The Immune System of Community
I cannot count the number of times friends have spoken difficult truths to me in love. Honestly, I don’t think I want to know the version of myself that would exist without those faithful wounds. I don’t think that version of Kelly would be very nice to be around. Each person who sailed into the tumultuous waters of conflict with me has rendered me an invaluable service. They were friends to me in the truest sense: sacrificing their own comfort with the risk of an unknown outcome, to help me grow into maturity.
Not only have these wounds helped me grow, they have built confidence into my friendships because I know my friends are honest with me. I know they aren’t just enduring me or flattering me. Now I know, if they have an issue with me, they’ll tell me because they have in the past!
This part of community is one very few people want, but it is one of the greatest assets we have as believers!
Speaking the truth in love is the immune system of Christian communities — a protection to the body of believers that arises when the sickness of sin threatens to impede upon our unity.
It takes a high commitment to unity to be unwilling to sweep things under the rug. If we forsake this clear command in Scripture, we will be left with bitter and fractured churches that cease to effectively carry out the Gospel to the communities they are planted in.
So how do we do this?
- Decide When It’s Necessary to Speak
We start by deciding when it’s necessary to speak. If you’re reading this right now and getting excited about all the things you want to point out in others, then this point is especially for you. Proverbs 19:11 says,
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
There are plenty of times we may be offended, and it is right not to speak. It is a good thing to quietly forgive small offenses in our hearts and move on.
How can you tell if it is time to speak up? If it is a clear violation of God’s law — like stealing, sexual immorality, or lying — it’s worth addressing. Or if the issue puts your friend in danger, like staying in an abusive relationship or having suicidal thoughts — speak up. But apart from those two categories, it’s good for us to be slow to speak and slow to be angry. Usually, the clearest sign for me that I should say something is when the issue causes me to consistently avoid my friend. At that point, it is causing disunity.
The next step is to exercise restraint by not going to anyone else. It is so tempting at this point to share your grievance with a third party and ask for advice. But Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:15,
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.
We honor our friends by going straight to them. So until we can arrange a time to talk with them, our lips stay shut.
- Pull the Log Out of Our Own Eyes
There is one more thing we must do before approaching a friend about their sin; we need to pull the log out of our own eyes. Again, Jesus helps us with conflict in Matthew 7:3-5 saying,
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
The implication here is that we are also sinners. Whatever sin we have noticed in our friend lives in us too. We might not have acted on it, but we are also guilty. James 2:10 tells us that
whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.
Before you approach a friend about their sin, take some time in prayer to ask God to expose any sin in your own heart, especially any sin that is of the same nature as what you need to address. Humbling ourselves before God makes us gentle surgeons when it comes to wounding others. We only wound when necessary, and we do so to cause the least amount of damage. When we have had to look at our own failures, we are more kind to others in theirs.
- Set Up a Conversation
At this point, it’s time to set up a conversation. (Yes, that means this message shouldn’t be communicated via text or email.) If it’s possible to arrange a time in person without distractions, that is always best. For me, that means finding a babysitter for my kids and sometimes asking my friend if she can do the same.
Within these uncomfortable conversations, I’ve found it’s important to do five things. First, I cast vision for why I’m speaking up. I tell my friend it’s because I love her and I love our friendship that I am sharing these difficult things. Second, I take responsibility for any of my own sins in the matter first and ask forgiveness for them. Third, I share my concern or my hurt. Fourth, I share the specific instances when this has happened. And lastly, I give space for her to process all that I said by asking her if she has any questions, any issues with me, or if she needs to think about what I shared and get back to me later. I know these conversations aren’t fun. I’m often wringing my hands under the table with nervousness and unsure of how what I say will be received. But I’ve seen the beautiful fruit that comes from dealing directly with sin and fighting for unity through conflict.
- Get a Mediator If Necessary
The last step in this process is to get a mediator if necessary. Following His command to tell your brother his fault between you and him, Jesus says,
But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. — Matthew 18:16
There have been a couple of times that my first conversation with someone didn’t resolve our problems. At that point, in the hope of preserving unity, we pursued a mediator. Sometimes this person was a mutual friend to hear us both out and help us see what we were missing. Sometimes this person was a biblical counselor. But in each case, having someone else in the mix helped bring us to a place of understanding, each of us owning our own sins and seeking forgiveness and reconciliation.
A friendship that is willing to sail into these tumultuous waters is a priceless gift.
Let us put away falsehood and speak the truth with our friends, “for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25). Christians, let us
walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. — Ephesians 4:1-3
Excerpted with permission from Friend-ish by Kelly Needham, copyright Kelly Needham.
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Sometimes our friendships have bumps in the road. That’s just part of the human condition — we hurt each other or we miss the mark in our lives and our friends step in to love us back toward the right path. Speaking the truth may be easy, but speaking the truth in love takes spiritual humility, honesty, and kindness. That kind of Christian friendship is invaluable! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you about the unity of the Body of Christ in friendship! ~ Devotionals Daily