When I was a child, I used to love to read the Choose Your Own Adventure series. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this series, the title is exactly as it sounds. You literally would choose how the story will go. There were several different storylines: you were in the Amazon jungle, or climbing Mount Everest, or on a Deep Sea Adventure. After reading about five pages or so into the story, the reader would be faced with a decision: If you decide to enter the cave, turn to page 19. If you turn back and go for help, turn to page 81. The choice you made determined the outcome of the story.
I have always been very practical, even as a child. So it probably comes as no surprise to you that I used to read ahead to learn the outcome of both choices. Then, whichever scenario provided the best possible outcome would be the decision I would make.
The Christian life is a lot like the Choose Your Own Adventure series, only we cannot skip ahead a few pages to know the outcome of our decisions ahead of time. Instead, we must use what we know about God's design, God's will, and God's word to make the best possible educated guess and make our choice in faith with God's guidance.
I was once faced with such a decision. A man I knew had made a decision that I did not agree with. That in itself is a struggle, because as self-absorbed sinners, we want what pleases us. But in addition to having to submit to a decision I did not like, there was another issue. In carrying out his decision, the man sinned against me.
The details of what this man did are not important. What is important was my reaction to the sin. In a word, I was angry -- sinfully angry. I wanted to alert this man right away to the fact that what he did was just downright wrong, unfair, and hurtful to me. As far as I could search my heart, I had done nothing to bring this on myself.
So I was faced with a Choose Your Own Adventure-type decision: If you decide to confront this man on his sin, turn to Matthew 18:15-17. If you decide to remain silent, turn to 1 Peter 3:1. Although I did not know the outcome of either decision, I tried my best, given what I know about God's design for men and women, to imagine how each scenario would play out.
Let's look at Matthew 18:15-17:
Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
What might the outcome be if I took this road? Well, given what I know about men and women, I most likely would have been extremely tempted to use my feminine power of influence in a selfish way, especially since I was angry. It's possible I would have been tempted to use the discussion about the man's sin as an opportunity to get him to change his decision. As a result, I may have appeared to this man as a contentious and/or selfish woman who was only trying to rob him of his leadership. He may have considered me to be a thorn in the flesh, instead of a caring sister in Christ. Taking this approach might even communicate to him: "I don't respect you enough to trust your ability to make a godly decision." I do have biblical grounds based on Matthew 18 to correct this man. There is nothing unlawful about confronting him on his sin. However, what if I consider this scripture:
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).
Just because I have biblical grounds for Matthew 18, does that make it the best possible decision? Will confronting this man edify him, or contribute to his well-being?
I feel I knew this brother well enough to say that he is a very gentle and tenderhearted man of God. I am confident that he is aware of his sin. All of us have sinned at one point and knew it, yet were ashamed or embarrassed to address the offended party. Perhaps we were afraid of rejection. The possibility of hearing that individual say, "You really blew it bigtime!" is not helpful. Most of us would probably respond, "Gee, thanks. Tell me something I don't know!" I am confident that 1 Peter 3:1 gives me the opportunity to communicate to this man, without the use of words, the very "something" he may not know:
- I don't agree with your decision, but I respect you enough to submit to it. I am demonstrating my submission to you by my silence.
- I have compassion for you, so as not to throw your sin in your face.
So here is the difference: Matthew 18 is an opportunity to focus on the man's sin, while 1 Peter 3 is an opportunity to focus on the man's decision. Which is the better choice? Although it is appropriate for me to confront the sin, I chose to let it go and focus instead on the fact that I have an opportunity to respect this man through silence and submission. An opportunity to demonstrate respect, especially when the opportunity calls for a demonstration of grace, is far more edifying to a brother in Christ. Therefore, I felt 1 Peter 3:1 was the better decision in this case, so that's the road I took. Unfortunately, we never did achieve reconciliation (although God could always change that).
Even so, I think I did the right thing. The only reason to have taken the Matthew 18 road would be so I could get what I was looking for: communication. Yet we know the Christian life is not about the self, rather, the Christian life is about putting others first. This is not about getting what I want as much as giving him what he needs. And because of his circumstances, my dear brother in Christ could probably use some support from me in the form of me not nagging him about his sin right now. What he needs is the assurance that I am here and willing to reconcile. I don't do that with words. I demonstrate that through quietness, so that even if he doesn't obey the word, he may be won through my conduct (1 Peter 3:1).
Let us be gracious to our brothers in the Lord when they sin against us. Leadership is hard. They cannot do it alone. They so desperately need our help, patience, and understanding as they try to do what's right in God's eyes, knowing He will hold them accountable for their decisions. I encourage you to watch this brief clip of John Piper as he explains the role of leadership in initiating reconciliation:
*A popular question I have been asked about 1 Peter 3:1 is, "Aren't you contributing to the breakdown in communication with this technique?" When using 1 Peter 3:1, especially in a marital situation, I need to stress that we are not talking about giving someone the "Silent Treatment." The silent treatment is never a Christian response to another's sin. This scripture is advocating silence regarding specific issues, not silence toward individuals. Before making any decision to confront an individual in sin or to remain silent, it is best to pray and seek God's face as to what the best course of action is. Remember, Ecclesiastes 3:7 says that there is a time to be silent, and a time to speak. God will direct your paths and show you when to speak, and when to keep silent. For additional information, consult this article by John MacArthur.