So for the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about how and why Christians are called to judge and be judged by one another. Not in the condemning, self-righteous way that we all tend to have in our mind, but in a gentle loving way that is concerned for the restoration of the person involved. And while that sounds all good in theory, in my experience it almost never goes like that. Maybe because we rarely are able to confront each other well.
Now I know that there are plenty of stories about Christians coming to other Christians with a spirit of condemnation and smug self-rigteousness. I’ve had it happen to me, and I bet you have too. But we shouldn’t use the abuse of something good to write off it’s use in healthy ways. And I think that’s why Jesus gives some of his most practical straight forward teaching on how to do this.
In Matthew 18, the same book that Jesus says his famous “Do not Judge” line, Jesus tells his followers how to approach someone who has sinned against us. Here’s exactly what he says:
“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. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Notice how practical Jesus is here. He’s not going to talk about mustard seeds or the birds of the air here, he’s going to be as direct as possible because he knows what a cancer sin and gossip can be on a community. So he tells us very specifically what to do, and even the order to do it in. But today, I just want to talk about the first sentence that Jesus says:
If your brother or sister has sinned against you.
Because maybe they didn’t. What if they didn’t mean that the way you took it? What if they were actually going to pay you that back? Or what if they hadn’t actually told that person that thing about you? There is a big leap between If a person sinned against you, and When a person sins against you. And one of the reasons that I think Jesus wants us to go to the person is so that we can know what is actually happening, Maybe that gesture didn’t mean what you thought, or maybe they really didn’t get the email.
What happens when we feel wronged is that we piece together all these rumors. We become like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Phil.
We think that they said something that had an edge to it, or a look we thought they gave us that made us think they were angry of disappointed. And we think about how a few months ago we heard that they had a party that we weren’t invited to, and then there was that thing that they did in college, and we’ve noticed they have been wearing a lot more purple lately.
There is a preacher named Andy Stanley who has a great way of talking about this. He says that everybody lives life in community with 2 things: expectations and experiences. So we expect people to be honest, we expect people to be respectful, or kind, or loyal. But then as the relationship progresses we also have these experiences. And in every relationship there eventually is a gap between what you expect and what you experience.
They said they’d be there at this time, and they’re not. They said that they would go with you to that event, and they there with someone else. There is the gap between your expectations and your experience.
And we get to decide what goes in the gap. And Jesus wants us to approach this gap with the little word “If.”
Jesus starts off his teaching on how to confront each other with this idea that we should assume the best about the person.
Remember what Jesus actually said about judging people back in Matthew 7? He says you will be judged the same way that you judge others. And how do we want to be judged? We want people to assume the best, to consider all the facts. We want them to remember about what a rough childhood we had, or that we did that during the middle of a really stressful time in life. When we are judged we want people to look at it from our perspective and give us every benefit of the doubt. We want people to be generous.
In 1st Corinthians 13, Paul writes one of the most famous chapters in the entire Bible. It’s the one that’s all about love. But remember, Paul wasn’t trying to write verses just to be read at weddings until Jesus comes back. He was writing this to a church, to a community.
And right in the middle of his description about Love, Paul says something that is so profound about what Christian love is that I think we just assume it’s only poetry and move on.
Paul says, “Love always trusts.”
Love gives the other a generous assumption.
I get emails sometimes that start off with this is in Christian Love. If anyone ever says, “I hope you can receive this in Christian love,” get ready to be hated on.
Because, no one ever says, “I hope you can receive this in Christian Love, but you’re doing a really good job leading that ministry” or “I find the skirts you wear to church to be both appropriate and awesome.” It’s always a precursor for a dose of criticism that makes Roger Ebert look like a preschooler.
But Christian love, really Jesus-like love assumes a generous explanation.
In Paul’s language it always trusts. And this is the only way to confront your brother or sister. It’s the only way to judge or be judged because your best shot to heal or repair the relationship is to start by assuming the best. Start any confrontation with a generous explanation.
And this is what the world needs desperately to see. Not a group of people who are just pretending to live in community, and gossip about what’s wrong with the other people around them. They already know how that looks. What they need to see is a group of people who care enough to try and help each other be the persons God made them to be. The world needs to see, and we need to be, the kinds of people who can speak into and receive a kind word of correction.
The world needs to see a people who know how to have a Generous Confrontation.