Mark D. Roberts

In my last post I examined the first step in Jesus guidance concerning what to do if someone sins against you. It was this: “Go and point out the fault when the two of your are alone.” In this post I want to press on to the next sentence. To refresh your memory, here is the whole passage:

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17, NRSV)

If the Member Listens to You

Obviously, Jesus uses the verb “to listen” in a non-literal way here. His concern is not that the one being confronted hears sounds, but hears the meaning of the sounds. We use the verb “to listen” in this way, as when an angry wife says to a husband, “You’re not listening to me!” She’s not claiming that his brain failed to register the sound of her words, but rather than he didn’t really bring her words to full consciousness.

The first point of confrontation is to be heard, truly heard, by the one who sinned against you. I’ve already said that this requires a direct, clear statement of the offense, without bringing into play all sorts of other wrongs. But it is usually helpful to communicate the offense delicately, even gently. If, when you meet with the one who wronged you, the first words out of your mouth are: “Here’s how you sinned against me . . . ,” chances are good that the other person will get defensive and have a hard time hearing your point. Conversely, you can prepare the way for the direct statement with some words of genuine affirmation. For example, you might say something like: “I really appreciate your willingness to meet with me. I want you to know from the outset that in talking about this subject I’m not implying that I’m without fault. You know as well as I that I make plenty of mistakes.” Another approach might be, “I need to say some things today that are hard. But I want to be very clear at the beginning of this conversation that I know how much you love the Lord and care about our relationship. These commitments give me the confidence to approach you today.” There are thousands of other ways to begin. The point is to build a relational bridge of trust and goodwill upon which to cross with your particular confrontation. One word of warning, however: Be sure that your positive comments are true and honestly intended. False flattery will only make matters worse.

If your intent is to help the other person to listen to you, then you may also want to check in periodically to see how you’re doing. Questions like “Did that makes sense?” or “Can you see what I mean?” or “Do you remember this incident?” or other similar questions will foster deeper mutual understanding. They also convey to the one you’re confronting that you care about what he or she thinks. Your goal is not winning, but building a foundation for reconciliation.

You Have Regained That One

Here is the point of the confrontation: to “regain” (the Greek verb means “gain” or “earn”) the one who wronged you. The NIV captures the sense of the Greek with “you have won your brother over.” Jesus could not be more obvious about the purpose of the confrontation. It isn’t about getting even, or, worse, getting revenge. It isn’t about putting the offender in his or her place. It surely isn’t about punishment. And it isn’t about winning an argument. Rather, it’s about winning a person. It’s about rebuilding a broken relationship with the one who sinned against you. The goal of confrontation is genuine reconciliation.

This goal can be very hard to keep in mind when you’ve been hurt by someone. Your flesh wants its own pound of flesh. You want to make the other person pay, or at least grovel for a while. If you go to confront someone with motives like these, you’ll be unable to do what Jesus asks of you. (Photo: The name of this rose is Reconciliation.)


The fact that confrontation is for the purpose of reconciliation suggests that it may not happen immediately after the offense has occurred. When I’ve been deeply hurt by someone, I’m usually apt to respond in anger. Even if my confrontation is clear, my motivation for confronting is not Christ-like. In times like these, I need to calm down. Most of all, I need to pray about the situation until I can truly confess before the Lord that my desire is to reconcile with the one who sinned against me. Often this takes several days, sometimes even longer.

Conversely, in some situations immediate, on-the-spot confrontation is best. Suppose you’re in a conversation with a Christian friend who says something hurtful to you. If you have the emotional wherewithal to speak up at that moment, the result might well be quick reconciliation. For example, some time ago at dinner I was teasing my daughter. I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings, but I did act insensitively. My daughter, who can be amazingly mature at times, said, “Daddy, that hurt my feelings! I don’t like it when you say things like that.” Embarrassed, I tried to make a joke out of it. But she pressed on, “Daddy, that was mean, and I didn’t like it.” Finally I was able to say, “Kara, I’m sorry I said that. I wasn’t being kind. Please forgive me.” She did, and our reconciliation was completed with a hug.

I’m well aware that it doesn’t always work like this. But if you’re able to patch things up quickly, that’s preferable. Yet if the wound you’ve received is particularly deep, you may need time for the pain to subside before you’re ready to confront the one who wronged you with the right motivation.

I’ve found that sometimes another person can be helpful in this process. I’ll admit that Jesus didn’t mention this option, so you can decide for yourself whether it’s consistent with his guidance or not. But sometimes when I’ve been hurt by someone, I have a very hard time sorting out what’s true and what’s imaginary. My own feelings of hurt and anger get in the way of clear thinking. In these times I’ve shared my confusion with one other person, someone I can trust to be honest with me (and not merely on my side), someone who will hold in strict confidence what I’ve said. Often this confidant has prayed for me and held me accountable to follow Jesus teaching by going directly to the one who sinned against me. In some cases, however, my confidant has helped me see that I had misjudged the situation, and that what I took to be a sin wasn’t really that at all, but rather a misunderstanding on my part.

The risk in what I’ve just said about talking to someone else is the temptation to engage in gossip, or to seek to rally folks to “your side.” If you involve another person before the confrontation, you’ll need to examine both your behavior and your motivation carefully to make sure that if you are not multiplying the sin.

In conclusion, the point of confrontation is regaining relationship with the one who wronged you. The point is reconciliation. The desire to reconcile must underlie your effort as you approach the one who sinned against you.

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