I don’t like to admit it, but I don’t always please my wife. And to that she echoes a hearty “Amen.” But then again, you probably knew that already. I’m human and she’s human, and two human beings cannot always please each other. Yet God wants me to please her. There are some things I ought to be doing that I’m not doing. And there are some things I am doing that I shouldn’t be doing. What can she do to help me grow? After all, Jesus said she isn’t supposed to criticize me.
Every day, Christian counselors are listening to long lists of gripes wives have against their husbands: “He doesn’t show me enough love. He doesn’t talk to me. He isn’t the spiritual leader of the home. He doesn’t spend enough time with the children. He doesn’t fix things around the house. He doesn’t call me when he’s going to be late. He squanders money on non-essentials.”
The husbands have their lists too: “She nags at me. She screams at the kids. She doesn’t keep the house clean. She gets irritable over little things. She doesn’t take care of her personal appearance. She runs me down to her friends. She isn’t interested in me physically.”
What are we supposed to do about those things? There are two common but totally destructive alternatives we frequently choose. One is to suppress our feelings and suffer in silence. We all know a sweet, submissive wife who seems to give in to her husband all the time. But she usually finds subtle ways to retaliate that he cannot do anything about (like get a headache at bedtime), and she has her clever schemes (like turning on the tears) to manipulate him into doing what she wants. We probably also know a passive husband who bottles up his resentments and draws into his shell. But he, too, finds little ways to get even (like giving his wife the silent treatment), or else he gets ulcers, or he goes out and has an affair. Suppressing our thoughts, feelings, needs and desires is not the answer.
On the other end of the spectrum is the person who freely expresses most all of his displeasure. He seldom hesitates to tell people what he thinks of them. He prides himself on his honesty. He tells it like it is! He can wax eloquent about everybody else’s faults. But the truth of the matter is, he cares only for himself, and his outspokenness is an attempt to browbeat people into doing what he wants. His so-called honesty is actually thinly veiled anger and hostility. It may succeed in getting others to shape up to his demands, but usually at the cost of hurting them or damaging their self-esteem. That is not the edifying love which we are encouraged to express to one another throughout the Scripture.
If neither one of these options is acceptable, then what are we supposed to do about the faults of others? There are several passages of Scripture that can help us find an answer to that question, but none is more helpful than Galatians 6:1: “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to yourselves, lest you too be tempted.” This verse contains at least five principles for dealing with the faults of other people.
There are such things as faults. In the context, Paul is probably dealing with something into which a person has fallen that will bring reproach on the name of Christ and the testimony of His church. Other believers in the assembly are not simply to ignore it and hope it will disappear. They are to recognize it for what it is—a fault. The word means “a false step, a blunder, a mistake or an error.” It was probably not intentional or premeditated, but it was something that simply caught him off guard. That is the implication of the words “caught in.”
While Paul’s primary reference was probably to sin, the words he chose can apply equally well to all those irritating faults we see in one another. Our friends and mates normally are not trying to slight us, hurt us, irritate us, embarrass us or exasperate us on purpose. But they do it nevertheless. They may not realize they are doing it. They may not know how they ought to be acting or what God expects of them. They may not understand that He wants them to be more considerate of and concerned about the well-being of others than of themselves. But they are still guilty of a fault. They are falling short of God’s standard for their lives.
It is important to note that we are not talking about the little idiosyncrasies that grate on us, the habits that inconvenience us or get on our nerves. We are referring to a fault, something God wants to change. Be honest about it. Recognize it for what it is.
Some of us think it is more spiritual to ignore it and quietly put up with it. In reality, we are probably afraid that saying something will lead to an argument and that will only make us feel more unloved and rejected, which would be worse than the fault. Or we convince ourselves that the other person wouldn’t understand what we are trying to say. We think the relationship will be better if we ignore it. That may be true if we really could ignore it, if we could forget that it ever happened. But usually we don’t. We let it eat at us. And our bodies keep score of the hurts we have suffered, and they make us physically ill. Or we let the resentment build and leak out in unexpected ways, corroding our relationships. Or it explodes in anger and unkind words that drive people away from us. Overlooking it is not the answer.
Furthermore, to allow ourselves to go on being manipulated or victimized by the faults of other people is to condone their selfish and sinful behavior, which will probably be directed at somebody else very soon (if it has not been already). So for the sake of the offender and our relationship with him, as well as for the protection of others who might be hurt, we need to stop making excuses for him and stringing along with him, hoping things will get better. We need to be honest about his faults and confront him. But wait just a minute before you open your mouth. There is a condition you must meet first.
Paul calls the ones who are qualified to deal with the faults of others, “you who are spiritual” (Galatians 6:1). That does not mean we have to be perfect before we can confront anyone about their faults. No one would ever do it if that were the case. It means that our lives have been dominated by the Holy Spirit of God. We have been walking in the Spirit for awhile. We have given evidence that the Spirit of God has been filling and controlling our lives. The spiritual person is sensitive to God’s will, obedient to His Word, motivated by a desire to please Him rather than self, and allowing the Holy Spirit to produce His fruit in his life.
Letting the Spirit of God control our lives is going to help us approach the person in a manner that can bring healing instead of hurt and conflict. If we were honest, we probably would admit that we are often motivated to confront others about their faults in order to vent our own anger, irritation or jealousy, to get even with them for something they have done, to remove some personal inconvenience, to make ourselves look better than they are, or maybe to defend ourselves. Those motives are not prompted by the Holy Spirit and will probably lead to strife. The spiritual person is motivated by love. He wants to build the other person up rather than tear him down. He wants to strengthen the relationship rather than win a point. The “I win, you lose,” or “I’m right, you’re wrong” approach will make the other person want either to fight or to withdraw; either way, both lose. But when we confront in love in order to build others up, they sense that love, and it becomes the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.
Furthermore, the spiritual person also will have earned the right to be heard. His track record reveals that while he is not perfect, he has been growing. He has been letting the Spirit of God shape him up. He is not trying to pick specks out of the eyes of other people when he has logs stuck in his own. He’s dealt with his logs. If we want to talk to anybody else about their faults, we need to be working on our own first. We need to prepare our own hearts and lives. But now that we’re ready to confront, we must know what the goal is.
“Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one …” (Galatians 6:1). The word restore means “to put in proper condition.” Outside the New Testament, to restore meant to set broken bones and dislocated limbs. In the Gospels it was used in regard to mending fishing nets (Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19). The purpose for fishing nets is obviously to catch fish. If the nets are torn, they will not catch many fish. The fish will just swim out through the holes. Torn nets need to be mended.
One of God’s purposes for my life is to bring people to Christ and to minister to the needs of others—my wife, my children, and other members of the Body. When my life is torn by faults, I am not going to minister to many needs. I must be mended. And that mending will not normally take place unless I am confronted about my faults.
The New Testament uses two primary words to describe that confrontation. One is admonish. It means literally “to put in mind,” but it has the idea of facing someone with his faults and warning him of the consequences of continuing on his present course. Scripture says we are to admonish one another (Romans 15:14; Colossians 3:16). The purpose is obviously not for us to win a point, get one up on another person, prove that we are right and he is wrong, or pin blame on him. The purpose is to bring restoration to that erring one, and healing to our relationship. It is to mend the nets. “Admonish the unruly,” Paul said to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:14). That was intended to restore harmony to the assembly.
The second New Testament word for confrontation is rebuke, often translated “reprove.” It means “to bring to light, expose, set forth; to convict or convince.” It refers to telling an offender his fault so that he is convinced of it and wants to correct it. It is the word Jesus used in a helpful passage about confronting an offending brother: “Go and reprove him in private” (Matthew 18:15).3 Again, the purpose is not to make us look good and him look bad, but to restore a right relationship between us—to mend the nets. “If he listens to you,” Jesus added, “you have won your brother.”
Suppose you as a Christian wife are fuming at your husband as you ride home from a party. The atmosphere in the car is so thick you can cut it. He flitted from one person to another all evening, mostly female, and left you to fend for yourself. He never so much as spoke to you all evening. You’re thinking about what you want to say. “Boy, you really made a fool of yourself tonight. Everybody saw what a big flirt you are—Mr. Casanova. Wowing all the ladies! You don’t care two cents about me, do you?” Is that really what you want to say? Will those words restore? Hardly! They will let him know what you think. But they accuse and blame. And they will probably be the battle cry for an all night war. They fail to heed the next principle.
Paul explained how we are to restore the believer taken in a fault. It is to be “in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). Gentleness is consideration of others even when they wrong us. It enables us to restrain ourselves when our human natures tell us to strike back at them, to hurt them just like they have hurt us. It keeps us from attacking them even when we have the weapons to win. It is strength in control, like a mighty stallion held in check with bit and bridle. It is the attitude that restores.
The communication experts are consistent with God’s Word on this point. They have been telling us for years that we should refrain from making accusations when we confront others. That is what gentleness does. One way we can accomplish that is by focusing on what we are feeling and what we desire instead of on what the other person has done wrong. We do this by making what are called “I” statements rather than “You” statements. Let’s try some examples. How do these comments make you feel? “You are so inconsiderate.” “You don’t really love me, do you?” “You never talk to me.” “You sound just like your mother.” “You haven’t cooked a decent meal for six months.” “You think you have to run everything.” “You” statements usually constitute an attack on the other person’s self-worth. Attacks incite defensiveness, and defensiveness sets the stage for arguments.
But nobody can argue with “I” statements. Rather than “You’re not thinking about me when you work late,” try something like “I feel lonely and rejected when you work late. I very much want you to come home.” That explains how you feel and what you want. It doesn’t belittle. It doesn’t judge motives. Nobody can dispute what you feel or what you want, so there is nothing to argue about. We have confronted what we perceived to be a fault, but we have done it without attacking and accusing. We have done it in gentleness.
It might be good to remember that once we have expressed our desire to the other person, we leave the decision to fulfill that desire with him or her. Rather than lock them in the cage of our expectations, and try to force them to meet our needs by pressure or manipulation, we trust God to work in their hearts as He chooses. We endeavor to focus on meeting their needs rather than on their meeting ours.
A spirit of gentleness will also help us avoid manipulative questions that put people in traps, especially questions that begin with “Why.” “Why are you so lazy?” “Why don’t you ever help me?” “Why don’t you clean up your messy room?” “Why don’t you take better care of your things?” Nobody wants to answer questions like those. To answer is to admit the fault, and they may not be ready for that. Besides, no matter what they say, we’ll probably argue and tell them their reasons are not good enough. They can’t win and they know it. Questions like that are self-serving and anything but loving and considerate of others. They do not reflect gentleness. Questions are appropriate when our motive is to understand the other person more fully, but not when we use them to trap him.
Gentleness will help us maintain the right tone of voice as well. Our tone can be awfully incriminating. Some communications experts have estimated that 90 percent of the friction in daily living is caused by the wrong tone of voice. A Christian personnel manager who conducted a poll of employees discovered that they did not resent criticism from their supervisors so much as the way it was given—often maliciously, sarcastically, or harshly. We all prefer to be spoken to kindly and considerately.
Even our children appreciate being spoken to kindly. You can say to your child, “I’d like you to turn the light out when you’re finished.” Or, you can speak with disgust and sarcasm, “I’d like you to turn the light out when you’re finished!” It is not difficult to determine which one considers the child’s feelings and which one is designed to vent your frustration, which one will help build responsibility into his life and which one will build resentment. Whoever it is we are talking to, it might be wise to watch that person’s response. If we see antagonism, it would be good to play our words over again in our minds with the same tone and inflections. We will probably detect a lack of gentleness. That is the time to apologize, then say it again, gently.
Gentleness will also encourage us to see what some have called “the sandwich principle,” that is, sandwiching the suggestion between layers of praise. Jesus did that when he confronted the church at Ephesus. First He said He knew their toil and perseverance (Revelation 2:2,3). That is commendation. Then He faced them with leaving their first love (Revelation 2:4,5). That is confrontation. Finally He acknowledged that they did hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6). That is commendation again.
That is a good model to follow. When we build a positive, accepting, approving relationship with people, one saturated with praise and commendation, they can respond more easily to our confrontation without feeling threatened or rejected. It is the considerate thing to do. It is the spirit of gentleness, and it mends nets rather than tears them to shreds. But Paul feels constrained to add one more thought to his formula for dealing with the faults of others.
You should approach them “looking to yourselves, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). There is no way we can properly confront others with an air of superiority. Biblical confrontation is just one sinner sharing with another something that might make them both better people and make their relationship with each other stronger and more satisfying. Suggestions are easier to take from someone who lets you know he has the same weaknesses you have.
But for the grace of God, we would be doing the same thing he is doing. In fact, we probably have. And we very well may again. Remembering that will keep us from a vindictive, condemning, and holier-than-thou attitude, and will help us maintain a gentle, kind and calm tone. Then the nets will be mended, and together we will fulfill God’s purposes for our lives—ministering to each other’s needs, contributing to each other’s lives and building each other up for the glory of the Lord.