Confronting Our Neighbor’s Sin

Dealing With a Neighbor’s Sin – 05.26.2019
[2 Samuel 12:1-13 and Matthew 18:15-20]


          I love my parents very much, but when I was a kid, they drove me crazy. They were always stopping me from doing brilliant things. If I wanted to stick my metal fork in an outlet, they would take the fork away from me. I wanted to eat nothing but pizza and cinnamon rolls, and mom always insisted on vegetables. My friends and I used to do all sorts of things on our bikes. First we learned how to ride with no hands. But we got really good at that, so we started pushing the envelope. We used to put our feet up on the bar and stand up on the bike. Oh man, that was a bad idea. But probably the best idea we ever had was the ramp. I grew up on a street with a cul-de-sac at the end, and it was a very steep hill. So, brilliant engineers that we were, we would pile up some 2×4’s and put a flat board up to the 2×4’s, and the goal was to peddle as fast as you could down the hill until you hit the ramp and were launched into the air. And that’s as far as we planned. It wasn’t until the first kid was flipping through the air that we noticed that there may be a flaw in that plan. Now, why would my mother and my father keep me from doing such well thought out activities? Because they loved me! They did not want me to die. Now, I know, a lot of people confuse love with “happiness.” The phrase we hear a lot in our culture is “I love them so much, I just want them to be happy.” But here’s the problem – happiness is not the same as love. Don’t ever love someone too much to stop them from destroying themselves. In every type of relationship. Parent-child, brother-sister, cousins, friends, school-mates, every relationship. When love finds sin – confrontation is inevitable.      
     Today is the last week of our sermon series “The David Files” where we have been looking in depth at the old testament character of King David. But when love finds sin, confrontation is inevitable. Today we’re going to talk about that confrontation.
As I mentioned last week, Sin is not an isolated event, it makes ripples that effect all the people around us. Verse 1 says [ read verse 1a] Two quick things here – first, it doesn’t matter if you get away with it here on earth. Avoiding the consequences now, doesn’t mean anything. God is everywhere and God is all-knowing. There’s nothing God doesn’t see. Whether you’re in the church or out there in the world – God knows it all. The second thing I want to point out is a new character – Nathan. Nathan is a prophet, he’s the voice of God. And God sends Nathan to approach David and say – I know what you did, and it was wrong. Nathan is going to confront David – because God sent him. The key part here is that God judges, Nathan confronts. God sent Nathan. Nathan’s job was confrontation – not judgment. To be clear – in our lives, we are not the judge. Only God can judge.
Now, I love the way the story continues – Nathan does not just launch into his confrontation. He does not start with – “you are a bad person, you did this and you’re horrible and now bad things are going to happen.” He starts with a story. One of the things we are going to find is that confrontation is not about expressing anger. Confrontation is not an outlet for emotion. Emotions come up – but confrontation is about reconciliation. Let me say that again, Confrontation is about reconciliation. It is about putting things back together. So before we consider confronting someone – check your motivation. Why are you doing this? Nathan shows David his sin in a different context – he tells a story. You see, confrontation is a really tricky thing. Each situation calls for a different tact. I can’t tell you exactly how it will go every time. What I can tell you is that if you want to make a difference in the life of your friend – if you want your confrontation to be effective, you have to find a way to be heard, to be truly listened to. So Nathan tells his little story, [read v.1b-5] David is so angry about the man with the sheep, and then verse 7 [read 7-9].   Nathan lays it out very specifically, and then when David sees his sin, he repents. Nathan identifies a specific problem. This thing you’ve done – it was wrong. And David realizes his error and repents.
 [read verse 13] Couple things about this. First, David sinned against a lot of people. Bathsheba, Uriah, and then he brought other people into it – his military leader Joab, his messengers who retrieved Bathsheba – lots of people to apologize to. But it’s not just about the people here on earth. Sin hurts God. In every relationship there is vulnerability. This might be the most incredible part of God loving us – He has opened Himself up to being hurt by us. When we sin against other people – it hurts God too. When we hurt others – we hurt God. So when we restore that relationship with the people on earth – we need to restore that relationship with God as well. Every time I get in a big fight with someone, and we reconcile and apologize and put things back together – I try to make sure I say a little prayer to God. It usually sounds like this, “God, I’m so sorry for hurting my friend like that. I did not love them the way you taught me, and I failed you. I am so sorry for hurting you. Please forgive me. Amen.”
There’s one more big piece of the story I want to point out before we move on – the child dies. David repents, but that does not remove the consequences. I love Disney movies, but in the real world all the evil is not undone by simply saying I’m sorry. Restoring a relationship doesn’t mean we don’t have to live with the ripples of our sin. Confrontation, reconciliation, and repentance are all aimed at the future – it does not always erase the past. It takes away our eternal punishment, after death, but in this life – we may have to live with the consequences, but we can do it with a clear conscience.


          Now, one of the biggest pieces I want to leave you with today is that judgment is God’s job, and confrontation is our job. The good news this morning is that God is the good and perfect and righteous judge. And the even better news is that we are not. Leave the judgment to God. But, that’s sort of a catch-22. If our job is confrontation – even in love, how can I confront someone without having first made some sort of judgment on them? How do you know what to confront someone about – if you don’t first judge them by some sort of standard? That’s a huge back and forth in our society today. We bemoan the loss of morality and society’s descent into immoral chaos – but at the same time we are strongly committed to the understanding that my business is my business and that makes it none of yours. In this church, nothing is more controversial than accountability. I have gotten more comments and negative feedback when I talk about accountability and confessing to one another and speaking the truth in love, than any other topic. Simply put, we do not like confronting one another. This hands off approach has led to the mentality that “you can do whatever you want, as long as you keep it over there.” Keep your sin to yourself, and that makes it okay. 
          But we talked about this last week, that’s not how sin works. Sin spreads like an infection. It’s not fair that what this person does affects the people around them – but it does. Sin creates ripples and affects the entire environment. It is not an isolated event. No matter how isolated and private your business is – it affects those around you. And so, in answer to the catch 22 of confronting without judging – it all comes down to motivation. We have to ask ourselves why we are confronting someone. If you are confronting someone because you are angry – that’s no good. If you are confronting someone in order to make them feel guilty – that’s no good.  And here’s the big one – If you are confronting someone in order to hear the apology – that’s no good. If all you want is to hear them say sorry – you are missing the most important piece. How many of you have had this conversation: “I’m so sorry for what I did.”     “Good.” Repentance is about reconciliation. It’s about restoring relationships. If you are confronting someone for the wrong reason, if your motivation is wrong – then yeah, it’s going to come out as just judgment – and we need to leave judgment to God. But confrontation with our eyes on reconciliation – that comes out a lot like loving someone.


One of my favorite parts about the two scriptures for today is that they are so practical. The challenge for us today is to learn how to confront one another in love, and there’s two parts – the who and the how. First, let’s talk about the “Who.” Who are we supposed to confront? Some people would say – anybody who has done something wrong. There are not enough hours in the day nor days in the week to take on that task. You cannot confront everyone who has done something wrong. Nor should you. Some people think we need to confront our enemies. To show them their sin and drag them back to God. Real quick close your eyes. I want each of you to think about someone who does something you disagree with. I don’t care if it’s terrorists, pop-music stars, homosexuals, homophobes, someone – think of someone who you disagree with. You can open your eyes, but keep that person fixed in your mind. They are living in such a way that you find it offensive. You disagree with their life choices. You are butting heads with this person. Now, for arguments sake, let’s assume that it’s not just a disagreement. Let’s assume you are right and they are wrong. They are sinning and they are evil. They are your enemy. How are we supposed to treat them? Jesus tells us – love them. Pray for them. That’s Matthew 5.
          The thing about confronting your enemies is that they don’t listen. You are not in a good place to confront them. We don’t listen to the people who start with judgment. We don’t listen to the people who start with – I hate you and you’re wrong. It is our friends that we listen to. We are so willing to identify the faults in the people we are the least likely to reach. Effective confrontation comes from those closest to home. What that means is that our responsibility of confrontation lies most heavily with those we are closest to. Our friends. The people whose faults we usually ignore. The one’s we love And if you want to confront your enemies – you have to love them first. Get to know them. Have lunch with them. Show them that your motivation is love and not judgment, and you’ll be more effective in reaching people. So that’s the who of confrontation. The one’s we love.
Our culture has it all backwards – we overlook our friend’s faults, and we magnify our enemies faults. But ignoring someone’s sin – does not make you a good friend. When I was a youth pastor in Chicago, I had a young girl come up to me after one of our games and ask to speak with me privately. She told me that she was scared for her friends, because they were starting to experiment with drugs. She was thirteen years old. She told me, she didn’t want to talk to them about it because she didn’t want to be a bad friend. A tattle-tale. I had a similar situation with a high school girl who asked me what she should do because her friends were starting to hurt themselves with razors. To both girls I asked them, is it more loving to watch them hurt themselves or is it more loving to talk to them about it. To confront them, even if they don’t want to be friends anymore. I said, I can talk to them, but it won’t be as effective as if it comes from you. And then I gave them this formula for compassionate confrontation – from Matthew chapter 18. [read Matthew 18:15-20] When I was in college, one day I was walking to class. And outside the campus building was a student holding a bible and a megaphone. Some of you may know where this is going. He was waving his bible around and shouting into the megaphone about how all of us were terrible people and we were all going to hell. I cannot think of a less effective way to reach people. In fact, that probably had the opposite effect and pushed a lot of people farther away from God.
          I mentioned earlier that each situation of confrontation deserves special attention. To be effective, each moment needs a unique approach – but there are better and worse ways to do things. This passage in Matthew gives us a simple formula for how to confront someone – in private, by yourself, and then if that doesn’t work, bring other people – other members of the family who also love the person. Each confrontation takes a unique approach, and we are more likely to know what approach to use – the better you know the person. We are the most effective in confrontation to the people who are closest to us. Those are the people who listen to us.
And then, at the end, it says if they still won’t listen to you – let them be as a Gentile or a tax collector to you. Now, historically, churches have used this as a rationale for excommunication in the church. They won’t listen to anybody – so we are supposed to kick them out. Gentiles and tax collectors. Get them out of the church. But let me ask you – what did Jesus do with Gentiles and tax collectors? Do you see? If Jesus had given up and pushed those people out, there would be no church. So the last thing I want to say is that if confrontation fails, and there is no reconciliation – don’t push those people out of your life. Jesus loved those people, and kept working to bring them back into a good relationship with him. We want to keep our environment free of Sin, because in spreads like a disease, but that is not the same thing as giving up on people and pushing them away.

            When my mother took away the fork from me – I did not electrocute myself. The high school girl whose friends were hurting themselves – they are now in counseling and they know that their friend truly loves them. The middle school girl? She talked to her friends, and when that didn’t work – she talked to her friends parents. They weren’t happy – but they may have avoided some horrible life choices, and they know their friend loves them. Confrontation is not always a happy-feeling event – but in light of the restoration of a relationship, in light of putting back together two pieces of a broken heart – is there anything that should stand in our way? And so I’ll leave you with this, May you leave judgment to God. May you learn to confront your friends in love, and may God be with you every step of the way. Amen.    

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