Dealing In Love With Potentially Divisive Issues
Would you desert your family just because they didn't agree with you on an issue? Would you cut off your hand just because a sprained finger kept you from playing golf? These questions may sound foolish to you, but how quickly individuals in the body of Christ cut off communication or take offense when others don't see things the way they do!
No matter how frustrated you may get from wanting others to understand your point of view, remember: Relationships must take precedence over any issues on which you disagree. We experienced this concept firsthand in Israel, where we lived with close friends for several months. One afternoon Mike noticed two men in our neighborhood involved in an animated, heated discussion. Our host Bert, a Jewish believer, asked Mike if he thought the relationship of those men would be jeopardized by such a strong disagreement.
Recalling personal past experiences, Mike answered, "Of course!" Bert replied,
"That's the way it is with Gentiles. Your disagreements tend to alienate you. You
become estranged from each other. This isn't so with Jewish people. Our relationships
are more important to us than the issues we disagree about." Mike was deeply
convicted by Bert's observation, an insight that compelled us to take a closer look at
the Bible's view of relationship.
This booklet develops a biblical basis for supporting those we care about while
at the same time confronting the issues that are detrimental to the relationship.
Those who have read our book Demolishing Strongholds understand that the main
assignment of demonic activity is to cause division-separation between you
and God and between you and others in your life. These spirits attack every
level of relationship: husbands and wives, children and parents, children with
each other, neighbors, co-workers, fellow worshipers.
Demonic servants of Satan locate and exploit footholds of rejection, bitterness,
fear, and insecurity in churches, families, or individuals. No wonder we are warned
by Peter: "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring
lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you
know that your brothers [family in Jesus!] throughout the world are undergoing the same
kind of sufferings" (1 Peter 5:8,9).
One of the devil's schemes that Paul warned believers about in Ephesians 6:11 is
what we call the "sweaty-body scenario." For thirty years Mike played a lot of pickup
basketball. He normally perspires a lot during activity. During the past few years
he noticed an interesting trend regarding attitudes toward the normal bodily function
of perspiration: Many young men hate to get sweat on themselves. They avoid
body contact as much as possible. Realizing this, Mike would purposely come up
and slide against them. Sure enough, they would back off and fail to guard him. He
was free to make any shots he wanted!
In the relational realm, Satan uses the "sweaty body scenario" by creating an
aversion in one person toward another. Normally he incites some behavioral or personality habit in a brother or sister that keeps you from drawing near that individual.
That one irritating flaw then colors all other thoughts or actions you have
toward that person, creating an avoidance pattern in you. Satan does this to keep
God's children from obeying the "one-anothering" commands that permeate the
During our ten years of teaching ministry at a retreat center from 1983 to 1993,
we observed an ever-increasing rise of intolerance over interpersonal differences.
This unwillingness to bend affects marriages, families, and friendships. A Greek
philosophical influence has threaded through much of Christian thinking today.
This competitive, "I'll prove to you I'm right" attitude causes people to become
polarized in their positions and opinions. They become personally offended when
anyone differs with them. All too often their affections for each other diminish and
even turn to animosity.
Think of how many times the apostle Paul calls members of the body "brother"
and "sister." Even Jesus defined mother, brother, and sister as those who did the
will of His Father in heaven (see Matthew 12:50). The Hebraic understanding of
"family" (mishpachah in Hebrew) encompassed far more than the immediate
blood relatives. Included were the entire extended family of Jewish people the
world wide. In the same way, as followers of Jesus our concept of family must
stretch beyond the comfort zone of those with whom we choose to intermingle.
If we are truly co-heirs with Christ in His Kingdom, then we are "relatives" in that
family by His blood!
Let's bring the analogy even closer to home: your own human body. Paul
addresses a great number of verses to the Body of believers in Corinth to convince
them of the necessity for connection-for that unity of well-being that comes when
every part is functioning as it ought to.
We may not be pleased with all the individuals that make up our particular
faith communities, be it a home fellowship or congregation, but from God's viewpoint,
He "has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the
parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts
should have equal concern for each other" (1 Corinthians 12:24,25, emphasis added).
We are never all going to agree on everything all the time, even by the grace of
God. We therefore need to learn how to biblically resolve those areas of personal differences that must find resolution, and to wait on God to solve those that we can't.
But never should we cling to anger or bitterness. Those divide our unity in Jesus and
sever our relationships so that we cannot function in a Body that is truly seeking to
love and obey God.
Remember, Satan has declared war on the saints (see Revelation 12:17). To yield
to his devices of deception, lies, and hatred is to corrode the love that is able to bind
us together. If he can stir up tension and apprehension over the differences we
encounter, he has succeeded in establishing footholds that will ultimately bring
estrangement into our relationships in Christ.
Differences exist because we are different. Even our gender differences were created
by God to teach us to see our need for the other side's perspective. Personality
differences indicated by any number of tests confirm that we are not all clones of
each other. And distinctions in spiritual gifting cause us to see things differently.
Just put four individuals gifted respectively with prophecy, exhortation, mercy,
and administration in the same room to witness the same event, then ask them
what they observed. You probably won't get the same response! Yet each will offer
input that contributes to the picture as a whole.
As you go through this workbook, remind yourself that immediate agreement
on issues of difference may not be God's plan. Paul, writing from the perspective
of a Jewish follower of Christ, concurs. God's ultimate sovereignty is a great comfort
for those who trustingly wait on His intervention: "All of us who are mature
should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too
God will make clear to you" (Philippians 3:15, emphasis added). God's sovereign
purposes will be accomplished. Let's trust Him to reveal the truth and hold onto
our brotherhood in Jesus.
God expects that we will differ in our opinions in marriage and in other close relationships.Some of these differences may involve emotional convictions that are held
very tightly. Whatever people value dearly they cling to with strong emotional attachment.When it comes to matters of faith and obedience to God, this passion can be even greater.
For example, for some people, keeping their home free from potential visual
and audio temptation is a key value. That may motivate them to toss their TV
and carefully monitor all CD's, tapes, and magazines that come in. For others,
perfecting their personal skill in a sport or activity takes high priority. Perhaps
their self-esteem is derived from that. For still others, changing their society
through intense political activism is paramount. Each person's values are different,
yet none is intrinsically wrong. Just be sure that you are able to define
for others what is important to you, and that you are willing to listen when others
reveal their values to you.
1. List 4 things that you value the most (peaceful home, health, security, intimate
companionship, whatever). Using a scale of 0 to 100, indicate how important each
value is to you.
2. Which of your values do you find is most often overlooked, stepped on, or criticized
3. Which items, if any, on your list would you be willing to die for? Who or what
influenced you to feel so strongly about these values?
4. How do you most often react to those whose values or beliefs conflict with yours?
Describe a situation in which this conflict of values occurred.
Admonishing One Another In Christ
Differences bring discomfort and sometimes emotional pain. We want to escape
from our distress and blanket over the differences just so we don't have to risk confrontation.
But through our Father's grace and the teachings in His Word, God expects His
people to work through the areas in which we differ with others. Learning to deal
in love with our differences epitomizes a virtue of Jesus that we must practice
repeatedly if it is to become part of our transformed nature.
Regrettably, many of the Sunday school and Bible study curricula used in congregations
are designed specifically to convey content but minimize the chance that
differences may surface and confrontation ensue over these differences.
Overemphasis on content conveyance reduces opportunity for personal confronta-
tion and actually breeds the growing intolerance seen throughout the church in the
U.S. God's children need to face their differences and grow through them, not avoid
Any viable relationship that continues to grow in ever-increasing
Christlikeness will require biblical confrontation and/or admonishment for it to
flourish. Confrontation involves coming to grips with differences, none of which
may be inherently wrong. Admonishment, however, involves confronting
another person with words designed to alter attitude, behavior, or direction.
Consider the synonyms for "admonish" that occur repeatedly in scripture:
reprove, exhort, correct, counsel, rebuke, warn, advise. You may have been
abused in the past by someone who misapplied admonishment or mistreated you
unlovingly in the name of "biblical rebuke." A close examination of Colossians
3:12-17, however, reveals the biblical prerequisites for administering biblical
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with
compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience" (v. 12). Because you have
been chosen by God and filled with confidence in His love, you are completely able
by His grace to put on the virtuous "garments" listed above. Yet none of these character
traits grows in a vacuum. For instance, in order to experience compassion,
someone else needs to be hurting. To demonstrate humility, you need to be in a
position where self-exaltation is also a tempting option. And certainly patience
grows only with the fertilization of potential irritation or frustration brought on by
"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one
another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (v. 13). It is the potentially divisive issue or situation that brings you to the point of choosing to bear with another person's differences. After all, an unChristlike response would be to flee the whole mess, severing
the relationship and refusing to face it with forgiveness.
The forgiveness with which the Lord has forgiven you goes far beyond agreement
that wrong has been committed. His intercession continues, and He never
again reminds you of past sins that He has remitted. No grievance can be too large
for you to excuse and hold onto your bitterness or unforgiveness toward another
individual, especially if you want to be available to be used according to God's purposes.
"And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called
to peace" (vv. 14, 15). Unity in the Body is the goal of our Father (see John
17:21,22). This takes a tremendous amount of love in "one-anothering"-personal,
trusting obedience to the biblical, interactive commands for the Body.
Correct behaviors alone will produce prideful, isolated churchgoers. Only those
yielded to the supernatural inner working of the Holy Spirit will have a loving
heart ruled by peace that can righteously admonish, exhort, instruct, encourage,
and correct others in the household of faith.
"And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God" (vv. 15,16). Note that thankfulness is a state of being, an overflow of continual awareness of God's mercy and kindness to you. With that attitude in place, you are then in a position to apply His Word to your own inner being. From that well of wisdom you can instruct and admonish others with the goal of raising them up in
Christlikeness. Admonishment that is done from the flesh, from wanting your own way
to prevail, is far different from the God-directed and -empowered correction that promotes
spiritual growth and fruit.
The apostle Paul was able to exhort and admonish and warn the Corinthian
believers because he had practiced the virtues listed above. He recognized himself as
their spiritual father (see 1 Corinthians 4:15). As such, he felt deeply the relational
responsibility to direct them away from ungodliness and toward that which pleases
God. Thus he could urge them to imitate his way of life, which encompassed far
more than his actions.
Paul exhibited the inner working of the Holy Spirit so that these new believers
also could experience the Spirit-led life as they obeyed His prompting. Paul's
admonishment redirected them toward a loving obedience to the Father that
would bring glory to His Name.
1. Name three people in your family or faith community who are willing to correct,
rebuke, or admonish you when necessary.
2. When was the last time any of them did so? What was the issue he or she
addressed? How did you feel when that person approached you about that issue?
3. Do you think it was difficult for that person to work up courage to come and
speak to you? Ask how he or she felt. Do the responses agree?
4. When was the last time you confronted someone? What was the issue?
5. If you were to exhort or correct another person again, what heart preparations
(according to Col. 3:12-17) would you need to adjust before carrying out your
Harmony In The Body
"I don't want to get involved!" "I have enough problems of my own!" Sound
familiar? These are really just excuses for avoiding relational intimacy.
Your noninvolvement produces a void just your size in the church Body. A nonfunctioning foot will not carry you anywhere. A weak, barely operative heart will
immobilize you completely. Spiritual edification on an individual or corporate level
comes only as each one does his part in harmony with the others.
What does harmony look like? In the context of Romans 12, harmony emerges
from the interconnected belonging of each part with the other. Paul calls for "sober
self-appraisal" that produces a certain degree of humility as you see how incomplete
you are in isolation from the rest of the Body. The gifting apportioned to you by the
Holy Spirit is uniquely designed by Him to fit into a Body for specific purposes that
will bring spiritual growth and depth to each member.
For instance, perhaps there is a great need in your congregation for home visits
to shut-ins, but your gift of mercy is being quenched by your frivolous misuse of
time. Not only are you feeling that gnawing uneasiness from the Spirit, but the
Body at large is missing out on the blessing you could be to those in need. That's
the time to draw near to God in repentant submission and yield to His intents and
purposes for your time. Your inner peace will grow and there will be harmony in the
Body as far as it depends on you.
(See God's Instruments for War: Discovering and
Coordinating Spiritual Gifts as Weapons of Warfare by Mike and Sue Dowgiewicz for
more on the interconnection of spiritual gifts.)
Both Paul and Peter twice refer to "brotherly love." This relational intimacy is
load-bearing, that is, loves enough to shoulder the burdens and share the pain as a
part of the family of Jesus. Just as brothers and sisters in a biological family cause
pain as well as bear it, so, too, families in Christ must be willing to risk painful intrusion
or angry responses as they help their brother or sister get back on spiritual track
with a godly word of rebuke or instruction.
Part of that relational responsibility entails coming alongside to offer accountability
and to help guide one another onto the right path. You wouldn't spank your
child and not follow-up with a word of love and direction as to the right course she
should follow. So, too, a wayward family member in the Lord needs more than a
rebuke. He or she also needs assurance that you care enough to help find the right
course of action or attitude and then bring encouragement as steps are taken in that
Apply the truth of Proverbs 27:6 to your own life: "The kisses of an enemy may be
profuse, but faithful are the wounds of a friend." Those who love you and have a vested
interest in your spiritual growth are willing to sacrifice their time and efforts
to help you restore intimacy in your walk with God and fellowship with others.
People with whom your relationship is only superficial will smile and ignore the
pain in your eyes. They are not willing to "shoulder the load" with you. We are
called to be faithful as He is faithful. Are you willing to allow the Lord to intrude
into your life with one of His needy children?
Relational responsibility offers you a whole realm of opportunity to put others before
yourself in a righteous manner. If you are not finding joy or peace as you extend yourself
to others, ask yourself if your motive is misguided. Are you trying to "prove" that
you're following Christ? Are you deriving some sort of perverse "martyr" satisfaction
over being there for everybody and then grumbling about it? True load-bearing empowered by the Holy Spirit brings discernment of when to say no, as well as the means to obey that to which He is calling you.
It's easy enough to experience personal peace when you're all alone and no one
is making demands on you. But so much of the biblical text calls for you to merge
your life with the lives of others both in the faith and outside it. That is where
your willingness to live in harmony gets tested. Paul admonished the Roman
believers to live at peace as much as it depends on them (Romans 12:18). Even
when by His grace you extend peace to others, there is no guarantee that they
will return it. But your faithful obedience releases God to work in the heart of
the ones to whom you've reached out.
1. What percentage of your free or discretionary time is spent blessing others, be it by
telephone, prayer, or other interaction? If Jesus were in your shoes, would that amount
be the same? How would it differ?
2. Describe your response when you encounter a brother or sister in need. What
form of involvement do you generally contribute?
3. Name three people in your faith community whom you really see as intimate spiritual
brothers or sisters. In what ways does your relationship with them differ from
that with others in your faith community?
4. Describe an instance when you experienced the "faithful wounds of a friend." How
did you feel at the time? Could you sense the love behind the words or did you feel
like he or she was dropping a bomb on you? How was your friend able to help you
along a new direction?
5. Since you are commanded to live in harmony with others, what changes is the
Holy Spirit prompting you to make that will add to your own spiritual peace as well
as the peace of your family in Jesus?
Focusing On The Issues
The key to biblical confrontation:
Focus on the issue, don't attack the person.
Followers of Jesus will not always agree on everything. Some issues will be major,
others relatively minor. Few true disciples are willing to split over a difference in the
carpet color of the sanctuary. Most differences or issues can be resolved if the conflict
is viewed as a point of difference between the parties, i.e., "We have a problem"
rather than "You have a problem."
The biblically Hebraic viewpoint of dealing with differences is like putting your
two index fingers together and recognizing that we together have a situation that
The Gentile approach we inherited from the Greek
philosophers tends to find fault or blame from an
adversarial approach. That process looks like one index
finger pointing at the other and saying that the problem
comes from your faulty way of thinking. We in
Christ are members of the same Body; as parts of the
whole, each one is part of the communal "we." Thus we
are obligated to either find resolution or to wait on God
to make it plain.
Because of the Hebraic self-awareness of the early Church, this was a very natural
concept to grasp. The earliest believers were Jewish. They fully understood a communal
belonging to all other Jews worldwide. Their sense of "we" in both the Messianic
and non-Messianic communities was intensely strong. Our current church culture has
become more pluralistic and divided in its thinking. We find it difficult to see ourselves
as one Christian family. We need intentional, interpersonal training in order to
apply the true, biblical confrontation that brings unity of spirit.
One of the most loving interpersonal skills you can develop is the ability to support someone even while you confront or admonish him. Confrontation can take many forms. Sometimes it is just trying to clarify where you and I disagree on a matter. Sometimes it is more intense, compelling you to come to me to discuss a matter of sin that I am clinging to.
What do you normally do when you hear something that differs with your view
or opinion? Your reaction may be something like, "If I listen to you and try to understand
what you're telling me, you may misinterpret my listening as agreement with you."
So to defend yourself, you might interrupt with words like "No" or "You're wrong"
or "I disagree." Worse, you may stop listening and begin to prepare your own position
or rebuttal, and never fully hear what the other person is really saying.
Think of how often the phrase "He who has an ear, let him hear" appears in the
Bible. True hearing entails more than the passage of sounds through your ears. Your
brain interprets those sounds into words, and then instills emotional response into
their meaning. At any point you can choose to "shut off" communication by not
processing those words or by refusing to allow them to penetrate your understanding.
You owe it to others to allow the impact of what they're presenting to you to
evoke a response that shows he or she is worthy of consideration. If time is crucially
short, you can gently but firmly present alternatives, such as, "Can we discuss
this more tomorrow afternoon when we won't be rushed?" But shutting them off
even while standing in their presence violates the command, "In humility consider
others better than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).
You can support the person you are confronting without having to agree with
him or her. Support accepts the validity of whatever he or she says, thinks, or feels,
irrespective of your agreement with it. Your support allows him to be heard and
understood even if you differ with his position or ideas. You are giving him the right
to his feelings and perceptions as personal realities. When you consciously listen, that
support enhances his dignity. After all, that individual is made in God's image and
loved by Him. Just because your views and beliefs don't match in no way subtracts
from his innate value.
It is crucial that you clarify the areas in which you do agree if your relationship is
to take on deeper dimensions. If you have a relationship that revolves exclusively
around tennis, little meeting of the hearts will occur. However, if you belong to a
home fellowship, the accountability in your walk together with the Lord will be
multi-faceted. There will be multiple areas of agreement, and even some areas of disagreement.
If your relationships are accountable you will encounter situations in which a
timely rebuke or admonishment is needed. How you handle your differences in these
close relationships will be key to deepening true fellowship. The differences you face
provide opportunities for you both to exercise submission to one another and to
demonstrate patience and forbearance.
The value that you and others bring to a relationship is your wonderful uniqueness
in being made in God's image. The skill of biblical support is the ability to
demonstrate acceptance of one another no matter what he or she thinks, says, or
feels. This is their reality as much as your thoughts and values are reality for you.
Skillful support recognizes where you differ with each other, and realizes that
you have a right to your differences. To react in any other way is to literally sit in
judgment of the person...a position reserved only for God Himself: "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?" (Matthew 7:3).
The deeper a relationship, such as marriage, parenting, or load-bearing, the more
critical it is that supportive confrontation and admonition occur. Workable solutions
must be identified and carried through in order for the relationship to continue
with health and vitality and trust.
A warning is in order here: If you silently go along with everything someone
else says even if you don't agree, you will face the danger of emotionally detaching
yourself from that person. Your relationship will become strained, and you will avoid
contact because you will feel that your beliefs or ideas have no value. A loving relationship in Christ necessitates confronting or admonishing the other person when
differences arise. Confrontation allows you the freedom to present your side, and an
opportunity to come before God together in prayer to search the scriptures to discern
resolution of the situation.
Supportive listening and interaction show that you recognize the other person's
position to be legitimate for him or her. It meets one of the deepest human needs
- the need to be heard. We all need to be loved, understood, and accepted. These
needs can be met when someone takes the time to listen and accept us even if they
don't agree with our ideas or beliefs.
1. One key element of supporting another person is to listen. Ask five people with
whom you have a close relationship to evaluate you as a listener. Be sure to ask them
to evaluate your facial expressions and body language for attentiveness. Record the
essence of their comments:
2. Recall a situation in which you seriously disagreed with your spouse, child, or
close friend on an issue that was important to you. Replay the conversation as you
remember it. Would you have described yourself as supportive of the other person?
If so, how did you indicate that? What changes, if any, in your approach do you
think God would have you make in any future confrontations?
3. Think about this verse as it applies to you: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17). When you sharpen iron, flakes of rust and dullness are scraped away. If you are the "dull, rusting iron," this can be a painful process. Recall
an incident in which you knew that God was using you to sharpen someone else in
admonition, or when He was using another person to remove "corrosion" from you.
What benefits came out of that situation?
Successful Biblical Confrontation
Differences that interfere with the quality or purpose of your relationship need
to be addressed in order for fruit to be produced. We've already discussed the need
for admonishment in the Body of Christ as part of relational responsibility. But
sometimes we differ in areas that don't involve sinful attitudes or behaviors. We can
agree to disagree, or we can confront the difference in a biblical manner.
"Confrontation" seems to contain a flavor of something distasteful. Yet in the
biblical sense, it means to stand fast or to stand firm for a cause. Most of us feel that
the whole notion of confrontation is something we'd rather avoid than deal with.
Avoidance may provide immediate comfort but will eventually disrupt harmony
and vitality in the Body.
Confrontation is not synonymous with conflict. Biblical confrontation enables
a detrimental situation to be changed for the better. It contains a gamut of
approaches from discussion to correction or admonition. The goal and process
involved in confrontation is redemptive. In other words, you confront another person
so that harmony between you can once again be restored.
Conflict is related to discord and hostility. Conflict entails a "win-lose" element
in which one person must be the victor while the other goes down in defeat.
Although confrontation and conflict may create similar emotions, the goals of each
have nothing in common.
Biblical confrontation is not proving one person right
and the other one wrong.
In Acts 15:36-41, Paul and Barnabas disagreed over whether to take Mark with
them on their next missionary trip. Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and Paul
perhaps distrusted the staying power of the young man. We are told, "They had such
a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for
Even though a "sharp disagreement" occurred between them and they no longer
ministered together (as far as we can tell from Scripture), we can infer that the loving
respect Paul and Barnabas had for each other was not severed. After all, it had been
Barnabas who went to receive Paul after his conversion when everyone else was
still fearful of him: "When [Paul] came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but
they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took
him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the
Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus" (Acts 9:26,27). They had been through a lot together for
the sake of the gospel.
The church at Antioch was aware of the long-standing relationship of these two
powerhouses for Jesus. Paul and Barnabas had ministered together in Antioch for an
extended period of time before the disagreement erupted. Rather than make a judgment
call that would deem one right and the other wrong, the brothers put the matter
into the hands of the Lord. Barnabas and Mark sailed off in one direction, where
presumably the younger man continued his training under his godly mentor. "But
Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord" (15:40).
Because they refused to be estranged because of their differences, we see
Barnabas's protégé Mark joining Paul later in his life: "My fellow prisoner Aristarchus
sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.)" (Colossians 4:10); "Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry"(2 Timothy 4:11). Paul includes Mark in his greetings to Philemon, "And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers" (Philemon 1:24). Doubtless, if
Barnabas had held onto a grudge against Paul, his young cousin would not have
risked his life to help the old apostle later on.
Paul again faced confrontation with a fellow apostle, this time Peter. "When Peter
came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was in the wrong" (Galatians
2:11). This was not easy for Paul, for he wrote, "I came to you in weakness and fear,
and with much trembling" (1 Corinthians 2:3).
Throughout the scriptures the ability to both support and confront is seen as the
pattern of God's people with each other: "If your brother sins go and show him his
fault" (Matthew 18:15). Herein lies a major weakness in church relationships today.
By not supporting one another even in confrontation, we knock the blossom off
relationships that were meant to bear fruit to glorify the Father. Stable fellowship
and relational responsibility that represents "family" loyalty and love requires
belonging to and becoming part of each other-warts and all. Confrontation is
analogous to house cleaning: It removes the dirt and clutter and improves the living conditions for all who abide there. Remember that your support involves you giving the one you are confronting the right to his own stance. Think of the emphasis our Lord placed on treating others as you want to be treated: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12). Support brings encouragement to the other person, while confrontation allows you to express a stance or position that differs. Interpersonal tensions are normally founded on one or more of four areas of difference:
. goals The purpose of the relationship; answers the question of "where" the
relationship is going.
. methods The manner and practice by which aspects of the relationship are carried
out; answers the question of "how" the relationship should function.
. values The significant elements esteemed by the partners in the relationship;
answers the question of "why" you think and/or act as you do.
. facts Circumstances of certainty which can be proven by investigation;
answers the question of "what" is facing the relationship.
In any interpersonal difference, you should always take the time to confirm the
area(s) of your disagreement or misunderstanding. If you can identify the differences
you have and the basis for them, a resolution is then at least possible.
Identifying the area(s) of difference is like getting all the cards dealt before you
begin the game. Too often people attempt resolutions but skip the step of identifying
differences. They then fail to grasp what they are trying to resolve, which results
in the same difference(s) arising again later.
For instance, your two children are squabbling over which TV show to watch. If
you walk over and turn off the TV and leave it at that, you have done nothing to
prevent the situation from happening again. But if you allow each child to present
his view without accusations toward his sibling, you can then mediate a system of
TV viewing that will be agreeable to both. Perhaps they might come up with the
idea of a chart to sign up for certain shows, or a check mark sheet of who had the
last turn. You'll be providing them an opportunity to learn to negotiate as well!
Often as you work on identifying differences, other information surfaces that
can help you reach resolution. Be sure to clearly identify the differences in the position(
s) that each of you is taking so that you will focus on the issue and not on each
other's perceived character deficiencies. Avoid words like "You always..." or "You
never..." Your goal is to resolve the issue, not raise accusations that lead to a wounded
Take responsibility for your own feelings.
If the issue you are confronting involves a lot of emotional fervor, be alert to one
another's feelings. You are responsible for the feelings that are aroused in you. No
one else causes them. You can be angry at other people for their behavior, but it's
unrealistic to blame them for what's going on inside you. You are the one who creates
hostile, angry feelings inside yourself; the other person merely supplies the
behavior that triggers that response in you.
The response of blaming others is an attempt to evade personal responsibility.
Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and they were still thrown out of the garden
of Eden. The current social trend assumes a victimization posture: If you delve far
enough into the past, you can discover who is at fault for your present misery.
Looking for someone to blame can keep you imprisoned in self-pity and confusion.
Like Paul, however, followers of Christ would do well to forget what is behind and press
on to win the glorious eternal prize (see Philippians 3:13,14). Take full responsibility for
yourself, including your feelings. You can then hear more clearly and open-mindedly
what the other person is sharing.
Don't feel threatened by convictions that are expressed with intensity. The stoic
approach our society has inherited from the Greek philosophers frowns on any display
of strong emotion. Emotional expression is biblical as long as it is not aimed at
anyone. Many men, in particular, are caught in this stoic trap. They hold in their
emotions for so long that when they finally do release them, destructive verbal or
physical abuse results. We must firmly grasp our biblically Hebraic roots:
Relationships are more important than issues. True faith trusts that in all differences,
"God will make it plain."
Confrontation is risky because being different is risky.
Your feelings may get hurt when you confront someone. As both of you work to
solve the problem, you might receive some new information or insight and discover
that you have to change your position. If you do not confront a brother or sister about
a difference, you are denying both that person and yourself the value that you bring
into the relationship. A solution that is presented may be in error because your particular
insight was not included.
Perhaps you hold a key perception that could alter the course of someone's spiritual
journey. If you listen to the demonic lies that you have little worth and that the
differing belief or idea that you can offer has little value, then you become an impotent
Body part. That which the Spirit was nudging you to share will be squelched, and
the Body will suffer because of it.
There is also a risk if you don't confront someone with whom you differ or see headed
down a sinful path. That person may recognize your reluctance or timidity and hold you
in low regard or even disdain. Your value in relationship to that person as a true brother
or sister will be lessened. Procrastination only increases your inner tension, and perhaps
heightens any barriers of resistance in the person you need to confront. There are certain
risks in confrontation, but even greater risks in non-confrontation. The real issue is not
"whether or not to confront my brother or sister," but "how and when to confront with
1. List several verses that deal with confrontation and/or admonishment. How
would you distinguish between rebuke, correction, warning, admonishing, confronting,
reproof, exhortation, and counsel?
2. Have you ever been in a situation in which, like Paul and Barnabas, a third party
disrupted your relationship for a while? How did reconciliation between you come
3. Think of three people with whom you are not in agreement about everything. Do
you differ over goals, facts, values, or methods? Which of these four areas seem most
serious to you? Why?
4. What issue really arouses emotion in you? How have you responded in the past
to someone who not only disagrees with you but whose position seems unbiblical
to you as well? What did you do?
5. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you gauge your level of emotion when you are
confronting differences over issues? Did you grow up in a home where feelings were
expressed and considered? Are there any areas of your emotions that you think God
wants to change in you?
The Consequences of Non-Confrontation
In close interpersonal relationships you may try to avoid confrontation because
you just don't want to face any accompanying emotional tensions. What may
result, however, is a "co-dependent relationship." In a co-dependent relationship,
one person dominates everyone else while one or more others, because they want
security or at least peace, refuse to voice their differences.
Jerry Harvey, a business management specialist, illustrates the consequences of
non-confrontation in his book The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on
Management. One particularly sweltering afternoon in West Texas, Harvey, his wife,
and her parents were sitting on the shady veranda playing dominoes. Suddenly his
father-in-law piped up, "Let's get in the car and go to Abilene and have dinner at the
cafeteria." Abilene was fifty miles away, and their old car had no air-conditioning.
As Harvey inwardly groaned, his wife enthusiastically agreed. He asked his mother-
in-law, who also agreed. So off to Abilene they went. The food was lousy and the
drive brutal. When they finally returned, his mother-in-law complained, "I wouldn't
have gone if you all hadn't pressured me into it."
Aghast, Harvey exclaimed that he'd been content to stay on the porch. His wife
admitted she had gone only because she wanted to please her father. The father-inlaw
confessed that he had suggested the trip only because he thought they might
be bored. Four people ended up doing something none of them really wanted to do
because no one wanted to speak up.
You can't always categorize by personality type the dominant individual you are
fearful to confront. Sometimes the fears are irrational perceptions that have no basis
in reality. This was probably the case in the Abilene paradox. In other instances, it
is the person whom others have to tiptoe around to avoid withdrawal or tears who
is really the "one in charge." Those behaviors are actually controlling the response of
others, but no one wants to confront the manipulation.
People who have an underlying apprehension or fear when they know they
have to interact with a dominant person are the co-dependents. They don't want
anything said or done that may set off the dominant individual. They convince the
others involved to stifle their input too. These "significant others" who could help
the Body function in a productive, godly way thus fail to step in and speak up.
The co-dependent person is so desperate to avoid confrontation with the dominant
individual that he or she actively discourages admonishment. The longer that
discomfort and avoidance are practiced, the more deeply entrenched fear and nonconfrontation become. In families and close faith community relationships, two
possible responses are likely:
. Others will be entrapped in the co-dependent relationship,
. They will be forced to flee the relationship in order to maintain their own identity,
respect, and values.
Co-dependent relationships look like gears meshed together.
The motion of the gears is driven by the dominant person's unconfronted
behavior, ideas, or opinions. If you are the co-dependent person, you fear the emotional
tension brought about by confrontation. You may then offer excuses and even
defend the dominant person's behavior.
Affected by your fear and denial are the significant
others, children or spiritual family who are
in close relationship with you. They may want to
confront or admonish the one who is controlling
everyone else, but they are also fearful of the
emotions the confrontation may generate.
And if they care deeply about you, they may
excuse your defensive actions as a co-dependent
We faced such a situation at one of our
Restoring the Early Church workshops. The participants
were seated at tables in "family groupings" of those with whom they already had a relationship or shared something in common.
One older group didn't seem to be making much progress on their group discussion
assignment. As Mike talked with them, they revealed that one of their group
who had just left for the afternoon had held them all in bondage for years. His overbearing attitude and arrogance had prevented them from addressing the discomfort
they felt when he abused them. They had all murmured about the situation but had
never gone to the man with the bold love that confrontation requires.
When Mike finally was able to break through their co-dependency with the
truth of their disobedience to God and their own unloving cowardice, they
repented. After they prayed, two of them purposed before God to hold one another
accountable to go to this individual with confession of their own sin and with
admonishment and exhortation for him.
In this not uncommon situation, you can't confront only the dominant
person and expect that everyone else will breathe a sigh of relief and things
will be wonderful. You must also help the co-dependent person and the significant
others because their attitudes and behavior have been altered by their
response to the dominant person. They, too, need to repent for their failure to
lovingly admonish those who have crippled the purpose of the Body.
In order to stop the gears from turning, everyone involved must confront
the reality of the situation, confess their part in it, repent before God, and look for God's ways to relate righteously to each other.
1. Describe any situations you have encountered in which another person controlled
everyone else by his or her attitude or behavior. Did anyone lovingly confront
this person? Did you? If not, why not?
2. How would you handle a situation in which a close friend was pursuing a decision
that you sensed from the Lord would hurt his Christian walk? What if someone
warned you in advance that this brother might not respond well to your intervention?
3. What scriptures would you use to encourage others in your faith community who
are reluctant to confront a dominant individual? Describe a situation in which you
have observed someone skillfully exhort others using scripture effectively.
4. How could brothers and sisters in the faith encourage one another to "maintain
clean slates" in their relationships? How can you avoid becoming nit-picking
watchdogs around one another, and distinguish the issues or situations that really
need to be addressed?
A Word of Encouragement
When I support the person whom I am confronting
or admonishing, I am recognizing his or her reality.
Confrontation legitimizes my position or ideas.
Together WE make explicit our differences
and the resolutions that God intends. Marriages and close relationships in faith communities involve relational responsibilities that lead to accomplishing mutual goals. Because we will not always agree nor will each one always be walking in loving obedience to God, the skills of supportive confrontation are critical. It is not enough for us to confront differences that hinder our relationship and just leave it at that. We need to resolve these in some way or we will give Satan an opportunity to destroy the love that we share.
If we are unable to reach resolution among ourselves, we need to submit to an
outside, mature individual for mediation. Paul tells us, "Therefore, if you have disputes
about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church!" (1
Corinthians 6:4). The apostle is certainly hoping that such a need is unnecessary.
However, unresolved conflict that is truly hindering brotherhood must be confronted.
Godly outside intervention should not be perceived as failure in the relationship,
but as the biblical extension of the Body helping in time of need - load-bearing.
Remember, the purpose of developing communication skills is to nurture relationships
in which each one feels loved, understood, and accepted. Without loving,
biblical admonishment given by those who are walking intimately with the Father,
depth of maturity and sincere "one anothering" that attracts unbelievers will never
advance. With supportive confrontation, relationships will be nurtured, differences
will be explored, conflicts will be resolved. Then growth can occur.
. Confronting encourages you (and that's good!).
What to confront:
. Problems that are not being solved.
. Differences that hamper the relationship.
. Sins, attitudes, behaviors that are detrimental.
How to confront:
. Treat issue as a situation you both need to solve.
. Acknowledge the other person's position.
. State your differences clearly and succinctly.
. Check to see if you are being understood.
. Be responsible for your own feelings.
. Fully explore the differences.
. Don't attack his or her character or imply motives.
. Don't railroad your own solution, even if you are in a
position to do that.
. Don't problem-solve until you have both discussed the
issues to one another's satisfaction.
. Support encourages the other person.
What to support
. The other person's anxiety, fear, doubt.
. The right for him or her to feel or think differently.
. The reality of his or her perceptions.
How to support
. Pray together for wisdom and truth.
. Let the other person speak his or her case.
. Listen! Listen! Listen!
. Restate back what he or she is saying.
. Verbalize his or her feelings.
. Ask for his or her preferred solution.
. Don't rush in too quickly with solutions.
. Don't tell him how he shouldn't feel.
. Don't cut him or her off too soon.
. Don't judge - describe instead.
. Don't give unsolicited advice that is
irrelevant to the present issue.
A Simple Concept...
DIFFICULT TO DO CONSISTENTLY
WITHOUT LOVING AWARENESS,
AND FERVENT PRAYER
Produced by Restoration Ministries . Not to be sold for profit
. www.restorationministries.org . e-mail: email@example.com
Mike Dowgiewicz holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of Connecticut, an MBA from California Lutheran College, and a Master of Religious Education from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Sue Dowgiewicz holds a B.S. in Education from the University of Connecticut.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture taken from the Holy Bible,
New International Version©. Copyright© 1978,1984 by International Bible Society.
Used by permission of
Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
The "NIV" and "New International Version" trademarks are
registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by
International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the
permission of International Bible Society.
Scriptures marked JNT are taken from the Jewish New Testament
by Dr. David H. Stern, PO Box 615, Clarksville, MD 21029
(410) 764-6144. (Jewish New Testament Publications, 1990).
Scriptures marked KJV are taken from the King James Version.
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Copyright© 1998 Mike and Sue Dowgiewicz
Reprinted with Permission by the authors