Four Principles For Addressing Another's Sin

A few years ago I saw an episode of American Restoration. It was a reality TV show about Rick Dale and his restoration business. Someone had brought an antique to him that was a rarity and in need of substantial repair. I was surprised when I did not see Rick's typical confident assurance. First, he was amazed at the workmanship. He was stunned by the intricate details that still remained. Then he says, “Guys I am nervous. If I break one thing, we are not going to be able to find another. Any mistake I make would devalue this piece.” 

In Galatians 6:1-14 Paul offers some instructions on Christians restoring other Christians when they have been caught in sin and failure. Here are four gospel-centered principles for relational restoration.

  1. Be certain the sin has occured. Paul first tells us that we should address the issue when they are “caught”. We may suspect, we may have good reason, but Paul is instructing us to be certain that a harm, or sin, has been committed. That does not mean you cannot address an issue without 100% certainty. In that scenario you should come with more questions than statements.
  2. Test your heart. “You who are spiritual…” From what heart do you intend to address this person? One sign that you are in the right mind to address the sin in another person is that you have gentleness in your heart. Loving confrontation should be done with gentleness, kindness, patience, and love. It should never take place in rage, malice, envy, revenge, or bitterness. Paul also makes some additional comments about our own hearts in verse 3. Paul is reminding us that we are all broken, sinful people in need of grace. WE should not approach another from a position of being "better than," but rather come alongside as a fellow recipient of God's restoring grace. 
  3. Burdens and Loads. In verse 2 and verse 5 we have a helpful insight. Paul uses two metaphors to help us delineate relational boundaries. We should carry one another’s burdens, but we are responsible for our own load. The restoration of the person may include both individual and shared responsibility. We should never take it upon ourselves to change a person, nor should we challenge someone and simply walk away. The commitment of love invites us to initiate change and walk alongside on the journey towards restoration.
  4. Assurance: There is one assurance found in this passage that provides the grounds for gentle restoration. In verse. 2 Paul reminds us that in confronting those who matter to us, we do so in order to “fulfill the law of Christ.”  We love because Christ first loved us. We forgive because Christ first forgave us. We comfort because Christ first comforted us. The best news in this passage is that Jesus Christ desires to use people like you and me to fulfill his promise of never forsaking the good work he began and intends to complete (Philippians 1:6).

Dan Allender summarizes Paul’s words well, “Bold love is courageously setting aside our personal agenda to move humbly into the world of others with their well being in view, wiling to risk further pain in our souls, in order to be an aroma of life to some and an aroma of death to others.”

Remember this!

Relational conflict can sometimes surprise me. I can also anticipate its impending arrival. In either situation I must make choices.

A pilot friend recently told me that one of the most dangerous moments in flying is when engine failure happens during take off at the end of a runway. With no power, a short runway and few choices, it is understandable that a pilot would “lose it”. There are options in this crucial moment, options for which they prepare. The key is for pilots to remember their training.

When the warning signs of conflict are felt or imagined, we prepare for survival. We call these reactions fight, flight or freeze. Sometimes we experience them without knowing what we are doing, as they are simply self protective reactions. The strength in our response reflects the fear in our hearts and minds. 

But there is one thing that we must never forget when we find ourselves in conflict despite what our initial reactions may be. 

Philippians 4 reminds us that when we feel anxious, we are to pray. We are to remember the good; we are to rejoice. We are to redirect our minds toward what is true, right, noble, pure and so forth. These verses remind us that God is with us; that we are to be sober-minded and intentional.

Verse 2 shows us that the context of Paul's instruction here is conflict. We are reminded to pray, to remember the good in the midst of conflict, and to aid us in dealing with it biblically.

But how can we respond to conflict without fight, flight or freeze reactions, but to prayer and thoughtful reflection instead? Verse 5 reminds us that the Lord is at hand, with us, empowering us to do good. We are not forsaken or abandoned; we are accompanied by God himself.

I believe it is found in vs. 5, “The Lord is at hand.” The one thing we must remember when conflict arises is that God has neither forsaken nor abandoned us. But to the contrary he has promised to be near.

This truth is also found in Matthew 18. We have spent so much time looking at the principles for biblical conflict resolution that we have missed the big promise that is the foundation for any effort at resolving conflict. In Matthew 18:20 we find, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."

God’s presence has significant implications for how we move forward when conflict arises. First, we have no need for self protective behaviors. There is nothing that can be exposed that God does not already know. He is neither anxious nor worried about our sin, as he has already dealt with it in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are free to move forward in love because any successes or failures are good gifts from our father given by the spirit. 

Second, God can bring more change in our lives than we could ever conjure up ourselves. If I forgive the other person will they stop sinning against me? Am I justified in responding with anger to match their anger?  Is this situation the beginning of the end of this relationship? All of these questions are attempts at controlling the relationship. God’s presence reminds me that he loves each of us more than we could ever love one another or ourselves. He is more interested in and powerful to bring about the change we desire than we are. 

Lastly, remembering that God is near helps us to rejoice, pray and offer grace to the other person. God is near to us in conflict and does not intend for us to handle this situation alone. His nearness can take us out of our knee jerk reactions of self protection so that we can move towards the other person with kindness, thinking of what is best.  

Made For Peace

The reason why we all have such an adverse reaction to conflict is because we were fashioned for peace. In Genesis 1 we find that Adam and Eve were perfectly suited to have peace (shalom) with God, with each other, with creation and with ourselves. The entrance of sin into the world brought conflict to these relationships. 

Restoring Peace Ministries seeks to join God's redemptive plan to "reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." It is our desire to help individuals, couples, families, and organizations move from simply surviving in conflict to thriving in relationship.

We understand that the longing for peace resides deep in all of our hearts. This longing is the energy behind all of our expressions of survival. Some have resolved to deprive themselves of peace by simply avoiding conflict. For years they have chosen to silence their voice, numb their hearts, and die to the hope of a restored relationship at home, at work, or at church.

There are others who use a different strategy, but it comes from the same heart trying to survive. They will have control. Picking the fight is their strategy. These people believe they should get what they want, so they take it. Never relenting, always defending, they pursue peace at the expense of others.

It is a true saying that peace comes at a cost. False peace sacrifices the voice of one who simply chooses to avoid conflict. True biblical peace comes in dying to ourselves and seeking the peace of God in following the way of Jesus. It is through the life, death and resurrection of Christ that we come to understand the price of peace, and the power of reconciliation.

Restoring Peace Ministries seeks to bring the gospel of peace to conflict-weary relationships. We are here to help, to serve, urge, encourage and pray for whomever desires peace and yields to God's path to reconciliation with him, others, and ourselves..