Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1–2)
The very first thing to notice about this remarkable passage is the humility required to define our fellow Christian’s circumstances. To see a fellow believer as “caught in sin,” is very different that the “judgy,” way we typically consider other people’s sins. We rarely consider it a trap they are caught in. We generally consider it willful and deliberate. But thinking of your fellow Christian’s sinful situation, as a bear trap, recasts both them and you, in a very different story. You must be strong enough to pry open the trap, know how the trap itself works, gently remove the limb, carefully, to not catch yourself in the trap and then restore the crippled sinner.
Therefore, Paul says that those who are spiritual should seek to restore others. Paul has spent chapter 5 of Galatians explaining the spiritual state necessary to fulfill the law of God, which is love (Romans 13:8-11). The adjective “spiritual” means “living and walking according to the Holy Spirit;” as Galatians 5:16, states. People who walk by the spirit bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and are thus equipped to deal with wounded sinners and traps, without themselves getting caught in them.
Walking by the spirit is a renunciation of the flesh, of self. It is turning away from the appetites and lusts of the flesh; sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (Galatians 5:19-21). This is another way of saying that being spiritual is to get the log out of your own eye, so that you can see clearly. You need to deal with yourself FIRST. If you are not spiritual, the conflict you are in, or the sin you see in others, takes a back seat. If you are not spiritual, then you have no place addressing the sins of others, whether they were committed against you or another, or have trapped someone.
Once you are unburdened through confession and repentance, then you can bear other’s burdens; imitating the Lord Jesus, the ultimate burden-bearer
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me” (Romans 15:1–3).
This is fulfilling the Law of Christ, which is love.
We are talking about confronting sin. Coming into conflict with those desires that trap us in sin and trap others in sin. The first thing we need to understand about all of this is that not all conflict is sinful.
If you and I have a dispute over our property line and hire a surveyor and lawyers, we can have a protracted dispute without animosity or sin. We hire mediators. If a husband and wife don’t agree on how many children they should have, this can be a protracted disagreement without being sinful. The battle of Gettysburg was a conflict and so is trying to merge onto I-5. Conflict comes in all sizes and shapes. Conflict is not categorically sinful. In Galatians 6:1-2, we are instructed to pursue conflict, since walking by the flesh is a conflict of spirit and flesh, as well as un-trapping others is a conflict with the trap.
What makes conflict sinful, or not, are the circumstances. Conflict that arises over an attempted robbery or infidelity or road rage, are all categorically sinful because of why and how the conflict is being conducted. All conflicts arise out of our desires. I want the property line to run down the edge of the hedge on your side. You want it to run down the middle. I want to get into the diamond lane, and you want me to wait till you pass. Gen. Lee wanted to invade Pennsylvania to give the civilians in Virginia a break from foragers. You think three kids is a full quiver, your spouse thinks six is fuller. All conflicts arise from desire.
So, when we are talking about conflict, we must understand that we are talking about desires. It’s crucial. This is what makes conflict such a hotbed of sin. We like our desires. We like eating, we like the marriage bed, we like affirmation and rest, we like entertainment and hearing the news about our friends. And all these desires can become sinful.
Sinful conflict arises from the lawfulness of what it is we are desiring, our own spouse or someone else’s spouse. Do I save up to buy the car or steal it?”
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:14–15).
Desires are the source of sins. Identify your desires; lawful versus unlawful.
Why do quarrels arise?
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask (James 4:1–2).
So much conflict arises, not because we are selflessly trying to free others from the trap of sin, but because we are ourselves trapped in sin. The purpose of walking in the spirit is the ministry of reconciliation that Christ has given to his church. We are reconciling all things to Christ Jesus. This process of the restoration of man is the great commission (Matthew 28). It is the ministry of the Church (Ephesians 4). Restoration is a theme echoed throughout scripture as we are urged to “help,” ‘restore,” “save,“ and ”forgive “ those who are caught in sins (see I Thess. 5:14; Gal. 6:1; James 5:20).
Scripture rarely uses words we would translate as “confront” to describe the process of talking to others about their faults. Biblically speaking, it is more accurate to refer to our ministry to one another as confessing, teaching, instructing, reasoning with, encouraging, giving correction, warning, admonishing, or rebuking (Matt. 5: 23–24; Luke 17: 3; Acts 17: 17; 1 Thess. 5: 14; 2 Tim. 2:24; 4:2).
Clearly, there is more to restoring others than simply confronting them with their wrongs. Therefore, if we want to be effective in our ministry, we need to ask God to help us be discerning and flexible so that we can use whatever approach will be most effective in the given situation.
We should also note that Scripture provides numerous examples of approaching others indirectly, instead of bluntly describing their wrongs to them. Jesus did not directly confront the Samaritan woman at the well about her adultery. Instead, he approached the issue indirectly, by using questions and discussion that engaged her in the process of thinking about and assessing her own life (John 4: 1– 18). This prophetic voice is exactly what Nathan used to un-trap David from his sin in 2nd Samuel 12. We need to let go of the idea that showing someone his fault always requires direct confrontation.
Furthermore, Jesus did not deal with the confrontation between God and Man from a distance. He came and looked upon us. He dwelt among us. Jesus did not send a text, e-mail, or send servants. Jesus came to us, face-to-face, and addressed the problem (Phil. 2:7-9). Only when we are having real Christian fellowship can we know the traps that snares one another. This requires us to move past the niceties of a social club, into real Christian fellowship. Genuine relationships require personal communication. If you learn that someone has something against you, God wants you to take the initiative in seeking peace— even if you do not believe you have done anything wrong.
Jesus commands you to go. Also, peace and unity among believers significantly affects how unbelievers will receive the gospel (John 13:35). In addition, you can have greater peace of mind if you have honestly faced any complaints someone might have against you. Only by carefully listening to others can you discover sins of which you were not aware of or help others realize that their complaints are unfounded. You should initiate reconciliation out of love for your brother and concern for his well-being. You should invite others to examine your life for possible traps that have ensnared you.
God calls you to go and talk to someone about a conflict if that person’s sins are too serious to overlook. If someone who professes to be a Christian is behaving in such a way that others are likely to think less of God, of his church, or of his Word, it may be necessary to talk with that person and urge him to change his behavior. If you are unable to forgive an offense—that is, if your feelings, thoughts, words, or actions toward another person have been altered for more than a short period of time— the offense is probably too serious to overlook. 1 Peter 4:8 says that love covers a multitude. It does and should, but sometimes it requires a greater display of selfless love.
The offender may be hurting or imperiling others in a direct way. The person may also be setting an example that will encourage other Christians to behave in a similar manner. Knowing that “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough,” Paul commands Christians to address serious and open sin quickly and firmly to save other believers from being led astray (1 Cor. 5: 1– 13; cf. 2 Tim. 4: 2– 4; Prov. 10: 17). An offense can also adversely affect others if it is made public and other Christians take sides.
Finally, sin needs to be addressed when it is seriously harming the offender, either by direct damage (e.g., alcohol abuse) or by impairing his or her relationship with God or other people. Looking out for the well-being of other Christians, especially those in your own family or congregation, is a serious responsibility. Unfortunately, because many Christians have adopted the world’s view that everyone should be allowed to “do his own thing,” some believers will do nothing, even when they see a brother or sister ensnared in serious sin. This is not the kind of love Jesus demonstrated, nor is it consistent with the clear teaching of Scripture:
1. “Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt” (Lev. 19: 17).
2. “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Doesn’t he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?” (Prov. 24: 11– 12).
3. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Prov. 27: 5– 6; cf. 9: 8; 19: 25; 28: 23).
4. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over” (Matt. 18: 15).
5. “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5: 19– 20).
Although these verses endorse constructive confrontation, they are not a license to be a busybody. We should not be overly eager to comfort sins in others, it should force us to examine ourselves first (2 Thess. 3: 11; 1 Tim. 5: 13; 2 Tim. 2: 23; 1 Peter 4: 15). In fact, anyone who is eager to go and show a brother his sin is probably disqualified from doing so. Such eagerness is often a sign of pride and spiritual immaturity, which cripple our ability to minister effectively to others (Gal. 5: 22– 6: 2). The best confronters are usually people who would prefer not to have to talk to others about their sin, but will do so out of obedience and Love for God and love for others.
Christians have the responsibility to address serious sin, especially when it is found in a fellow believer. Before we get to the process, remember that it is appropriate to overlook minor offenses (see Prov. 19:11), but generally, an offense should be overlooked if you can answer “no” to all the following questions:
1. Is the offense seriously dishonoring God?
2. Has it permanently damaged a relationship?
3. Is it seriously hurting other people?
4. Is it seriously hurting the offender himself?
If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, an offense is too serious to overlook, in which case God commands you to go and talk with the offender privately and lovingly about the situation. As you do so, remember to:
1. Pray for humility and wisdom
2. Check your eyes for logs that are blurring your vision.
3. Plan your words carefully (think of how you would want to be confronted)
4. Anticipate likely reactions and plan appropriate responses (rehearsals can be very helpful)
5. Choose the right time and place (talk in person whenever possible)
6. Assume the best about the other person until you have facts to prove otherwise (Prov. 11:27)
7. Listen carefully (Prov. 18:13)
8. Speak only to build others up (Eph. 4:29)
9. Ask for feedback from the other person
10. Recognize your limits (only God can change people; see Rom. 12:18; 2 Tim. 2:24-26)
If an initial conversation does not resolve a conflict, do not give up. Review what was said and done and look for ways to make a better approach during a follow up conversation. It may also be wise to ask a spiritually mature friend for advice on how to approach the other person more effectively. Then try again with even stronger prayer support.
If repeated, careful attempts at a private discussion are not fruitful, and if the matter is still too serious to overlook, you should ask one or two other people to meet with you and your opponent and help you to resolve your differences through mediation, arbitration, or accountability (see Matt. 18:16-20; 1 Cor. 6:1-8).
This is what the church is for. This is being a healthy, functioning member of the body of Christ.