make assumptions about motives. Instead, focus on helping the other person better understand his own heart and on asking questions that will draw out his heart
Use helpful illustrations. Try using metaphors or analogies that will appeal to the person you are talking to. For instance, Ken Sande says that when he needs to talk to his son about doing his chores, he will often use a military metaphor, because he knows that will resonate with his son. His son appreciates discipline and respect. When he needs to talk to his daughter, he will try to make references to literary characters in her stories because he knows she loves to read. She wants to be like the heroines in her stories, so he’ll compare her to one of them, particularly as it relates to character and relationships. In the same way, Sande says that if he needs to talk to a pastor, he will often use a shepherd metaphor.
Can you think of anyone in the Bible who used illustrations like that? (Nathan the prophet and Jesus) When you use illustrations, you are adapting your message to your audience and trying to be as easy to listen to as possible without diluting your message. I really appreciate the people who have taken the time to approach me in that way. I know I am a sinner, and sometimes I need to be challenged or even rebuked. But I also know that I can be more sensitive than I would care to admit. So I count it a gift when someone comes to me in a thoughtful manner and “softens the blow” so to speak, so that it is easy for me to agree and change. Not everyone will come to you that way. But you can try your best to approach others that way.
Provide suggestions and preferences. It is not thoughtful to tell a person about all of his problems without offering any solutions. Has anyone done that to you before? How did it make you feel? That is not a kind thing to do.
But there’s also got to be some balance here, right? On the one hand, you want to offer solutions, but on the other hand, you don’t want to make the other person think that you have all the answers! So what do you do? Give suggestions. Avoid telling the other person, “This is what you must do,” unless the Bible gives no other option. If it’s a grey area, try giving the other person a couple of suggestions and then tell him which you prefer.
Here are some illustrations Ken Sande gives. “I would prefer to renegotiate the contract rather than abandon it, but I am open to suggestions. What would you prefer?” Or, “My first choice would be to get the whole family together to discuss Dad’s will in person. What do you think?” These kinds of statements show a way forward without coming across as “know-it-all” or squelching healthy dialogue.
- Be Careful.
It is often said in regards to leadership that good leaders are able to identify situations that require extra attention. I just read a story yesterday about how Abraham Lincoln resolved a particularly sensitive conflict in his cabinet. Those are the kinds of situations that either make or break a leader. And in the case of Abraham Lincoln, his ability to handle conflicts like that with care and wisdom is a big part of what has made him the most famous American President.
Confrontational conversations require great care and extra attention. If you launch into this kind of conversation thoughtlessly, you will most likely regret it. On the flip side, if you invest time and energy into handling the situation properly, you will usually find that it was well worth the effort. As we have already seen, Proverbs 12:18 condemns reckless speech and praises words that are carefully chosen with wisdom.
So what are some ways that you can exercise care in confrontational conversations? I am going to give you six suggestions.
- Choose the Right Time and Place. Sande says, “Timing is an essential ingredient of effective communication. If possible, do not discuss sensitive matters with someone who is tired, worried about other things, or in a bad mood. [I might add “hungry” to that list.] Nor should you approach someone about an important concern unless you will have enough time to discuss the matter thoroughly. Likewise, give careful thought to where you will talk. Unless it is necessary, do not talk about sensitive matters in front of others. Try to find a place that is free of such distractions as television, other people, and loud noises. If the person with who you need to talk is likely to be nervous or suspicious, it may be wise to select a place where he or she will feel relatively secure, perhaps at home.” All of those are great suggestions.
- Communicate So Clearly that You Cannot Be Misunderstood. Sande says, “It is not good enough to communicate so that you can be understood. You should communicate so clearly that you cannot be misunderstood.” Of course, we cannot avoid all misunderstanding. But we should try as hard as possible.
- Plan Your Words. Sande says, “I cannot overemphasize the importance of planning your words when you need to talk with others about their faults. In delicate situations, careful planning can make the difference between restored peace and increased hostility.” This may be natural for some people and very unnatural for others. I manuscript my sermons and Sunday school lessons, so it is very natural for me to sit down and write out what I intend to say in a sensitive conversation. For other people, that might seem more unnatural, but it is still very helpful.
Probably the most important part of the conversation to think through is the beginning. After that, the conversation probably won’t go exactly how you planned, but carefully crafting your initial statements can help to get the conversation off on the right foot. Also, you may want to think through some different ways the other person could respond to your initial statements and then script out answers to each of those responses. Even if the person says something you weren’t expecting, having a “Plan A” will at least make you more confident. Sande even suggests asking a friend to role play the conversation with you if you are nervous.
- Use “I” Statements. We discussed this briefly in a previous lesson, but I like the way Sande says it here. He says use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. Here are couple examples that he gives. “I feel hurt when you make fun of me in front of other people, because it makes me feel stupid and foolish. As a result, I am getting reluctant to go places with you when others may be around.” Or, “I feel confused when you say that I never listen, because two days ago I sat here for over an hour while you shared several deep concerns with me. I really don’t know what to do differently.”
Sande says that “I” statements help in three ways. First, they help the other person recognize how his actions are affecting you, which can tear down walls and promote sensitivity. Second, they can keep the conversation focused so that you don’t end up chasing squirrels. Third, they can help the other person realize why this issue is important to you. The more clearly the other person understands your dilemma, the more motivated he or she will probably be to take steps to resolve the issue.
- Avoid Exaggeration and Use Concrete Examples. Drop the words “always” and “never” and try very hard to be accurate. So instead of, “You’re never on time,” try, “You have been late to work for the past five days.” Or, instead of, “Nobody likes you,” try, “I’ve heard several people say that they find you difficult to work with.”
Along the same lines, try as much as possible to be specific. For instance, I know from when I was a school teacher that if you have to make a call to a parent, you don’t say, “Your child is very disrespectful” or “Your child is lazy.” Instead, you give specific instances and let the parents draw their own conclusions. For instance, you could say, “When I told Mark to listen, he stuck out his tongue at me.” Or, “Esther has not completed her homework for the past three days.”
If you say, “You always” or “you never” or you overgeneralize, you’re asking for an argument. But it’s hard to argue with specific examples.
- Use the Bible Carefully. On the one hand, we know that according to 2 Timothy 3:16, Scripture is profitable for reproof; so especially if you are talking to another believer, you will often want to use Scripture. However, it’s important to use the Bible carefully. Never quote Scripture out of context. Make sure that you understand what a verse is saying before using it to prove your point. Try slowing down so that the other person is able to follow the Scriptural argument. You may even ask him to read the passage for himself and tell you what he thinks it means. Finally, know when to stop. If the other person is becoming noticeably agitated by your references to Scripture, you may need to back off or come back to it later. Obviously, you will need wisdom from the Holy Spirit in that sort of situation.
In conclusion, that brings up an interesting question, which is whether to use Scripture when confronting an unbeliever or whether these same principles even apply to conflicts with unbelievers. Romans 12:18 is a helpful here. It says, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” Not just with all Christians, but with all men. So in general, I would say that the peacemaking principles found in the Word of God apply to unbelievers as well as believers. However, you’re obviously going to approach an unbeliever a bit differently than you would a brother or sister in Christ. At the very least, your expectation of the unbeliever is going to be lower because he is not a new creature in Christ and he doesn’t have the Holy Spirit. Also, you probably won’t appeal to Scripture in the same way that you would if you were talking to a believer.
That said, you should still pursue peace with that individual if possible, as much as it depends on you. In doing so, you will be a good testimony to him, and may even win him to Christ.