Confrontation is not something that I find easy. It is a delicate operation. It is crucial to find the right approach, the right words for the job. Or, to use a golfing analogy, it is like the skill of knowing which club to use. Those who are skilled at confrontation have a great variety of approaches and words, and know when and how to use the appropriate one.
Confrontation is not always the right course. Not every critic has to be confronted. Not every wrong statement needs to be refuted. I greatly admire the skill of those who know when to confront and are good at confronting in a loving way. They have learnt how to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
When confrontation is necessary, how should you go about it?
Psalm 55:1-3a, 9
Confront evil prayerfully
There are forces of evil at work in our ‘cities’ today. You only have to switch on the news or read a newspaper to hear of terrorist attacks that take place in cities all around the world and news of gang-related violence and murders.
David also faced violent and destructive forces of evil at work in the city (vv.9b,11a).
As David faces his ‘enemy’ as they ‘revile’ him ‘in their anger’ (v.3), he says, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest – I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm’ (vv.6–8).
Escapism is a temptation – to shy away from confrontation. But evil must be confronted. Don’t run away. Don’t be overwhelmed. Rather do what you can. You can make a difference. As St Paul writes, ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’ (Romans 12:21).
David’s response to the violence and destruction is to ask God to intervene. He prays, ‘Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words’ (Psalm 55:9). Prayer is an important part of our response to ‘destructive forces’ (v.11).
Prayer and action go hand in hand. Even when you cannot help physically, you can always pray. God acts in response to your prayers.
‘Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me’ (v.1). Help me not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good.
Confront people lovingly
Confronting those who are in a position of weakness is relatively easy and sometimes cowardly. Confronting those in positions of power over us, through their job, status or wealth, takes great courage.
Jesus was the master at confrontation. He never shied away from it. On the other hand, he never acted out of any motive but love.
Nicodemus was a very powerful man; a moral and upright Pharisee and ‘a member of the Jewish ruling council’ (v.1). Jesus was undaunted by his position. He lovingly confronts Nicodemus with his need to be ‘born again’ (v.3) – to start anew, leave behind past hurts, habits and old ways. The message of Jesus is about transformation.
Nicodemus needs to be born again of water and the Spirit (v.5). The outward washing must be accompanied by the inward dwelling of the Holy Spirit.
We do not see God physically now. But we see evidence of God. Like the wind, we cannot see it but we can see its effect on the trees and the leaves – ‘the invisible moving the visible’ (v.5, MSG).
Likewise, Jesus says you cannot see the Holy Spirit but you can see the impact on people’s lives: ‘The person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch – the Spirit – and becomes a living spirit’ (v.6, MSG).
Jesus lovingly challenges Nicodemus about his beliefs. Using the image of the snake in the desert (from Numbers 21), Jesus predicts that he himself will be lifted up on the cross so ‘that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life’ (v.15).
‘Believes’ means ‘trusts’. Every time we enter a relationship we take a risk. All relationships require trust. Trust in a dynamic relationship grows and endures.
Jesus teaches about God’s love. The Greek word used for ‘love’ in verse 16, agape, appears forty-four times in John’s Gospel alone. This verse sums up John’s Gospel and, indeed, the whole of the New Testament: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (v.16).
There is a God and his love is wide enough to embrace all humankind without distinction or exception. It is not a vague or sentimental love. God’s love is of immeasurable intensity, demonstrated by his willingness to sacrifice his only son for you and me.
The world is in such a mess. People often ask, ‘Why doesn’t God do something?’ The answer is that he has. He came in the person of his Son, Jesus, to die on a cross and rise again for you. Jesus understands about suffering. He suffered for us and he suffers alongside us.
Many people have ceased to believe in life after death. But Jesus promised that we would ‘have eternal life and [actually] live for ever!’ (v.15, AMP). This life is not the end.
There is hope beyond the grave. Jesus offers you eternal life.
There is a big difference between confrontation and condemnation. Jesus confronted people, but he did not condemn them. Jesus did not come to condemn you but to save you from condemnation (vv.17–18). Like Jesus, you and I need to bring a message – not of condemnation, but the good news of salvation. To save means to pull a person out of danger, to liberate, to open the doors of a prison, to heal, to make whole.
Next, Jesus speaks of how light exposes and confronts darkness (vv.19–21). Jesus seems to be suggesting that the reason some people reject him is because ‘their deeds [are] evil’ (v.19). We do not want to come into the light because we do not want to give up the things that we know are wrong.
We do not want people to see the shadow areas in us. We hide all the dark inside us behind our apparent goodness. Sin hates light. When we sin, we want to avoid the light of Jesus. We do not want our evil deeds to be exposed. But Jesus came to confront the darkness. We may be afraid or ashamed. It may be extremely difficult for us. But we too must confront darkness in our lives and seek to live in the light of Christ – who loves you just as you are.
Martin Luther King said, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’
Lord, thank you for the example of Jesus. Help me to live in the light and to have the courage to speak the truth in love.
Confront opposition wisely
Many conflicts could be avoided if people would talk to each other, rather than just talk about each other.
As a result of a genuine misunderstanding, the rest of Israel looked at the two and a half tribes (the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh) and thought they were doing the wrong thing and disobeying God (22:12).
However, instead of going to war straight away they were wise enough to confront them and challenge them verbally. Once they had done that it became clear that their fears were groundless.
They were right to want to interfere rather than ignore because what one part of the body does affects the whole body. They could not simply say, ‘It’s up to them what they do.’
When the two and a half tribes were confronted they gave their explanation: ‘We did it because we cared’ (v.24, MSG). They wanted to ensure their children kept the faith.
The explanation was satisfactory: ‘Now we’re convinced that God is present with us since you haven’t been disloyal to God in this matter’ (v.31, MSG).
This was one of the occasions when it was a good idea to have a meeting (vv.32–33). After the meeting ‘they talked no more about going to war’ (v.33).
Be careful not to jump to hasty adverse conclusions about other Christians and other churches. Do not attack them verbally behind their backs. If necessary, arrange a meeting, confront and hear the explanation. If we all do this, much needless division and ill-feeling will be avoided.
In this case, when they heard the explanation, instead of being sceptical or cynical, they accepted it and ‘praised God’ (v.33). When you make mistakes about people, be generous in admitting your mistakes. It takes a ‘big’ person to admit that they are wrong.
Lord, give me the wisdom to know when it is important to meet, to confront and to hear explanations. Help us to avoid unnecessary divisions and disunity. Help me to learn the skills of loving confrontation.
‘I see violence and strife in the city. They prowl about... malice and abuse are within it.’
There is still too much of this going on in our world today. We need to keep praying and working to advance the kingdom of God.
James Washington (ed), *A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.,* (Harper One, 2003). Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790. Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org) Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.