Steve is the International President of Campus Crusade for Christ.
A number of years ago, I was on a trip in another country. One of my pairs of pants needed to be dry cleaned, so I asked my local contact person if he could help me with that. He said, “Sure, I’ll take care of it.” I told him I needed it by the end of the day. He said, “Fine.”
Well, the time came when I needed to wear those pants, so I asked him where they were. He handed me the pants, and I immediately observed that they had not been cleaned. When I asked the person what happened, he said, “Well, dry cleaners here aren’t open on Saturday, so I couldn’t do it.” I asked him why he didn’t just tell me that in the first place. He said, “Because I knew you wanted them to be cleaned, and I didn’t want to disappoint you.”
To say the least, it was even more disappointing and inconvenient to learn of this just before I needed the pants. So what was going on in that person’s mind? In his culture it is very hard to have a conversation which disappoints another person. So apparently it seemed better to him to please me temporarily, even though in the end I would learn that my pants could not be dry cleaned.
So what do you do in a situation like that? I felt mislead—even lied to perhaps. He was a Christian. He should summarily be confronted, right?
Well, I have discovered that it is usually better to start from a different place and eventually end up dealing with what we find offensive.
Affirm What You Can
I have found it is best to start by affirming what is good. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 we are told to “encourage one another and build each other up.”
So what was good? Well, he was very responsive to my need. He wanted to help. In fact, a great strength of his culture is to put the needs of another person above one’s own.
So I could start my response by saying, “Thank you so much for wanting to meet my need. That was very gracious of you. Even in our brief time together I have seen you are a sensitive person.”
Believe the Best
In 1 Corinthians 13 we find the classic biblical description of the qualities of love. Among them are kindness and bearing, hoping and believing all things. On one hand, I could assume that the man was, at the very core of his being, a liar. After all, he did know that it was impossible to get the dry cleaning done.
Or I could believe that he was basically a good person who loved God and wanted to do what was right. My one incident did not give me nearly enough evidence to assume the worst.
So I could honestly say, “My friend, I know you intended to be helpful and to please me.”
Confront What You Must
But, of course, that still leaves the matter of his words that I perceived to be untrue (and maybe sinful). What do I do about that?
To say nothing would mean that I failed to speak the truth in love. So how could I do that in this case? I could say, “Even though I sense you were only trying to encourage me, you did give me the impression that you could get the cleaning done. That wasn’t true, was it?”
What you hope would happen next is a good response from the other person. If he really does love God and is humble, he will begin to see how what he did violated a standard of biblical holiness.
If so, then you have in love applied the truth of 2 Thessalonians 3:15 (NASB). It says to “admonish him as a brother.” Galatians 6:1 (NIV) says, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.” Both passages exhort us to deal with sin. But they tell us to do that gently, relationally and with spiritual humility.
One of the ways God uses us in the lives of fellow Christians is to hold them accountable to biblical standards, but in a way that encourages repentance and personal growth. Sometimes we are too quick and unloving in our confrontation. At other times, in the name of sensitivity, we are too reluctant to confront.
Only God can give us the right balance for each situation. I find it is best for me to pray that God will give me ways to affirm and believe the best about people. At the same time, I pray He will show me how to admonish and restore as I should.