I was recently asked by a woman what she should do about her friend who has developed a friendship with a man who is not her husband. This woman could see that her friend had developed a deep emotional attachment to this man, but is convinced there is no sexual sin taking place. The woman had watched this friendship blossom over the past few months, but had not said anything to her friend about it. She is now seeing and hearing things from her friend that are concerning, and is wondering what she should do.
While I hope you will never be in that specific situation, it is fairly common to see our friends stumble into a sinful ditch and not know how to help them. Unfortunately, sometimes our best attempts at helping are met with anger and resistance. This causes a fracture in the friendship and what often happens is the friendship dissolves and the sinning person continues to go their own way. This should not happen in the church. While you cannot force your friend to listen, you are responsible to follow the process outlined in Matthew chapter 18. The following are some guidelines on what to do when your friend won’t listen to you.
Any confrontation with a fellow believer must begin with praying for wisdom and insight from God regarding the situation (James 1:5). Wisdom requires that you examine yourself and determine if there is personal sin that you have contributed to the matter (Matthew 7:1 – 5). Before you determine to confront another believer, examine your motives for wanting to speak to her (Colossians 4:6; 1Thessalonians 5:15; 2 Timothy 2:23 – 25). As you are praying, ask God to reveal what is going on in your heart pertaining to the situation (Psalm 26:2), and ask Him to show you if there is perverse reasoning in your heart. Remember that your heart deceives you daily (Jeremiah 17:9), and you need the Holy Spirit to do His revealing work in your heart through the penetrating Word of God. This of course requires a willingness to see what he wants to show you about yourself.
It is also critical to be certain that what you want to approach her about is based on a violation of biblical principle and not your personal preference. You must be able to find what she has done wrong in the Bible. If you determine she has sinned, your goal is to admonish her in love (Ephesians 4:15; Galatians 6:1 – 2) and for the purpose of restoration.
It is important that you approach her privately; and when you do, rather than making accusations, ask her questions about the situation that is concerning you. Asking her questions will give you more information and possibly clear up the matter in your own mind. Clarifying the facts will help you realize you may have gotten wrong information or have come to a wrong conclusion.
If you determine that she has indeed sinned, show her from God’s Word how she has violated the Scripture. Your words may carry little weight and they cannot cut to the heart as God’s words do (Hebrews 4:12). If she repents you have won your sister. But we know that we are not always able to persuade someone to repent. Sometimes her sin is too important to her; it has become an idol in her life and she may cling to it like a lifesaver. In this case, she may refuse to listen, become angry or unreasonable, and reject what you are saying. If this happens, don’t argue with her or try to persuade her with human arguments or manipulation.
Make it clear to her that your motive is restoration and that you will commit to pray for her. Tell her you will give her some time to think and pray about what you have said and that you’ll check back with her in a few days. She may need this time to think about what she is doing, and she may come under conviction for her sin and by God’s grace, repent. When you check back with her, if you learn she is still refusing to admit and turn from her sin it may be beneficial to revisit the issues with her during that meeting. I have found that there are times that loving, persistent confrontation is beneficial and brings about repentance and change.
When you are convinced that your personal plea to her is making no difference then prayerfully choose one or two other spiritually mature ladies to go with you to confront your friend as a group. Choose women who are knowledgeable in God’s Word and are not afraid to be confrontational. They should also be impartial regarding the situation at hand. Ideally, they will be women she trusts or has confidence in. Perhaps the other women can help her see her sin and give her the biblical perspective on why what she is doing is sinful and needs to be stopped. As a group you can urge her to repent.
I practice these steps until I am convinced that my friend has so hardened her heart that there is nothing we can say that will break through to her. It is at this point that we should bring in others from the church leadership. Depending on the structure of your church, you may bring in a women’s ministry leader or go straight to an elder or pastor.
The goal of these biblical confrontations is always reconciliation. Our desire should be for her to repent and be restored. We must love her enough to risk the relationship for the sake of her soul.