This article is part of the 7 Tips series.
“As a friend, I feel like I need to say something.” Those words weren’t easy for me (Caroline) to say, and I hadn’t even yet mentioned to Cora what my concern was. The next sentence was harder, but I said it: “It sounds to me as if you’re being demanding.”
Cora’s relationship with her daughter-in-law wasn’t easy. Communication had been difficult, feelings had been hurt, and trust had been broken. Cora said she was committed to pleasing the Lord and learning how to love her daughter-in-law well, but as she described to me a recent interaction with the younger woman, I noticed that Cora’s attitude had been controlling and unkind. She quoted herself harshly pressing her daughter-in-law (“I need you to . . . ”) instead of speaking to her with patience and respect.
In our past conversations, Cora and I had talked about our need for humility and gentleness when speaking with others. We had read 1 Peter 3:8 and discussed how it applied to our relationships: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” Now I needed to remind Cora about what we’d learned from that verse and to help her see how her treatment of her daughter-in-law was disobedient to the Lord.
Cora thought for a few seconds and simply said, “You’re right, Caroline. Thank you.” And at the end of our visit that day, she remarked, “It’s loving to talk about sin in a loving way.”
Should You Say Anything?
Cora was right. Christians love each other well when they address one another’s sin with Christlike love. Think of how Jesus dealt with the sin of his disciples: the anger of James and John, the fear of Peter, the doubt of Thomas, and the pride of all twelve as they debated who would be greatest in the kingdom. Christ confronted, instructed, and restored. He always spoke the truth in love, although sometimes sternly. But his disciples knew that he loved them, even in their weakness and sin.
Both of us have several mentoring relationships with women who come for advice and help with their problems. While we listen to our friends telling us their difficult stories, our hearts go out to them. Sometimes we cry together. Sometimes we give our input when asked. And sometimes we’re compelled to provide correction. A friend might have a false view of God or misunderstand a scriptural passage. Or maybe we’ve seen in her the sin of anger, gossip, lust, discontent, or pride. It’s never easy to have conversations that point out sin and call for repentance, but it’s often necessary for the spiritual good of those we love.
When you’re aware of unrepentant sin in your Christian friend’s life, you may wonder if you should say anything to her about it: Is it really any of my business? Won’t she get angry if I say something? Can’t someone else talk with her?
Scripture answers your concerns. It speaks directly to the Christian’s responsibility to address, or confront, sin in the lives of other Christians:
- “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend . . .” (Prov. 27:5–6).
- “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3).
- “. . . 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” (Gal. 6:1).
- “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).
- “We urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the unruly . . . be patient with everyone” (1 Thess. 5:14).
Seven Tips for Confronting a Friend in Sin
Scripture also teaches us how to confront a Christian friend in their sin. As we mentioned, these conversations are not easy, but as members of the family of God, they are necessary. And as with all of the things God has called us to do, he gives us wisdom in his word to know how to obey our calling. The following are seven biblical principles for addressing sin in a friend’s life:
1. Confront yourself first.
Personal humility is necessary when confronting someone else’s sin. Before you judge the sin of another, first repent of the sin in your life (Matt. 7:3–5). Prayerfully examine yourself and confess any known sin. Forsake self-righteousness or hypocrisy, which would dishonor God and hinder your message. Prepare yourself to speak with your friend by asking God to grant you wisdom, protection from sin, and genuine love for her (1 Kings 3:10–12; Gal. 1:6; 1 John 4:11).
2. Confront from a loving heart.
Speak with grace and affection to your friend. Paul boldly opposed sin among God’s people, but a tender love also characterized his appeals for their repentance. He didn’t seek to belittle or shame them (1 Cor. 4:14). Rather, he addressed their sin with compassion: “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you” (2 Cor. 2:4). In the same way, speak to your friend from a heart of love and mercy.
Christians love each other well when they address one another’s sin with Christlike love.
3. Confront at the right time.
Before you address a friend’s sin, consider the best time to have that conversation. Is it a time when she can listen, pay attention, and receive what you have to say? Or is your friend busy, tired, distracted, or emotionally upset? If so, trust God’s providence, and wait to speak with her at another time. Remember the wisdom of “the Preacher” in Ecclesiastes: “. . . the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way” (Eccl. 8:5).
4. Confront the most important matters.
Your role as a Christian friend isn’t to address every infraction of God’s righteousness that you may see in others. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their self-righteousness as they placed a greater importance on secondary issues while neglecting “the weightier matters of the law” (Matt. 23:23–24). Likewise, don’t focus your attention on your friend’s minor offenses. Instead, reserve your confrontations for unrepentant sin that is a clear violation of God’s word, brings harm to herself and others, and dishonors the Lord in a public way. Lovingly overlook her occasional failings with a spirit of grace and forgiveness (1 Pet. 4:8).
5. Confront with Scripture.
When confronting a friend, base your concerns on clear biblical truth. The standard of righteous living is the word of God and not your personal opinions. Your role as a fellow-believer is to remind or inform your friend of what Scripture says about her sin and her need to turn from it. Instead of trying to convince her with your own arguments, discuss Scripture with her and trust the Holy Spirit to convict her according to the truth of his word (Ez. 36:27; 1 Tim. 3:16–17).
6. Confront confidentially.
Be careful to keep the matters you discuss with your friend confidential. Unless your friend is going to harm someone (including herself) or shares something with you that must be reported to the civil authorities, guard her privacy and friendship. (In addition, according to Matthew 18:16–17, if in time she proves to be unrepentant, you are to have another person join your conversations.) Love her by avoiding gossip at all costs: “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered” (Prov. 11:13). As a faithful friend, you’ve confronted her sin. Now as a faithful friend, protect her reputation.
7. Confront, and then provide accountability.
If your friend receives what you say to her, recognizes the sin in her life, and repents of it, you now have an opportunity to provide her with accountability. She may struggle with temptation and establishing new, God-honoring choices. She may need encouragement or instruction for how to live a holy life. Consider how you can help her to grow in love and godliness (Heb. 10:24) Pray with her. Share Scripture and biblical insights. Ask questions about her progress. Always point her to Christ, her Savior and Lord.
Keep the Goal in Mind
Always remember the primary goal of confronting your friend in her sin—to restore her to a right relationship with God. When she confesses her sin, God will readily forgive her. As she repents, he’ll grow her faith and obedience into greater Christlikeness. Give thanks for the privilege to be used as a vessel of his truth and grace in your friend’s life. And even if she doesn’t turn from her sin at first, continue to pursue her with gentleness for the Lord’s sake: “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
Cheryl Marshall and Caroline Newheiser are authors of When Words Matter Most: Speaking Truth with Grace to Those You Love.
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