What do you do when someone you love heads in a worrisome direction? You thought your compasses were aligned and you were both heading toward the same destination, but something happened. Though the difference was imperceptible at first, it now seems each day finds you further apart. You realize you no longer understand how or why they are charting a course in their current direction and it gets you wondering if the problem is really you or if it’s really them or if it is just a really big misunderstanding.
Our relationship perspective is usually blurred by personal inconsistencies. We have a tendency to tolerate sin in our own lives with a vague annoyance at how we keep doing the things we know we shouldn’t do, and keep not doing the things we know we should do. This kind of tolerance crumbles like week old gluten-free bread when we turn our observation to errant behavior in the lives of our friends. They are Christians, after all, and Christians aren’t supposed to act that way, especially not when it hurts us or someone we love. Can they not see what they are doing? It’s so obvious. Maybe they aren’t even Christians after all, maybe they are just pretending. Whoa! We board a non-stop flight from point A to point Z pretty quickly don’t we?
Sometimes we do cross paths with pretenders, but we shouldn’t assume this is the case too easily since we know that all Christians continue to struggle with sin in this life. We wish we could read hearts, ascertain precise levels of repentance, and peer into the Lamb’s Book to discern the eternal status of souls, so we can know how to treat people. Instead we find that it is difficult to know how to act and what our responsibilities are when emotions are running high.
There are some things we can do to that are likely to help our discernment when we are worried about our friends:
1. Evaluate behavior based on the Bible. Trying to evaluate how well someone is doing spiritually based on feelings, gossip, or the latest psychology fad won’t give us biblical answers. Comparing the fruit of our lives to the Word of God is a much better place to start. If the actions of a friend are seriously out of line with biblical commands, then concern is warranted, and maybe it is time to gather up the courage to speak, giving warning of the dangerous path ahead.
2. There is wisdom in counsel, ask for it. I hate to break it to you if you haven’t figured it out yet, but you don’t know everything. This is where godly friends and counselors are helpful. As Proverbs says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22). If you don’t have people in your life to whom you are willing to go for advice, who will help you apply biblical wisdom to your situation, then find some quickly. Get outside your peer group and be deliberate about pursuing friendships with older wiser Christians. Don’t try to figure it all out alone. Seek advice from your pastor or elders, God has given them the responsibility to care for you.
As you are seeking counsel, consider it carefully in light of Scripture, and remember that, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). Don’t be too quick to disregard advice because it seems too hard.
3. Repent. The Psalmist says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” This is the first step when considering confronting someone else about sin in their life. Take the log out of your own eye so that you may see to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. That isn’t just a suggestion, it is God’s prescribed starting point for dealing with the problem.
Is it a scary thing to kneel before the Lord asking Him to search us for any wrong thing? It absolutely is, but our hearts are deceitful and we hide our sins even from ourselves. We need the Lord to open our eyes and lead us to repentance. There is often plenty of sin to go around. If we deal with our own sin first, it increases the likelihood that our admonitions to others will be made out of humility and love rather than pride.
4. It is not our job to save our friends. Even as we do these things we must remember that the eternal security of our friend’s souls is not ultimately dependent on our saying or doing the perfect thing. We must seek to be obedient to the Lord in any confrontation, encouragement, or admonishment which is our responsibility (see points number one and two if you are unsure of your responsibility). God may use our words and actions to help our friends, but their salvation depends entirely on the work of Christ as does ours. The Apostle Paul says to the Philippians, “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” We can trust that when God starts a work He will faithfully complete it.
After all this, we may find that our friend’s direction is unchanged, however it is unlikely we can do these things and remain unchanged ourselves. This list is not a crowbar to wrench desired behavior from the ones we love. We do not have the power to change hearts, only the Spirit can do that. It is possible to get to the point where there is nothing left to do, except wait and pray. We wait on the Lord as He does His work, knowing that His ways are perfect. We wait in hope, knowing He can restore things that are broken. And, when we have been humbly obedient in the part the Lord has given us, we can wait with peace. We can weather life’s storms with miraculous peace when we live in obedience to the Lord, and there is deep and profound comfort knowing we serve the One who rules the wind and the waves.
Have you found other ways to use biblical wisdom to cut through the unruly emotions in your relationships and friendships? Leave your comments below, we would love to hear from you.