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As Christians, are we supposed to confront sin in other Christians? Does the Bible tell us how and when to do this?


This is always a tough question because it cultivates such intense emotions in people ranging from calls of “judgmentalism”, to fueling the fire of legalism and opening a wide door for busybodies.
Often, human wisdom or pragmatism is applied and the rule of measurement becomes “does it work”? In this case it might go something like this, “confronting doesn’t work because it drives people away; love works instead because it makes people feel comfortable and want your help”. Sound good? Of course, but is “sounding good” a rule of standard for Biblical doctrine?
Some couch this in the statement “Am I my brothers keeper?” In other words, is it any of my business what my brothers and sisters do? Some say yes, some say no, some says “depends”.
There are two parts to the issue. First, do you confront? Yes or no? Second, if yes, how? I think the Bible is clear about the first question:
Sin that is ignored will corrupt the whole body – 1 Corinthians 5:6-7 Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. (NKJV)
Sinning brothers are to disciplined – Matthew 18:15-17 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. (NKJV)
Sinning Elders are to be rebuked – 1 Timothy 5:20 Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. (NKJV)
Idol talkers and deceivers are to be rebuked – Titus 1:13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, (NKJV)
Sexual immorality IN PARTICULAR is to be confronted, exposed, judged and dealt with – 1 Corinthians 5:5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (NKJV)
Turning a sinner from sin is commended – James 5:20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (NKJV)
The unruly are to be confronted – 1 Thessalonians 5:13-14 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. (NKJV)
Those caught in sin are dealt with (not ignored) in gentleness – Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. (NKJV)
Divisive Christians are to be warned, then rejected – Titus 3:10 Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, (NKJV)
These are clear examples and instructions about confronting sin in others. Like most verses, they have specific application in context to certain situations and at certain times. It would be easy to say none of those SPECIFICALLY say I should confront my Christian brother at work about public sin in his life. However, this ignores a clear theme and continuous thread of principle that is demonstrated in the verses:
1Cor. 5: Confront sin, don’t ignore it.
Math 18: Confront sin, don’t ignore it.
1Tim. 5: Confront sin, don’t ignore it.
Titus 1: Confront sin, don’t ignore it..
1 Cor 5: Confront sin, don’t ignore it.
James 5: Confront sin, don’t ignore it..
1 Thes. 5: Confront sin, don’t ignore it..
Gal 6: Confront sin, don’t ignore it.
Titus 3: Confront sin, don’t ignore it.
It would be impossible to list every situation and every variable in order to specifically tell you when and who to confront. The Bible never attempts to address every situation when it comes to teaching us how to behave as Christians. The Bible gives us instruction, shows us examples, reinforces the principles then expects us to ask God for wisdom on how to apply it to every day life.
If we ARE to confront sin, then when, and how? That’s easy and the answer is the same: when love is the motive and the method.
Confronting should be done in love, and because of love.
Confronting sin is always wrong when done for a personal agenda. It is always wrong when done for retaliation or self righteousness. It is always wrong when done in pride or selfish motives. Look at the verses again, and you’ll see the correct motive either plainly or more subtle, but it’s there and its never about the “confronter”. It’s always about restoring the sinner to God:
  • 1 Corinthians 5:6-7 – The purity of the body is the motive
  • Matthew 18:15-17 – In later verses you find that restoring the sinner to the Body is the motive
  • 1 Timothy 5:20 – The proper fear of God is the motive
  • Titus 1:13 – The growth of faith is the motive
  • 1 Corinthians 5:5 – Salvation of the sinner is the motive
  • James 5:20 – Turning the sinner from error is the motive
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:13-14 – Maintaining unity and peace is the motive
  • Titus 3:10 – Unity and truth are the motive
Finally, we have the method, gentleness and love:
Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. (NKJV)
We are to restore in gentleness which of course is founded in love. If your motive for considering a confrontation of a brother or sister about sin is based on anything but SELFLESS motives that bring glory to God – think again. If your method is anything but gentle and loving, don’t bother.
We don’t confront sin to make ourselves feel important or better than someone else. We don’t confront sin in order to make a point or get back at someone. We don’t confront sin for the sake of embarrassing or humiliating someone. We don’t confront sin with a “holy police” mentality, the enforcer of sanctification.
We confront sin for the reasons God tell us to in verses like those above with the goal of restoring the sinner to fellowship with God always in truth, always in patience, always in mercy and always in love.

1 Corinthians 16:14 Let all that you do be done with love. (NKJV)

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