by Tim Bryant, Director of Lowcountry Biblical Counseling

1. Do I have the facts right?

(Prov 18:13) Sometimes what we think is sin against us is just “possible” sin. We must be sure we are dealing with the facts, not our own interpretation. If you are in doubt, BE CAREFUL! You may not need to share your concern at all; in fact, your view may be so inaccurate that to go forward would be exercising presumption (Prov 13:10) and contention (Prov 26:21). If this is the case, you must learn to humbly examine your interpretations in light of other reasonable interpretations (Prov 18:2). If after honest evaluation you still think you need to go and share your concern, go, but ask the offender appropriate, clarifying (not accusatory) questions. Then listen very objectively to the explanation, knowing that you may not have had all the information. Let them know that if your understanding of the situation is not accurate, you want to understand it better from their perspective (Prov 18:17). Listening is better than asking accusatory questions (Jas 1:19-20). When discerning sin, you must stick with observable facts, {i.e. stick with actions and words, not with motivations and heart attitudes which you cannot know in another (1Cor 4:5)}. Your responsibility is to address clear and major sin, not small “possible” or “probable” sin that would require you to know a person’s heart and thoughts. God judges the unseen part of man; it is not your role (Jer 17:10). If the fact of sin is not established, it must be dropped. If it is your word (or interpretation) against theirs, it must be dropped (Matt 18:16; 1Tim 5:19). To go beyond what is evident and observable is to go beyond your jurisdiction and play God by making yourself the judge (Jas 4:11-12); this could very easily lead to becoming a false witness (Deut 19:15-20).
2. If it was sin against me, have I privately forgiven the offender in my heart before God?

(Mk 11:25) Private forgiveness must precede loving confrontation. Unless you do this, all you are doing is avenging sin, not covering it biblically (Prov 10:12; 1Pet 4:8). You cannot deal with sin like Christ without having a forgiving heart like His (Mk 11:25; Eph 4:31-32). Otherwise, your words would vent angry energy, not express concern for God and the other person (Prov 15:1). But to forgive will cost you something – it always does. You have to give up your belief that you have a “right” to be treated “good” by your definition of good; you must lay down your life before Christ. You must take up the call of God to suffer with Christ for His glory, for the good of others, and for your eternal gain (1Pet 4:1-2; 1Pet 5:6-7; Php 3:8-10).
3. Am I humbly aware of my own sin, and am I dealing with my own “logs”? 

(Matt 7:3-5; Gal 6:1b; Matt 5:23-24 ). You must take seriously what you have done or not done, said or not said. Did you in any way contribute to (not cause) their sin? If so, you must confess and change your own words, attitudes, and actions (Rom 14:13). You often will become more aware of sin in yourself as you lovingly confront others (Gal 6:1b). If the person you are confronting confronts you, don’t defend yourself, but rather take it seriously. If it is true, confess it to them and ask forgiveness (Jas 5:16). Tell them you will change and then follow through (Jas 5:16). You must deal with your sin in the same humble way you are hoping they will deal with their sin (Prov. 9:8-10). You must realize that you, too, sin and have weaknesses (Heb 4:15). Their sin against you must appear less offensive and remarkable than your sins against God (Matt 18:32-33)!
4. What’s my motive?

  • Matt 18:15 – Am I a brother seeking to regain a relationship or just release my anger?
  • Luke 17:3 – Am I hoping to be able to publicly forgive, remove guilt, and regain unhindered fellowship with the offender, or am I just going to him out of my own sense of justice and peace of mind?
  • Matt 12:34 – Am I ready to go? If my motive is not right, it is wrong to confront. Can I share my “heart” of love and concern for them before confronting them, and it be good?
  • Prov 27:6 – Am I going as a friend or an offended enemy?
  • Php 2:3-5 – Am I going for their good or for my own self-interests? Do I see what they could lose if they do not change, or am I focused primarily on what I have or might lose?
  • 1Cor 10:31 – Do I really want God to glorify Himself by granting power to repent and then grace to change, even for us both?

5. Am I prepared to use loving words?

  • 1Cor 13:4-7 – Do my word choices, tone, and body language reflect these qualities?
  • Eph 4:29 – Am I viewing the person as the problem or their sin as the problem? As I speak, am I prepared to not digress into personal attacks, but instead focus only on the specific sin? Can I look for ways to edify the person while attacking only the sin?
  • Prov 10:19 – Do I recognize the tendency to say too much, especially if they become defensive? I must not let a debate become heated, for then I would be involved in sin. I must put a stop at the door of my mouth, recognizing that begins in my heart (Ps 19:14).
  • Prov 15:1 – If the offender becomes defensive, I must speak gently, hoping they listen, but still prepared to stop if it turns into a heated debate rather than a healthy discussion. Gentle words of love and affirmation do greater good than winning an argument.
  • Prov 9:7-9 – If the offender does attack me, I must not continue to argue, but rather confess my sin if what they say is true, or just let them have the last word if it is not true.
  • Prov 16:21 – Do I know how to speak in a way that encourages them to open up to me and listen, or am I going with a sledgehammer – get in, get out, and be done with it?
  • 2 Tim 2:24-26; Prov 15:28 – What scripture passages in appropriate context help me gently make clear both what is wrong with what they are doing and why this is wrong?
  • Gal 6:1 – Can I admit some of my own struggles as I try to help them work on theirs?

6. Is my timing right?

  • Prov 25:11 – Is the circumstance right? Are they tired or hungry? Try to approach it when they are at their best. Late night is rarely good timing!
  • Prov 15:23 – Are they in a stressful time? Have they just experienced a big circumstance? Don’t confront in the middle of a bad situation where emotions are already on the edge.

7. Am I prayerful?

  • Jas 5:16 – Am I praying for the person regularly?
  • Eph 1:16-19, 3:14-19 – Am I praying the kind of prayers that if answered would solve everything? Prayers should ask God to let them understand and experience the hope, power and love of their calling in Christ, that the sin you need to address with them would be gladly confessed and forsaken by them for God’s glory and their good (not for your convenience!).
  • Col 3:12 – Could your praying for them be described as fervent “wrestling” (i.e. “laboring earnestly in prayer for you”)?
  • Rom 9:1-2 – Have your prayers for them exercised and strengthened an earnest desire in you to suffer for their sake, if need be, to help them change? In reality, you may have to suffer for their gain; they may attack you and say evil of you for trying to admonish them.
APPLICATION: Prayerfully work through each question and the scriptures above. Circle the passages and underline the statements that expose any areas that you need to address in yourself before you can really go share that concern with another. List the reasons why this area needs to be addressed in you first. Consider the wisdom of seeking biblical counseling if you remain stuck and in conflict. Am I seeking to remove guilt, and regain unhindered fellowship with the offender, or am I just going to him out of my own sense of justice and peace of mind?