Healthy Confrontation (not pictured)
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.
You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity… [NIV]
This passage suggests to us that loving, well-thought-out confrontation comprises an important aspect of Christian community. Such admonition must be well-timed, must be offered with the right motives (the author obviously wants them to change for their own spiritual well-being rather than for his reputation or benefit), and must be offered both with encouragement (he will quickly turn to mitigation in 6:9), and with specific suggestions for action.
It is worth the risk of being misunderstood and being the object of someone’s defensiveness in order to challenge them and be a possible catalyst for their growth and maturity. Keeping the “peace” by remaining silent means staying where you are, remaining stagnant, and eventually regressing, most likely.
Bill Hybels says, “When people submerge their true feelings in order to preserve harmony, they undermine the integrity of a relationship. They buy peace on the surface, but underneath there are hurt feelings, troubling questions, and hidden hostilities just waiting to erupt. It’s a costly price to pay for a cheap peace, and it inevitably leads to inauthentic relationships.”
The church must be a “dangerous” place of vulnerability, where love demands more than the guarding of personal ego and truth looms larger than peace. Yes, pain plays a part in this indispensable activity of authenticity. Yes, this pain can be remarkably productive.
Yesterday, I was listening to “The Power of Vulnerability,” a workshop by Brene Brown. I highly recommend it! In it, she was sharing one of her mantras when faced with a tough situation in which she knows she needs to tell someone “No.” Before giving her answer, she repeats to herself three times, “Discomfort or resentment?” 90 seconds of the discomfort of disappointing someone, or much longer lasting resentment over telling someone “Yes” to save face? You can end up angry at the person just because you couldn’t say no.
All groups of Christians need to progress in their faith, to mature, to be challenged. Without challenge, how are we sharpened and honed? Sticking our heads in the sand, if allowed to prevail, will lead to spiritual demise, turning a community of faith into a mere crowd held together by formalities. The term “disciple” is used 261 times in the NT and is used broadly to refer to all who belong to the church. That only certain “super believers” are to be disciples is just not supported by the writings of the NT. We’re either a full-on apprentice or else I guess just auditing the class. Just checking it out.
A friend of mine who reads these emails everyday is not afraid to challenge me on them, to ask questions, to disagree. I so appreciate him, for it really sharpens me and makes me better–makes me think. If he just kept quiet, what good would it do? We’re not here just to rub each other’s butts, wait, or is it pat each other on the back? Anyway, we’re also here to make each other better and to assist in our maturing in the faith. To push one another. Have you met people whose faith has not changed a single bit for decades? It’s just weird. We should be growing and maturing in every way–spiritually, emotionally, physically. If I’m stuck, I want to be challenged.
Here’s three guidelines for healthy confrontation we can glean from this passage:
- The confrontation must be given with the right motive (i.e., to restore those confronted to spiritual health) and in a context of love and encouragement. The one offering rebuke must go through self-examination to see whether he or she is seeking to minister in the situation out of a broken heart and for the betterment of those being confronted. We must ask whether we seek to build up or tear down, that is, whether we want the other person(s) to walk away renewed or we are simply out to get emotional revenge for our own hurt feelings.
- The confrontation must be well thought out and well timed. Off-the-cuff comments offered at an ill-timed moment can be more damaging than helpful. Therefore, we do well to write out our thoughts and pray through them, reflecting on them in light of Scripture. The author’s words in this passage were artistically crafted and, thus, the product of much thought. That he waits until this point of the letter–after laying such a rich theological groundwork–speaks volumes. In building his sermon, he waits patiently for the right moment to confront the listeners boldly with their problem.
- Finally, the person offering rebuke should also offer specific suggestions for action when appropriate. Don’t you love it when someone just tells you how much you suck with no follow up as to how not to suck? When I was a personal trainer, I found it ineffective to tell a client, “Hey, you’ve gotten really fat since Christmas. See ya next week!” It was much better to offer something like, “You’re looking a little thick around the middle, why don’t you try eating a salad for lunch once in a while.” (For those of you who don’t know me, I’m not really serious.)
I got a lot of this stuff today from George Guthrie’s commentary on Hebrews just FYI. If I were turning this in for a college class, I’d probably fail due to plagiarism.
In the Name of Jesus,
Soli Deo Gloria