Confronting the Elephants in the Room
Have any of you ever heard the term “elephant in the room”? Do you know what that means?
The elephant in the room can be just about anything but it always has two characteristics: 1) it's something so big that it's almost impossible not to see, 2) no one wants to talk about it.
Oftentimes, the church is filled with elephants. No one wants to talk about depression or pornography or the sin they can't seem to get a handle on. And people seem less willing to talk to someone that has wronged them. That doesn't seem polite. It doesn't seem like something anyone would actually do. But when we read the Bible, we see that facing the elephants in the room is an integral part of the Christian life.
The first question we have to answer is “how?” How do we confront the elephants in the room? What do we say when we see someone else in the church struggling in sin? Do we just ignore it – let them go their own way?
How do we talk to people who have wronged us in some way? What do we say to them?
The elephants in the room will never be dealt with unless we can learn how to confront them. In fact, if we ignore them, they will grow more powerful and destructive. We need to learn to be comfortable with confrontation. Confrontation doesn't have to be mean or ugly. Jesus and Paul – two men who were terrible at just ignoring a problem – gave advice on how to confront problems head on in a loving and truthful way.
Matthew 18:15-19 & Galatians 6:1-5
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. Matthew 18:15-19
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Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Galatians 6:1-5
In these two passages we are given guidelines for confronting someone in very specific circumstances. In the first passage, Jesus advises us of what to do when someone wrongs us – when someone sins against us personally. We can't just let it slide, because then resentment and anger builds up between us. The only way to resolve the situation is to bring it up. But here, we are called to do it privately – it's just between you and the other person. If the other person isn't willing to work out the problem with you, only then are you to bring in help from others. But always, the purpose is not to shame the other person. The purpose is to restore him and to repair the relationship.
In the second passage, Paul is addressing the entire church and how they are to respond when a believer is caught in sin. What does Paul call us to do? He calls us to restore that person gently. He tells us to carry their burdens with them, as long as it doesn't cause us to sin as well. Again, the goal is always to bring the person back to a proper relationship with you, the church, and God.
Of course, these passages don't cover every elephant. These specifically address dealing with other Christians. The steps we take might be different if we are dealing with nonbelievers.
What these passages do give us is a picture of Christians unafraid to bring issues into the light. It is only when we have the courage to do that, can true growth and healing happen. Only when we have the guts to say, “Hey there's an elephant in the room” do the overwhelming problems become solvable. When we confront in love and truth, then God can restore, rebuild, and heal.