Four Questions to Ask Before Confrontation
As Christians one of the most difficult things we can do is handle conflict in a Christ-like way. The temptation can be to lash out when someone wrongs us. We know this isn’t right since God so often warns us of the foolishness of exploding in anger and the wisdom of restraining our anger.
- Proverbs 29.11 “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.”
- Ecclesiastes 7.9 “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.”
- Proverbs 19.11 “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
- James 1.19-20 “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
But even in light of this we know that sometimes conflict is unavoidable. There are certain circumstances that compel us to speak and not shy away from conflict. How can we discern when is the time to break the peace and when is the time to hold our tongue? I believe Romans 12 gives us some help in this regard.
- Romans 12.17-21 “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Based on this passage I believe we can ask ourselves four questions that will help us discern whether to address an issue or to “hold it [anger] back” and “overlook an offense”.
- “Repay no one evil for evil.” Am I truly trying to bring resolution and peace to a problem by addressing it, or is my action an attempt to repay someone for an evil against me? Sometimes our hearts can be deceptive and we probably need to spend significant time in prayer asking God to make our motives clear. Sometimes he may lead us to graciously confront someone, but we need to be sure he is leading us and that we are not doing so because it gives us the satisfaction of “putting someone in their place.”
- “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Is it possible for you to remain silent about this and live in peace with this person? There are certainly any number of situations where “keeping the peace” isn’t possible. If someone is being harmed in an ongoing way or is in emotional, physical or spiritual danger from a repeated behavior, the issue may need to be addressed. But more often is the case that we must make an effort to “live peaceably” since all that is needed is for us to "turn the other cheek".
- “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Am I trusting the Lord to right my wrongs? At the end of the day our desire for vindication is often rooted in a lack of faith. We fail to believe that God will do right by us. We think if I don’t say something or retaliate then they will get away with it. But this verse says that God is the one who is responsible for repaying the evil of others. God is just and is completely objective so he is far better suited for that role than you or me. If it is another Christian who has offended us we need to remember that God is his or her Father, and as such he will not let them go undisciplined (cf. Hebrews 12.7-8). If they are unbelievers then God will bring judgment on them at the appropriate time. Are you letting God do his job, or are you trying to do it for him?
- “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Are you doing good to this person? This is a difficult question when we are in the middle of being offended, yet it may serve to reveal our heart. A heart that is saturated with the gospel and the love of Christ is a heart that is going to be supernaturally enabled to do the unimaginable—doing good to someone who has done evil to us. Too often we look at issues only in light of a strict sense of fairness, but this verse calls us to something higher than "an eye for an eye". It calls us to lay down our sense of justice (or at least entrust it to God) and act like Christ, who laid down his life for his enemies. Can you bless those who curse you, and pray for those who despitefully use you? Can you be like Christ?