Why it is love to speak frankly about problems

Lev. 19:17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.”

Lev. 19:32 “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.”

I think I’m finally at the end of my observations and rabbit trails of Leviticus 19. In the words of the iconic old lady in the back of the Southern Baptist church, “Mercy, Lord!”

Some laws that we read of in the Torah are basically the same in New Testament times. Lev. 19:17 and 32 are a couple of these, I believe. This isn’t because we’re bound by the Torah, it’s because these are examples of the law which we are bound by: love God and love your neighbor.

Many translations use the word “rebuke” rather than “reason frankly” with your brother in verse 17. Here’s how life works. An early-rising, timid brother of mine wants to love others. And I call him at 9:30 at night, right after he’s drifted into the bliss of sleep. He forgives me and ignores this.

Months pass, and every once and a while, I call him at 9:30, wake him up, and offend him. He gives subtle hints about it being too late, but I completely miss them. Still, he feels good about not talking to me about the issue, because didn’t Jesus allow Himself to be killed for us? I mean, it’s not like the Savior ever argued with anyone (little sarcasm there on that last part. Just a little). Anyways, my friend feels like Jesus wants him to ignore the problem, because that’s what love looks like.

And yet, somehow, my brother has this deep bitterness in his heart. He repents and tries to forgive me, but bitterness remains. From the outside, all I see is that he is slowly distancing himself from me, not returning my calls, and not wanting to hang out. The relationship cools, and I’m not sure why. All this time, he thinks he’s acting like Jesus because he doesn’t tell me that I’m a jerk for calling him so late.

 

I ask: is that love?

 

If he confronts me after the second or third time I call him at a bad time and tells me plainly when it’s OK to call him, our relationship can continue. If he doesn’t do that, it will not. To avoid those hard, awkward conversations, he is communicating that our friendship is not worth the difficulty of them. He does not value me enough for confrontation. Is that what love looks like?

But this is haaaard. Some of us like the meek and mild blond-haired Jesus who never argues with anyone and holds a lamb in one hand with a big smile on his face as the ethnically diverse children of the world gather round. We like Him because that Jesus doesn’t require much of us. He doesn’t require us to confront relationship-damaging sin in the people we love so that we can truly go deep with one another.

Aside from hippie Jesus, we have this weird concept that if we just allow people to beat us up, we’ll have a healthy relationship. In reality, this leads to deep bitterness, gossip, and passive-aggression. If you don’t confront the person, you’ll take that anger and tell someone else. If don’t establish boundaries with people, you can’t trust them, because they keep hurting you. You can’t become close. And your friends also become frustrated, because they want to be close to you, but they don’t know how, because you won’t tell them!

That’s why Lev. 19 puts the alternative of confronting your brother as hating him in your heart and incurring sin because of him. Often, you choose one or the other.

The flip side of course is that these rebukes have to be well-timed. Confrontation usually shouldn’t be after the first offense. Most of the time, that should be forgiven silently, because maybe your friend was just having a bad day.

Rebukes also must be in love. And when someone has hurt you deeply, that’s not easy. It’s easier to just bail on the relationship. It’s also easier to get really mad and confront wrongly. It’s hard to confront calmly with love and patience and without telling half your friends about the problem. And yet, we have no choice. If a loving church is our priority, which it must be, because it’s God’s priority, we cannot let hidden conflict simmer beneath the surface. That will tear a community to shreds. “Better open rebuke than hidden love.” (Prov. 27:5)

Also, “Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favor rather than one who has a flattering tongue.” (Prov. 28:23).

And finally, standing in honor of gray heads. It may not be standing up in our culture, but it’s still a priority on God’s heart, because it’s an expression of love. Sadly to say, I failed in this a few days ago. I had just gotten my drink at Starbucks and was unpacking my laptop. I saw a white-haired man wearing a “World War II Vet” hat. His weathered, loose skin covered an face. The lady at the counter knew him by name, and he only stayed in the store for a few minutes. I had the sudden impulse, of God, to say hello and thank him for serving in WW2. But I didn’t. And then he left. There’s an example of showing (not showing, tragically) respect to the elderly in our generation.

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