It's Hard to Have Hard Conversations

Paul Dean
Paul Dean

What do you do when a close friend tells you she’s decided to divorce her husband? Gal. 6:1 immediately comes to mind: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” If we see a fellow-believer in spiritual danger, ruining their witness for Christ, or otherwise overtaken in sin, it’s our responsibility to help them turn around. The idea is to rescue them from danger and restore them to usefulness in the kingdom.

Some Obstacles

But what if your friend is not a believer? On the one hand, it’s not our role to call out unbelievers on every sin (or even believers for that matter, Prov. 19:11). Christians are accused of being harsh and judgmental. We’re called haters. Much of the time those accusations are unfair and untrue. But if we point out sin in someone without the gospel, not only might we come across as unloving, we don’t really do much good. Unless God changes one’s heart through the gospel, we’re doing nothing more than substituting a false morality for genuine repentance.

Moreover, we know it’s hard for a Christian to accept proper rebuke, and we approach them when we need to with fear and trepidation. How much more difficult is it to confront an unbeliever? We have no idea they’ll accept what we have to say; we’re often fearful of losing a friend; and we actually are mindful of coming across as the sin police. The point is it’s hard to have hard conversations.

Some Considerations

On the other hand, there are times when something must be said, for God’s glory and their good. Love demands it. Let’s say you find out your unbelieving friend is sleeping with her boyfriend. You may not say something immediately, and you certainly don’t rebuke her on that and move on. But at some point, you have to say something. Why? It’s not that you merely want this unbeliever to quit sinning. As noted, that does no spiritual good (though there are other benefits to her ceasing from such activity). It’s not just that you consider this particular sin a bigger sin than certain others. It’s that you have a goal. Your goal is to talk to your friend that you might give her the gospel. You want her to have the greatest reality in all the universe: forgiveness of sin, life from the dead, and a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. If your friend has decided to divorce her husband, you have to say something. The immediate benefit is worth any perceived risk. She’s about to do something that will prove to be disastrous for her life. She hasn’t thought about the consequences related to income, her children, family holidays, visitation, future relationship complications, and so much more. All she wants is relief from her present circumstances. You need to warn her. And, you need to do so in the context of the gospel that she might be saved.

Some Advice

Often times we think confronting others with their sin is unloving. We convince ourselves some are focused on the truth while we’re focused on love. We don’t want to offend because we’re loving. The reality is that there is no love apart from the truth. If you’re a doctor and your patient has cancer, its not loving to withhold that information, even though you know it’s going to hurt them deeply to hear it. You’re on a loving rescue mission. It’s a false distinction to separate truth from love. There are people who speak the truth without love. They’re harsh. But you can communicate truth in love, truth and love, at the same time. If we don’t say something because we don’t want to offend, we’re not focused on love, we’re focused on self. We’re focused on avoiding conflict. We’re focused on avoiding something unpleasant. That’s selfish, not loving.

So hard conversations are hard. But sometimes they’re necessary. Be committed to the truth, to love, to God’s glory, and to their good. Make sure you pray, exercise biblical wisdom, examine your heart, and be gentle as Paul says in Gal. 6:1. It’s interesting too that the word “restore” in Gal. 6:1 was used to set a broken bone. If you know Christ, you’re a spiritual doctor, and what you need to do is lovingly patch up your wounded friend. She’ll be grateful in the end.

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Originally published March 05, 2020.