Speak the truth in love. Isn't it just like God to put together two things so diametrically opposed to one another and tell us this is how we should relate to one another?
Let's be really honest. We do a really bad job with this -- particularly in the area of confronting someone in love to bring moral clarity to a situation they find themselves mired in. And the very place where confrontation should be done and done well -- the Christian community -- is failing miserably in this respect.
How has this happened? Well, it's been a subtle slide. We have a highly individualistic idea that our sin only affects us and this leads us to minimize sin as a whole. We have lowered the bar on our responsibility as friends, pastors, and faith communities by saying that tough love is not support because 'who are we to cast the first stones?'
There once was an epic confrontation between two great men of God where the bar was not lowered. The two participants -- Paul and Peter -- were each apostles, both commissioned to their apostleship by Jesus himself, and both respected in the churches of Christ.
In the story, Peter, an orthodox Jew, regularly ate with the Gentiles and he enjoyed meaningful fellowship with them. In fact, Peter found Jewish and Gentile Christians regularly eating together in a meal, called a love feast, and so he joined them.
Even though the practice of eating with Gentiles was taboo in Jewish circles, Peter had learned in a revelation that God viewed it differently. In a vision described in Acts 10:1-11:18, Peter learned that there no longer was a difference between Jews and Gentiles, as far as God was concerned. In fact, in his sermon at Cornelius' house, Peter himself said, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right" (Acts 10:34-35).
Yet when certain men claiming to be representatives of the Jerusalem council arrived in Galatia, Peter began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles. He compromised what he knew was right to gain the approval of the circumcised.
When Paul saw that Peter was not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, he confronted Peter. Now the reason Paul confronted Peter was simple. Peter knew that neither Jew nor Gentile were justified by observing the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.
At the core of the conflict was a betrayal by Peter concerning what the heart of the gospel was -- adding obedience to the law as a condition of salvation. Peter did this not because he necessarily denied justification by faith but because he succumbed to the pressure of his peers. Paul realized that he could not let this two-facedness go unchallenged. And so Paul confronted Peter.
Confronting someone by speaking truth in love is Kingdom work. When we call people to wholeness and commit to walking alongside them -- no matter how tough those steps are to walk through -- we are joining the King in his mission to restore and redeem all of creation.
When we stick our heads in the sand at the very moment when that person needs our voice in their life, we are actively rebelling against our King and saying to that person that, as an image bearer of Christ, they are not worthy of our involvement in their life. What a shame.
The irony in all this is that healthy confrontation in the context of the Christian community could be an amazing witness to the surrounding culture if done Biblically, but we can't even figure out how to do this within our own Christian community. It has no potential for counterculture in the greater society when it's countercultural within its own culture. Did you get that?
How do we expect the watching world to give a flip about our talk of personal and communal holiness when we don't have the guts to confront each other in the Christian community and spur one another to good works?
That's just it. They are watching and they are growing increasingly apathetic. It's time we give them something worthy of watching.
--Brad Andrews is lead pastor at Mercyview
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