|Show, Don’t Tell: Alternatives to Directly Confronting
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” (Matthew 18:15)
When Christians think about talking to someone else about a conflict, one of the first verses that comes to mind is Matthew 18:15: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” If this verse is read in isolation, it seems to teach that we must always use direct confrontation to force others to admit they have sinned. If the verse is read in context, however, we see that Jesus had something much more flexible and beneficial in mind than simply standing toe to toe with others and describing their sins….
Although [speaking to someone about what they have done wrong] may sometimes require direct confrontation, the Bible teaches that there are often better ways to approach people regarding their wrongs. In fact, Scripture rarely uses words we would translate as “confront” to describe the process of talking to others about their faults. Instead, it calls us to use a wide spectrum of activities to minister to others, including confessing, teaching, instructing, reasoning with, showing, encouraging, correcting, warning, admonishing, or rebuking (Matt. 5:23-24; Luke 17:3; Acts 17:17; 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Tim. 2:24; 4:2). God wants us to adjust the intensity of our communication to fit the other person’s position and the urgency of the situation (1 Tim. 5:1; Titus 1:13). We are also warned not to let disagreements with others degenerate into quarreling, arguing, or foolish controversies (Phil. 2:14; 2 Tim. 2:23-24; Titus 3:9). Clearly, there is more to restoring others than simply confronting them with their wrongs. Therefore, if we want to be effective as peacemakers, we need to ask God to help us be discerning and flexible so that we can use whatever approach will be most effective in a given situation.
Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 144-145
Food for Thought
The Greek word for “show” that appears in Matthew 18:15 appears in seventeen other places in the New Testament, where it is sometimes translated as “reprove”, “rebuke”, “tell one’s fault to”, “convince”, or “convict”. It is a very strong word, indeed. How, then, can it be possible to “show” or “reprove” or “rebuke” someone without directly confronting them?
Appropriately, Jesus himself “shows” us how.
The word for “show” that appears in Matthew 18:15 also appears in John 8:9, in the midst of the story of the woman caught in adultery. After Jesus invites the woman’s accusers to stone her if they themselves are sinless, we read in the King James Version, “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst” (John 8:9-10).
Interestingly, the word for “convicted” in John 8:9 is the same word Jesus uses for “show” in Matthew 18:15.
In other words, how are we to “show” others their fault? The same way Jesus “showed” the adulterous woman’s accusers their fault in John 8. Instead of directly listing off their sins, he gently reminds them of God’s standard, invites them to examine their own hearts, and trusts the work of conviction to the Holy Spirit.
Resources To Help You Respond to Conflict Biblically
The Peacemaking Church Resource Set is a three-part discipleship initiative designed to change the way you think about conflict and help your church on its journey toward a Culture of Peace. Included is a box for the pastor to inspire the church, a box for the small groups to enable your entire church to learn the basic principles of personal peacemaking, and a box to embed a peacemaking team into the life of the church. You can order it through our online bookstore or by calling our Resource line at 800-711-7118.
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