After much prayer and thoughtful consideration, though, I finally worked up the pudding to speak my mind and make my unwillingness to compromise crystal clear. Thus far, by God's grace, the decision to do so has played out fairly well, though there could still be some unforeseen fallout in the near future. I described the situation to close friends as feeling a lot like that sense of dread a combat soldier might experience when he feels his leg snag a wire or fishing line: "Gosh, I wonder if that line was tied to a grenade pin...or nothing at all?" In other words, my decision to speak out could easily represent 1) no consequences whatsoever, or 2) the first in a series of dominoes that just got tipped over. Any sort of "middle ground" on this seems unlikely.
There are all kinds of things (not many of them good) that can be said about a full-grown man who approaches an impasse with a lingering sense of dread and fear. For the Christian, though, the very first thing one can say is that "fear of man" represents the clearest-possible signal that we are failing to believe the promises of God (Psalm 1) and that we place our personal safety and comfort several notches above what God has clearly called us to (1 Peter 4:19). Examples abound throughout Scripture of mighty men of valor who achieve great victories working in cooperation with God's will, but then cower like frightened little church mice at the most ridiculous of "threats." See 1 Kings 18 and 19:1-8 for my personal favorite.
We all know what it is like to get that tight feeling in our stomach when the time has come to speak up and potentially upset other people. The throat constricts with tension, our minds race, and perhaps we even begin to perspire. If you are anything at all like me, the very last thing you want to do is to enter into conflict with another person. Given the chance to speak up or glide through our days, I have to think most of us are tempted to just shut up and ignore a lot of things that challenge our faith and (most particularly) the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
For His part, Jesus did not hesitate to speak up or risk offense (Matthew 23, Luke 11:37-45, Matthew 15:10-12). Unlike us, however, His motivations were perfectly aligned with His love. He spoke judgment on others in the sincere hope that they would repent, not because He enjoyed walking around Palestine bumming people out. All of the verbal challenges issued by Jesus were in fact the most loving thing He could do in those situations, as they provided His hearers with precisely what they needed at that moment in time, namely an opportunity to clearly see their sin, to repent of it and to believe on Him. To not speak out would have been the most unloving thing He could have done, and yet Scripture is abundantly clear that His results were, at best, mixed. Some did indeed repent and believe, others did not (Matthew 28:16-17, John 7:40-43, Acts 13:46-48).
One of the hardest truths I am continually learning to accept is that my own efforts to evangelize for Jesus (spoken and otherwise) are most definitely not the lynchpin upon which the salvation or repentance of another swings. God is pleased to use me when and where he sees fit, but I will not be judged on the level of "success" that I achieve in this life. Instead, I will be judged on my faithfulness to do the right thing, have the hard conversation, stand in the gap. The results are not up to me, as God is busily doing a zillion other things behind the curtain while He waits for me to pick up my cues and speak the lines He has authored.
So it was that after the difficult conversation took place, it finally occurred to me that the words spoken on all sides were not, primarily, about me at all. Yes, I was being called to faithfulness - something I approached with a decidedly-tepid response at first. But in the immediate aftermath, I found myself strangely comforted by a certainty that I was, after all, just a character actor in a much larger drama. The true heart battles were taking place elsewhere; I was merely set to the task of providing a faithful context in which the bigger questions could be brought to light.
More importantly, though, I have come to see more clearly that Christians are called to be salt and light in the world, a city on a hill (Matthew 5:13-14), and that we most certainly cannot do that by greeting a sinful situation with silence. As salt and light, we must sometimes shed light into darkness, even when we'd rather not. We certainly need to keep "gentleness and respect" in the equation as we do so (1 Peter 3:15), and many of us fail miserably to demonstrate that gentleness. But I think far too often, we justify our silence by telling ourselves that if someone is upset by what we say, we were not gentle enough and perhaps should not have spoken out. As I have wrestled with last week's situation, however, I have come to see silent acquiescence to sin as less about disobedience to Christ (though it certainly is that, too) and more often about an unwillingness to love someone to my own potential detriment.
Time will tell if I did the right thing last week. I prayed about it (a lot). I spoke to my wife about it on more than one occasion and asked her to filter out my own obnoxiousness, if possible, to help me arrive at a God-pleasing resolution. I spoke to other believers, and I confirmed my position with a fair amount of fact-checking to make sure I wasn't going off half-cocked. But over and above all of that, and superintending the entire process, one question reigned supreme: "How will my response reflect, even imperfectly, Christ's love for the other person?" For me, anyway, this is a colossal paradigm shift from my historic, default position, namely "Who's right?"
1 Peter 3:13-17 (ESV)
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.