Confronting Sin in the Life of a Fellow Believer
You are sitting across from a good friend with a cup of coffee as you catch up on each other's lives. You have been friends for years and are sisters in Christ. You have shared much of your lives together.
As you chat, your grip suddenly becomes tighter around your cup. You start chewing on your tongue as she begins to tell you something you know does not line up with Scripture. Maybe it’s a false teaching she is studying and enjoying. Maybe it’s a sin she is taking lightly. Maybe it’s a heretic she is following. Maybe it’s an unbiblical practice she’s embracing. Your heart is pounding, the Bible verses are flooding your mind, but instead of speaking you take a long sip of coffee and nod along.
Can you recount a similar story? Can you remember the fear that gripped you and the words that never left your tongue? The truth you wanted to speak but didn’t know how to say? I know I have (many times) and I’ve mulled those moments over and over again. God is teaching me that in those moments I need to love my friends more than I fear them, and that I need to learn how to speak truth with gentleness and with the power of Scripture.
Fearing Our Friends Rather than Loving Them
We are often hesitant to speak truth because of fear. We are fearful of what they may think, how they may respond, or how they will react. We worry that the friendship will be damaged. We believe that not speaking up is actually the more loving thing to do—if I don’t speak up, I won’t hurt their feelings, and I won’t hurt our relationship.
However, keeping quiet is actually less loving and the motive is selfish. We don’t want the conflict, we don’t someone else to dislike us, we don’t want them to think differently of us, so we bite our tongues. In this case, we care more about protecting our reputation rather than speaking the truth. We care more about our friend liking us than we do about our friend’s holiness.
When we live in selfish fear rather than telling our friends the truth, we actually do more damage than good. Letting our friends continue on false teaching, sin, or unbiblical practices can lessen their joy or hurt their witness. And their sin or error does not glorify God. We should be more concerned about the glory of God and the state of our friend than our reputation.
Maybe the truth will wound our friends a bit. Their pride may be deflated, their conscience may be bothered, and they may feel ashamed or embarrassed, but we can trust that it is for their best. If we truly care about our friends, these wounds are worth it. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy." We need to ask ourselves: Are we making faithful wounds, or giving the kisses of an enemy?
Truth with Gentleness
If we love our friend, we will deliver the truth with gentleness. Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
Our goal is not to shame our friend or to look more holy, but to restore them. The literal meaning of the Greek word is to mend or repair something. The same word is used in Matthew 4:21 of repairing broken fishing nets. This is something we do with precision and care. We are seeking to bring our friend back to holiness and wholeness. The goal is not to win an argument, but to restore our friend out of love and desire to see God glorified.
We need to remember how we were won by God. He does not change or convict our hearts with anger but with love. What wounds he makes are for our benefit. At times he will discipline us in order to reveal sin, but it’s never out of wrath or condemnation. He is not out to punish us but to restore us back to him and back to holiness. In the same way, the wounds we make are to be faithful—they are to be faithful to our friendship and faithful to God.
This means coming with humility. Galatians 6:1 reminds us to keep a close eye on ourselves, recognizing that it could be us in the same situation. We are not too holy to fall into the same sin or error. We come to humbly plead with our friend change her ways and to see the truth.
The Power of Scripture and the Spirit
When we are restoring a friend from sin or error, do not forget the power of Scripture. Do not come to them with human wisdom and fancy words. Come to them with the Word of God. Remember what Scripture says about itself:
“The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.” Psalm 19:7-9
Our words alone do not have the power to do that. Our words, unless they are backed up by Scripture, do not have the power to make someone wise, to refresh the soul, to make someone righteous, or to enlighten someone. We are incapable of changing someone. God is the heart-changer, and he does so by his Holy Spirit and the Word.
We need to remember, once again, how we were saved and restored. It wasn’t because someone had the right words to convince us. It wasn’t because someone articulated the facts just right with perfect rhetoric. It was the Holy Spirit and Word of God working in our hardened hearts. Nothing could have melted our stony hearts other than the Spirit and the Word. We must keep that in mind as we come before our friends to speak truth.
A Final Word of Encouragement
It takes courage to speak hard truths to our sisters. We do love them, and we value their friendship. We don’t want to lose that. But we can’t allow fear of man to run our relationships. We must be driven first by a desire for God’s glory and secondly for a true, selfless love for the person. As we are, we remember to speak the truth with gentleness, relying on the power of Scripture and the Holy Spirit.