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Every person I know could benefit from reading this article and asking themselves the questions you presented. Could you offer some guidance for the bystanders in situations like the one with Marty and Biff?
As mentioned in your article, the offended people often place expectations on others in how to respond to the offenses that happened to them. This situation is a hard spot for friends and family members. Any additional insight into how to respond biblically to these situations would be beneficial.
Being around angry people is like walking down a sidewalk as a speeding motorist hits a mud puddle, splashing dirty water all over your clothes. You minded your own business, and without warning, you became part of a mess.
This inevitability means the way you involve yourself will be a stewardship issue. Will you be redemptive in the lives of your friends? Or, will you be used by the enemy to exacerbate an already deteriorated situation? What you do next is of utmost importance. Here are a few things for your consideration.
I do not have to make a case here on whether you should have a role in this matter. There are too many “one another” passages in the New Testament to prove that point. Whether it is you or someone else, there is no question that the body of Christ should be involved in their relational conflict. Christianity is not a spectator sport.
Christianity is an “all hands on deck” call from God, especially when part of the body is suffering. Sadly, too many people in our “body” would instead evangelize the world rather than take care of their own. This reaction is short-sighted.
Our success in taking care of our body will have a proportional impact on how well we can spread the Lord’s fame throughout the world. Meaning, trying to “win folks to Christ” when our hearts are not transformed by Christ is not wise. (See Ephesians 4:12-13; 1 Corinthians 12:14-15; Hebrews 13:3)
The real question to consider is what does help look like in a situation with two angry individuals. Repentance is a gift from the Lord (2 Timothy 2:24-25), so it is not possible to mandate reconciliation. Just because a person inserts himself into someone’s mess does not mean the problem will resolve itself.
I wish it were the case. When the hurt is as painful as Marty and Biff’s situation, there will probably not be any quick fixes. Consider Marty, for example. More than likely he has devoted his entire adult life to being in the ministry. He has also given himself to serving a particular local body.
There are many stories of redemption that he has had some small role in bringing to pass. His heart has been enmeshed deeply in the lives of these people. The degree to which he has cared for his flock will be the degree of the hurt that he now experiences–because he can no longer be part of their lives.
Your call to compassion for them will be essential. You will not be able to speed up their repentance, which means you will have to give them room to sin–at least to some degree. I realize this may go against what some people believe, but there is no way around it. Maybe if you thought about it like grieving the death of a loved one, it would make more sense.
If you have lost a loved one, you know that no matter how much you wanted to project yourself into your future to where you could be happy and whole again, you could not get there from where you were. Marty is an imperfect man walking through the death of something that he loved dearly, and as much as he would like to be “okay” again, it is not going to happen at this time.
You cannot expect these two men to be perfectly holy and blameless while waiting on the Lord to grant repentance into their lives. I do not think this is a stretch for you to understand, especially if you are married or if you have children. Expecting and demanding perfection from our children would be a significant parenting mistake.
Wise parents will tolerate imperfection from their children if they have their eye on a higher prize. Mercifully, the Lord does not “ping me” every time I make a mistake. His patience, forbearance, and love have done many beautiful things for my sanctification (Romans 2:4).
This kind of thinking and practice does require a lot of patience (1 Thessalonians 5:14). The people who have had the most redemptive influence in my life are the ones who have overlooked a few offenses for the expected hope of a brighter outcome. The ones who have had the least amount of redemptive influence are the ones who have gotten angry with me.
This tension is where you will have to discern the present trajectory of their lives. Are they imperfectly heading in the right direction?
My children are moving toward God-centered goals, though they are doing so in an imperfect way. Thus, it is not hard to overlook some of the dumb things they do. But if they were heading toward degeneration, I would have no choice but to impose myself into their lives by speaking into the things that they are doing wrong–the things that are not honoring the Lord.
This wisdom issue is when each parent has to choose as to whether it is the right time to call them on their sin. One of the most powerful illustrations of this was when my friend came over to my home just after I learned of my wife’s adultery.
I was banging my fists into the wall while yelling into the air. My friend was sitting on the floor praying. There was nothing he could do to stop me, and if he had tried, it would not have gone well for either of us.
I wish I were more mature not to have sinned at that moment, but I was not, and I suspect if that event happened again, my response would be similar. But what my friend did for me is forever etched on my mind. He was for me and he gave me room to be imperfect, to wobble, to fall, to work out my salvation with the Lord (Philippians 2:12).
He knew I was a Christian and that I would eventually do what was right (Philippians 1:6). He also knew I was an imperfect Christian and needed time and space to work out my anguish. And I knew he would not let me continue in sin. This type of situation is where you have to “discern your discernment.”
I realize there are gray areas here. It would be nice if sin and sinners were more neatly packaged, but it is not, and neither are we. It is wise to give a person space to grieve and work through their hurts, but it is not wise to let them continue in that condition forever.
Of course, there is the possibility that they will not let you speak into their lives at all. Sometimes the hurt can be too complete, and the anger has already captured their hearts. You will need much wisdom from the Lord to know the right move.
By all means, you want to talk to them, showing your heart of compassion as well as your desire to understand the situation entirely. The best approach as you do this is to enter into the discussion by asking more questions than making statements or providing answers. Never assume you understand the whole story.
What happens in many of these situations is a person will hear the complaints or the arguments from one side and armed with that information, they begin to draw conclusions based on that information.
This reaction is almost always a mistake. If you have not talked to both parties, be careful with how you respond to the little bit of information that you have heard. Remember the wisdom of Solomon:
The one who states his case first seems right until the other comes and examines him. – Proverbs 18:17
What Can Be Known
Even as you listen to one side of the story, do not assume you hear that side the way the Lord wants you to understand things. Your friend will give you his perspective based on his interpretive filter–the subjective lens through which he sees life and feels hurt. Nobody communicates objective facts; they always share their interpretations of those facts.
Each one of us has an interpretive grid for how we see and interpret life. We build our “grids” by many shaping influences, what we have experienced in life, as well as how Adamic fallenness has wired us.
This worldview means no matter how right we think we are, we are subjective and deceived in real and specific ways. Only a fool would believe that he is entirely correct, and you would be a fool if you thought a person was always right.
What Is Presuppositional Truth?
This juncture is where you will have to guard your heart. It would be so easy to take up an offense for someone after you hear their story. To be critical of the supposed offender, based on the information given to you by the offended, is unwise. Even if the hurt person is correct in articulating the offenses, it would be wrong to respond with anger toward the offender.
If you cross that line, you will disqualify yourself from being part of the solution. Your best response is to begin walking the offended person through how they should respond to what has happened to them.
Help them to think and respond the way Jesus would respond to those who have hurt Him (Luke 23:34). Jesus would not begin by condemning the other person. His primary goal would be to help the troubled person.
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:19-21
As you talk to them about transformation, remember that you cannot change anyone. On your best day, you will only be able to water and plant into their lives (1 Corinthians 3:6). There may be a temptation to cross the line by expecting them to change on your timetable and in a manner in which you believe repentance should look.
Your attitude toward them will tell you if you have crossed that line. For example, if you find yourself losing patience with them or if you begin to become frustrated with or critical toward them, you know you have become their “lord” while not trusting the Lord to bring the needed change into their lives, according to His time.
Don’t Become a Mini-Messiah
Rarely will anyone change in the time or in the way that you expect them to experience transformation. Sin seems always to take longer than you expect. People entangled in sin will not unravel themselves, and if you do not guard your heart well, you will add to their problems by becoming impatient with them.
Paul encouraged us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). That is your most effective course of action. Only the Spirit of God can go where no person has gone before. Only the Spirit of God can penetrate the dark recesses of our hearts to find and untangle the complications that sin has brought into our lives.
The kind of surgery that needs to happen with Marty and Biff is a pay grade higher than what any of us possess. Prayer is essential. It is the main thing. If you go into this battle without prayer, you will inevitably be a casualty of this battle.