Speaking the truth in love” is more difficult than you think. Even with good friends it can be hard to say what you mean, especially when it comes to confronting a particular sin or weakness. Even still we shouldn’t give up not least because thoughtful honest conversations about sin and repentance are hugely effective in growing Christians. So here are 4 steps to a better rebuke and 4 things to consider on the receiving end:

  1. Be specific – generalising with words like “you always” or “every time” are not helpful instead give a specific example or instance of the issue that you want to raise.
  2. Avoid assuming you know the motives – much as we pretend we don’t have a window into people’s hearts and we don’t always know what motivates actions or behaviours so best not to assume you know. Make suggestions, even ask questions but prepare to hear answers which are different to your assumptions.
  3. Be brief – don’t labour the point, you should be able to summarise your concern briefly and clearly and if you can’t you should probably wait till you can before you raise it.
  4. Be careful not to overstate it – it takes courage to have difficult conversations and the danger is that we prepare ourselves by building up the issue to be bigger than it really is. If it really is that bad you’ve probably waited too long to speak, but more likely it’s a loss of perspective.

If you’re on the receiving end of a difficult conversation, and even if the points above are not done well, here are some tips in responding:

  1. Say thank you – it is rare love that points out sin so cherish it and be grateful for it, you certainly don’t want a reputation as being someone you can’t raise issues with because that will stunt your growth as a Christian.
  2. Don’t self justify – you may have your reasons but avoid launching into your defence. You might be correct to observe that you’re not the only one to be in the wrong but that’s not the topic in this conversation so listen humbly.
  3. Be quick to repent – if sorry is a hard word to say then repenting properly is even more difficult, in fact it’s impossible without the Spirit’s help. So pray that with God’s help you will show godly grief.
  4. After some time give a more thorough response – knee jerk responses are often unhelpful so take some time to think. Chew on what has been said, consider before the Lord your motives and behaviour and when appropriate get back to the person who was kind enough to raise it with you.