Written By Aryanto Wijaya, originally in Bahasa Indonesia
“He did something wrong. You should talk to him.”
“Hey, why me? You should be the one to tell him. Aren’t you his friend?”
Due to my conflict-avoidant personality, the idea of correcting someone scares me. I fear that speaking up will affect my relationship with my friends. Therefore, when I see them doing something wrong, I often ask others to reprove them instead, just like I did in the conversation above.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this matter. Many of us are reluctant to correct our friends despite knowing that they’ve done something wrong. We prefer to remain silent and stay in our comfort zone. If we really have to correct someone, we would delegate the task to someone else.
Most of the time, we justify our actions by claiming that we want to maintain peace in our relationships. However, in situations like these, seeking for “peace” is not the most appropriate course of action. As a Christian, we are indeed called to “live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18, ESV), but the peace that Paul calls for does not mean we should be standing idly by or letting someone remain in their sin.
The Bible gives us several examples on this subject. In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul shared about a conflict he had with Cephas. He knew that Cephas had sinned by acting like a hypocrite. Paul then rebuked him rather harshly, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:14).
Another example is found in Matthew 14:1-10. During that time, John the Baptist reprimanded Herod the tetrarch, saying, “It is not lawful for you to have [Herodias, Herod’s brother Philip’s wife]!” (v. 4). This reproof angered the king so much that he sought to kill John the Baptist.
Herod’s response may sound frightening and discouraging, and most of us would probably not face such life-threatening situations as John the Baptist did. Nevertheless, this story reminds us that voicing out the truth can be a risky act. It also helps us see that hearing the truth can be painful for the other party. Hence, we cannot take the call to correct our brothers and sisters lightly or recklessly.
Here are five pointers that I’ve found helpful when I’m led to confront someone:
1. Make sure you’re walking the talk
This point can be summarized in one word: integrity. Our words must match our lifestyles.
We don’t have the authority to ask someone to stop drinking alcohol if we are heavy drinkers ourselves. In the same way, we cannot ask our friends to refrain from cheating in exams if we are famous for doing so.
There is a hymn, “Let Others See Jesus in You” with the following lyrics:
Your life’s a book before their [fellow human beings’] eyes, they’re reading it thro’ and thro’,
Say, does it point them to the skies, do others see Jesus in you?
Like a double-edged sword, we cannot separate our words from our actions. We need to make sure we are living out the truth we’re directing others to before we speak. More importantly, as the hymn points out, do others see Christ in our lives and our words?
2. Consider why you are correcting others
When we reprimand others, what is the purpose of doing so? Do we do it to look better than them? Or, do we do it for their sake?
Even if we may be right to point out our friends’ faults, our task is not to boast about ourselves or how “right” we are. When we correct others, we should approach it from a pastoral perspective. Chuck Swindoll wrote, “In rebuking, we ought to have this end in mind: to restore, and not to embarrass others.”
When we know what the aim of our reproving is, we can guide the person whom we’re correcting to return to God’s ways. Remember, when we rebuke others for their sake, then our words are directed not to shame them, but to help them see their blind spots and turn back to the truth.
3. Speak the truth in love
As I shared at the start of this article, I was once afraid to reprimand my friend because I was afraid of ruining our friendship. In retrospect, I should have realized that the closeness of our friendship puts me in a better position to correct my friend. Because my friend knows that I have his best interests at heart, he would be more open to listen to me and accept my correction.
However, it is important to note that having a close relationship does not mean we can correct our friends recklessly. The Bible commands us to speak the truth in love. In Matthew 18:15, our Lord Jesus said:
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.
When someone commits a sin, Jesus does not tell us to broadcast it to everyone else. Instead, He wants us to speak to the person privately and correct him humbly. Use words that are gentle, appropriate and constructive. Most importantly, ask the Holy Spirit for help so that that person’s heart will be softened through our words.
This point also applies when we are not really close to the person we’re correcting. In that case, we should take time to pray and ask the Holy Spirit for the right timing and wisdom to speak the truth to that person.
4. Commit to help your friend
We also have to realize that whenever we confront others with their sin, it will impact them emotionally. As mentioned earlier, it can often be painful for the person on the receiving end of our correction. The person may also deny their wrongdoing or even try to justify him/herself. Bearing this in mind can help us think about how best to communicate the truth to our friends—and offer to walk with them through it.
On one occasion, I had to confront my best friend. We started college at the same time, but all our classmates and I have now graduated except for him. On one hand I was afraid to confront him about this, but on the other hand I knew that he needed someone to prod him to complete his final year project so he could graduate.
As I thought through my course of action, I knew that there is a possibility that he might be offended or feel ashamed if I spoke to him about this. To minimize the impact, I tried to meet him in person, inviting him to meet me for a drink at a place with a relaxing atmosphere. It was then that I told him that he should be taking his final year project seriously. I ended my reproof by offering to help him proofread his report. By God’s grace, he responded to it well, and is now at the last leg of completing his final report.
5. Keep your friend in prayer
Even if we have planned our course of action as meticulously and wisely as possible, the other party may still resist our correction and even decide to end their relationship with us. If you’re caught in such a situation, don’t give up. No matter the outcome of our confrontation, there is one simple, yet powerful action that we can still do: pray.
Praying helps us keep our motives pure. When we pray for the other person, we’re not only committing the person to the Lord, but also learning to seek God’s heart for our friend, and trusting in His timing and ways to help our friend see the light.
Is there anyone the Lord has placed on your heart to gently correct or rebuke? If He has, start praying for that person now.