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Bless Your Little Heart

Wisdom in confronting others in love

Proverbs 6:16, 19

16 These six things the Lord hates,
Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:

19 A false witness who speaks lies,
And one who sows discord among brethren. 

Proverbs 3:29

29 Do not devise evil against your neighbor,
For he dwells by you for safety’s sake.

Proverbs 22:10 

10 Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave;
Yes, strife and reproach will cease.


Growing up and living in the south, I have come to love southern women. I married a southern woman, and of course my mama is from the south. They are soft and sweet, and put butter in all their cooking–but, boy, southern women can be mean! Writer and journalist Allison Glock says that, “Southern women can say more with a cut of their eyes than a whole debate club's worth of speeches.” 

Worse than fixing you in the middle of your bad manners with a well-practiced eyeroll and a soul-frosting gaze, are the sweet, crushing words of the backhanded insults of which every southern girl is adept.

Southern Living Magazine–which is sitting on the coffee table of nearly every southern woman in the world–has a few examples of this dangerous diction of those magnolia-scented ladies: 

What a cute haircut! It looks SO much better than your last one.

Thanks…I think? Or how about:

I'll bet you've got such a handsome face underneath that beard.

Not quite “a face only a mother could love,” but painfully close. Speaking of pain:

Isn't it just like you to wear a dress like that!

Ouch. That will leave a mark. But not as deeply as:

I don't care what anybody says. I think you’re pretty . . . in your own way.

Each of these cuts is usually topped-off by a strategically-placed “bless your heart,” of course, but not before you get an extra serving of pecan pie, “because looks don’t matter with your sweet personality, honey.”

The pain of cutting words can sting, even when they are couched in pretty words–perhaps even more so. 

Once, as a young pastor of a small southern church, I was subjected to icy-sweet comments such as these on a regular basis. One person in particular loved to couch her negative feedback in some of the nicest ways, and it always left me reeling. These came often in the form of little notes left in my office or in a strategic location for me to find, and each of them was a master class in passive-aggressive swordplay. 

Over the years, I have learned to deal with negative comments such as these, and even welcome them as I do those among my friends and fellow believers who speak more directly.  

As a believer, you are called by Jesus to be a peacemaker. More precisely, if you are a follower of Christ, you will live as a peacemaker to those around you as you reflect His love in your life (Matthew 5:9). But what happens when that peace is shattered? 

If, by word or deed, the peace and purity of the church is disrupted, then there can be dire consequences, both for the individuals involved and the entire of a congregation. This peace is so important, Paul exhorts the Ephesians on it in the very first words of his letter: 

1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.–Ephesians 4:1-3 

This peace echoes the words of Christ and paints a picture of the lives of all believers in eternity, as the joys of heaven and the presence of the Father are experienced. 

Solomon, here in chapter 6, warns Israel about how to deal with those who bring intentional harm to God’s people, and seek to shatter this peace: 

19 A false witness who speaks lies,
And one who sows discord among brethren.–Proverbs 6:19

Thus, “sowing discord” is listed among the seven abominations of God. This is not a simple difference of opinion among believers, but covers gossip, slander, insults, and plain “ugly talk,” as my mama would say. When a brother or sister in Christ intentionally seeks to harm another–or carries a dispute into the Body of Believers–then God’s wrath is kindled against them.

Remember, that being a peacemaker does not mean “peace at any price.” It is common for you to feel that as a Christian, you should never disagree with another believer, or even your church leadership, but disagreements happen and are not bad. In fact, there are times when Christians must disagree with one another and it is a good thing! 

Paul says as much in his first letter to the Corinthians:

18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.–I Corinthians 11:18-19 

Paul acknowledges that when a group of believers is gathered, there will inevitably be differences of opinion and interpretation. He says it is good that those who are approved may be recognized among you. In other words, so that those whom God is lifting up as teachers and leaders of His people can be seen. In the wise words of pro wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage: “the cream always rises to the top!”

In a spiritual sense, of course.

As God raises up His servants and equips His people by His Spirit and the Word, it is inevitable that some will resist and remain self-focused. This is the nature of sin and the struggle of us all–but we must be watchful of those who seek to do harm as a result.

Solomon instructs his young charges about the danger of seeking intentional harm against others:   

29 Do not devise evil against your neighbor,
For he dwells by you for safety’s sake.–Proverbs 3:29

This passage is echoed in later years by the prophet Michah:

Woe to those who devise iniquity, And work out evil on their beds! At morning light they practice it, Because it is in the power of their hand.–Micah 2:1

This “working out evil in their beds” hearkens to the ancient practice of Israel, where one did his daily business transactions in the early morning at the city gates. The image is one of someone who plots and plans in the night and then springs his trap as soon as business begins the next day. 

One example of this is Absalom’s plotting against his father David. David had grown so prosperous that he would rise in the late morning and miss much business. Absalom would station himself early at the city gate and “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” by acting on the kings behalf, but only to benefit himself (II Samuel 15:2).

The tragedy of Absalom could have been avoided by good parenting–but also by dealing directly with a rebellious-hearted individual who clearly had his own agenda.  

Such people can penetrate the church today, and it can strain even your most gifted peacemaker’s skills. What are you to do?

First of all, not all of these people are actual believers. This may sound harsh in an age when most Christians are hesitant to judge the motives of others, but the reality is that some can become involved in church but not really belong. They can be there for social reasons or other needs, and not truly there to worship the risen Lamb. 

J. Gresham Machen, biblical scholar and founder of Westminster Seminary, saw the encroaching power of theological liberalism into Christian institutions. He cautioned the church to be ever-watchful and more protective, even at the risk of excluding those who sought the division of God’s people. A church is not an all-inclusive organization, but a group of “volunteer” believers compelled into each other’s company by their common salvation: 

Involuntary organizations ought to be tolerant, but voluntary organizations, so far as the fundamental purpose of their existence is concerned, must be intolerant or else cease to exist.–J. Gresham Machen, “Christianity and Liberalism”  

 The very nature of the church is to be protective of the faithful. This is another reason why the truth of the Gospel must be preached and taught, and not a watered down version to appeal to all people. The church is born of a holy message and this message must be proclaimed in its entirety!    

Now, spirituality and salvation does not come with a sort of “dipstick,” such as the kind with which you check your car’s engine oil. So before you begin pointing fingers you must first go to God in prayer.  

Hymn writer John Newton recognized this and the priorities that you must have before you confront someone for the harm they are causing:

Before you put pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practise will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to him and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.-John Newton

In addition to prayer, Tim Keller reminds you of the need for self-examination before entering battle:

Humility and love can certainly motivate us to confront a person if it is best for him or her. But insults are produced by wise in their own eyes arrogance. If you have a propensity for insults you will always be undermining relationships.–Tim Keller, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life”

When someone–even a fellow church member–is slandering, gossiping or disturbing the harmony of the group with discontentment, it can be tempting to stoop to their level and engage in verbal fisticuffs. You must resist this. 

It is also natural to seek to marshal your own support, especially if this person has a group of followers or supporters of her own (they usually do). After taking them to God in prayer, you immerse yourself in the Word, so that you may know what to say, and to be reminded that God is in control. This can allow you to seek a “best case” for what is happening, rather than act in raw emotion or from your own pain.    

Finally, you are to go to them and entreat them as a brother or sister in Christ to hear your concerns about their behavior. Jesus commands you as His disciple to follow a specific pattern or meeting with fellow believers and working out disputes in this manner (Matthew 18:15-20). 

In doing this, you may just come to better know a brother or sister and as a result love them more–and love covers many things. Or, it may confirm that someone has little desire for peace, but only seeks disruption. Solomon prescribes a drastic, but necessary step to take:

10 Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave;
Yes, strife and reproach will cease.–Proverbs 22:10

This seems harsh, but if someone is truly unhappy, or seeking harm, then they should indeed move elsewhere. Tim Keller advises that this–as a form of church discipline–is actually a loving move:

A community that cares about the nurture of loving relationship should ask the insulter to change–or leave.–Tim Keller

Asking someone to leave the church is not easy, and should never be a first resort. But sometimes it cannot be avoided. There could be serious theological differences that could mean a happier home in a different church for someone–or it could be the only path to peace.  

The path of church discipline can be unpleasant for all involved, but for the true believer, it is a path to repentance and restoration. As Hebrews 12 says, “for whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.”

Have you had to confront someone in church who was doing harm? Or have you experienced church discipline and the chastening of the Lord? If you love Christ, and your wayward brothers and sisters, you will love them with the same strength, no matter how difficult it may be–for He loves you in this same way.



The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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