Welcome back to our adventure through Matthew.
Today, I’d like to preach the message, “Love is tough”.
(Hindi ka pwedeng marupok.)
Love does the hard things.
And love says the hard things.
Which brings me to my question. Friend, do you like correcting people?
Based on my informal guestimate, I believe 8 out of the 10 people are allergic to confrontations. And I’m part of that demographic. Personally, I find correcting people as pleasurable as giving birth to triplets without an epidural.
But through the decades, I’ve realized that healthy relationships require caring confrontations. Or else—the relationship suffers—and it simply means my love is as plastic as the spoon in a children’s party. It’s thrown away.
Today, we’re going to read a passage where Jesus teaches us HOW to correct people. I must tell you that this is controversial because of two cultural pulls in our modern world…
First Pull: “Who Are You To Tell Me What To Do?”
I cannot count the number of times I hear people say, “Your values are yours and my values are mine” and “You do your thing and I do my thing”. This kind of thinking makes correction obsolete.
These people believe there are no absolute truths. And if there are really no absolutes, it’s right for them to ask, “Who are you to tell me what to do?” So I hear this a lot too: “As long as I don’t harm anyone, I’m free to do what I want to do.”
When someone says that, I ask, “How sure are you that no one is being harmed? Because I believe our deeds done in the privacy of our bedrooms—even our most hidden thoughts—impact multi-generations.”
But the intrinsic logic of this argument, “You can’t tell me what to do because there are no absolutes,” is dishonest, because even if they say there is no absolute truth, if you look beneath the hood, you’ll discover they still believe in absolute truths, like “don’t harm anyone” and “tolerate everybody” and “everyone is equal”.
You need absolutes if you want to live amicably with others on this planet. Without absolutes, we’ll create hell on earth.
And as Jesus Followers, we believe in His absolutes: That God sacrificed Himself for us, and He calls us to do the same for others. To be selfless. Generous. Faithful. Humble. Committed.
By the way, have you ever wondered? Some of the people who say, “You have no right to judge me!” can be very judgmental towards others.
That’s because there’s a second pull in our culture…
Second Pull: “I’m Free To Say Anything I Want”
When I was in my teens and twenties (not too long ago😎), I loved travelling to far-flung barrios, not only because of the beauty of beaches and mountains, but because of the beauty of the people. Generally, they were kind, warm, friendly, and hospitable. There was so much humanity.
Believe me, even if I was a total stranger, families opened their homes to me. “Kain muna, anak,” Lola greeted me with her toothless smile.
Note that this was in the 70’s and 80’s. No social media then.
So imagine if I put the smiling Lola into a Time Travel Machine, and she steps into 21st century, and I show her Facebook and Twitter, and she reads the typical comments. What do you think would be the first thing she’ll say?
Here’s my guess: Lola will ask me, “Brother Bo, bakit ang daming galit?” (Why are they so many angry people?)
Hey, this is my question too. We have an angry, judgmental, name-calling, cancelling culture. It’s now normal to insult and curse anyone we don’t agree with. I thought we’re supposed to be more tolerant? More non-judgmental?
With these two opposing poles in the world pulling at each other, the wise words of Jesus becomes even more necessary…
The 4 Steps To Restore A Friend
In our main passage today, Jesus lays down what I like to call “The 4 Steps To Restore A Friend”. It’s powerful. And wonderfully practical.
By talking about correction, Jesus is already assuming that there are absolutes. There is a collective morality that governs everyone, whether we like it or not.
I like comparing God’s moral laws to the Law of Gravity. Even if you shout 100x, “I don’t believe in the Law of Gravity!” it won’t change the fact that if you jump off the rooftop of a 28-story building, you’ll still die. Unless your Captain America. Whether you believe in gravity or not.
In the same way, God created spiritual laws that govern the universe. And they govern you. Whether you believe in them or not.
You cannot escape the law of Love or Humility or Honesty or Selflessness or Faithfulness… Violate them and you destroy yourself and others. And if you see a friend violate them and destroy himself and his family, Jesus tells you what to do…
Step 1: Go Alone
Jesus said, “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. (v.15)
Not publicly. But privately.
Sadly, that’s what we like to do today. Express our rage in public. But what’s our purpose for ranting in Facebook? Or gossiping about how he hurt us to our other friends? If we really love him, the goal is not to “get my anger off my chest” but to stop him from destroying himself and others.
Truth: True friends are those who stab you in front.
Correction—done privately—is an essential expression of love.
Love is tough. If we won’t have those tough conversations with the people we love, that means we care more about ourselves than the other person. This first step is so crucial, let me share with you three more important strategies on how to have these caring confrontations…
3 Tips On Loving Correction
These lessons are worth their weight in gold.
I learned them through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Practice them and you save yourself and the other person from massive amounts of pain.
Tip 1: Express Your Love
Tell the person why you’re talking with him. You can even admit how you’d rather avoid this difficult conversation, but because you love, you’re doing it. Say the first 4 magic words: “Because I love you.”
Tip 2: Express Your Humility
Approach the person without any hint of self-righteousness. Don’t go to him as a know-it-all. Instead, as you share your hurt feelings or observation, say the second 4 magic words: “I may be wrong.”
Tip 3: Express Your Commitment
After you share your hurt feelings or observation, and the person acknowledges his failure and desire to change, tell him that you will be there for him in this journey of transformation. Say the third set of 4 magic words: “How can I help?” These difficult conversations, if done in love, makes your friendship stronger.
Next, Jesus gives us the second step…
Step 2: Go With A Friend
Jesus continues, But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. (v.16)
Sometimes, the confrontation fails because of defensiveness.
For example, the other person says to you, “You’re correcting me because you’re jealous…” or, “You shouldn’t have been hurt by what I said. You’re just overly sensitive…”
When this happens, bring another person into the conversation who will confirm what you’re expressing, hoping that the person will now listen.
In the Alcoholics Anonymous movement, they call this an “intervention”—when 2 or 3 or 4 people say to an alcoholic who is in denial, “You’re an alcoholic. Your alcohol is getting out of control. You need help.”
If that doesn’t work, Jesus gives a third step…
Step 3: Go With The Community
Jesus said, If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church… (v.17) If you’re thinking of a public announcement in a parish church, with the parish priest saying, “Anthony committed adultery with Cleopatra and is now banned from this parish,” this is what you call an “anachronism”. That means you’re applying this verse to the wrong historical epoch.
Because Matthew’s Gospel was written at a time when there were only small house churches. “Ekklesia” at that time meant a small group of believers. It was more like an extended family. (Think of a Feast Light or Light Group.) So imagine ten people gathered around the dining table to confront a fellow-member and telling him, “We love you. What you’re doing is wrong…”
We are our brothers’ keeper. Sin can never be isolated.
What if he still refuses to listen to his little community?
Jesus gives the fourth step…
Step 4: Go To God And Surrender
Jesus said, Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector. (v.17)
In other words, surrender this person to God’s mercy.
Treating the person as an outsider means you respect your limitations. You accept your boundaries. You cannot save everyone. And you cannot save every relationship.
Because you’re not the Messiah, you’re just the messenger. And as a messenger, you’ve done your part. Accept that God is assigning another person to bless him. Truth: Some people are meant to be in your life for only a season, not forever. Let go and let God.
After doing all you can, leave him in God’s hands.
By the way, the verse sounds harsh, especially that part where you’re to treat this person as a tax-collector. If you read this verse alone, plucked out of Matthew, yes, it sounds harsh. But that’s why you must always read a passage in context.
Because a few verses before this verse, Jesus befriend tax collectors like Matthew and loved them. And in the verse right before this verse, Jesus talked about leaving the 99 sheep to seek for the lost sheep: If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? (v.13)
Surrendering someone to God’s mercy doesn’t mean you stop praying for him. Or stop loving him. We never stop loving because God never stops loving. We just need to learn that there are many ways to love.
I’m getting off topic here, but so many heartbroken girlfriends write to me, asking what they should do to a boyfriend that’s an addict and a cheater—because “I still love him”. I tell them, “Leave him. Love him, yes, but not as a boyfriend. Someone else is assigned to minister to him. Let go. Let God.”
Love is tough enough to let go and let God.