To confront is to face someone or something, especially in a challenge. Some confrontation is unavoidable in life. We confront our fears so that we don’t allow them to rule us. We confront error when to ignore it would cause harm. Jesus had several confrontations with those who opposed Him. God’s apostles and prophets in the Bible were often forced into confrontations as well, as their message rubbed people the wrong way.
Confrontation can be either helpful or harmful depending on the situation, and the Bible gives examples of both. Harmful confrontation is motivated by pride, greed, or some other fleshly desire. Those who confront others in order to gain the upper hand or to make themselves appear better are abusing the art of confrontation. Street wars begin when one angry mob leader confronts another. Social media wars begin when everyone with access to a keyboard uses that platform to confront anyone who disagrees with them. Nothing is gained by such confrontations because the motives behind them are selfish. Jesus was often the object of harmful confrontation as He preached and taught in Judea. The chief priests, Sadducees, and Pharisees were motivated by pride, fear, misunderstanding, and the desire for power, so they were offended by what He said and did and took every opportunity to confront Him. Their final confrontation ended with His crucifixion, the greatest crime in human history.
Of course, not all confrontation is wrong. Jesus also confronted the Jewish leaders about their hypocrisy and false religious zeal (Matthew 3:7; 23:13). Twice, He drove the thieves and charlatans from the temple in an act of righteous confrontation (John 2:15). Paul confronted Peter when he learned that Peter was behaving hypocritically toward Gentile believers (Galatians 2:11–14). This was a helpful confrontation because it was motivated by love and a passion for the health of the church. In the Old Testament, God sent Nathan the prophet to confront David about his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:1–14). This confrontation resulted in David’s repentance and restoration. Nathan’s confrontation was not selfish because its motivation was the best interest of the other.
Confrontation is an inevitable part of life. Others will confront us when we have wronged them or they believe us to be in error. We will confront other people when they offend or hurt us, and this is healthy as long as our motivations are right. When confrontation is used as a way to belittle, condemn, or take revenge on another, it is wrong. God says that He is the avenger, and He reserves the right to deal with offenders appropriately (Hebrews 10:30).
The manner in which we engage in confrontation is also important. Servants of the Lord will at times find themselves in confrontations with unbelievers. God’s Word gives guidance in such cases: “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25). Note that the manner is specified (with gentleness) as well as the motivation (that God would grant repentance).
Avoiding confrontation may seem like a good thing, but there are times when it is necessary, and dodging it is wrong. If Jesus had refused to publicly confront the Jewish leaders, they would have continued their deception and burdensome practices. If Paul had not confronted Peter, Christianity may have veered off course in the first century and dissolved into legalism or a form of Judaism. If Nathan had refused to confront David when the Lord sent him, David may have never been restored to fellowship with God and the nation of Israel would have suffered. We would also be missing some of the great psalms, such as Psalm 51, David’s cry of repentance.
People-pleasers have a particularly hard time confronting sin in others because they dread the fallout. Refusing to engage in confrontation may give them temporary peace, but it could be at the expense of the other person’s well-being. If someone is driving toward a drop-off, we don’t think twice about warning him. We may even have to confront his opinion that the road is just fine. But we know better, and it is in his best interest to know what we know. As Christians, we know something the world needs to know. Some may not appreciate our message. Some may become angry and defensive when we call sin by its rightful name. But Christians are called to renounce error and proclaim truth, even when it feels confrontational to the hearers. When the confrontation is clothed in love and humility, it can accomplish much good (see 1 Corinthians 13:1–13).