Don’t Ignore the Elephants in our Midst
It was a typical Friday night cell meeting. The cell time had ended and all of us were around the dining table having supper. One brother shared his gratitude for finally being in a relationship! Curious to find out more about this “Ms. Universe”, I asked the question —
“So, how did you guys meet? Is she from our church or does she attend another church?”
“Oh… she’s not a Christian. We met at my workplace.”
An awkward silence fell upon the dining room.
We noticed the presence of an invisible four-legged grey beast in our midst. It was the elephant in the room. Big and stinky!
"Loving confrontation is the way to go"
Introducing The Elephant
The elephant. We have seen it. We have experienced it. We have been affected by it. The elephant is present throughout the Bible as well. We see it in the Garden of Eden — Adam keeping silent as Eve reached out for the fruit. We see it in the life of King David — He was passive when his son Absalom was planning a coup against him. We see it in the life of the disciples — they remained silent when Judas helped himself to the money bag.
The typical Singaporean reaction towards the elephant is common among Asians — we tolerate it. We would rather struggle internally, than confront our elephants. As Christians, what should be our Biblical response?
The Big Picture (No pun intended!)
When we become Christians, our life’s purpose changes. Our goal now is to mature into the image of Christ because Jesus is the epitome of what human life should look like! This is especially evident in the area of relationships. Jesus showed us the potential our relationships have when we relate as He related; not just in love and kindness, but also in loving confrontation.
Our Lord was never shy to confront the elephants; be it the self-righteous Pharisees, the sellers at the temple or even Judas, His traitorous disciple. This is one of the reasons why everyone who met Jesus never left the same. Jesus confronted His elephants. If we call ourselves His disciples, we too must confront ours!
Why We Tolerate Elephants
Elephant tolerance is widespread among Christians in Singapore. If a fellow church member misses church for a round of golf, we ignore it. If an individual wrongly criticizes a leader, we tolerate it. If a Christian is dating a non-Christian, we remain silent. Why is this culture of tolerance so prevalent among Singaporean churches?
There are two possible reasons for this. First, the majority of Singaporeans have a negative view towards confrontation. We would rather close an eye towards our brother’s infidelity, than confront him. The Asian culture has taught us well - preserve harmony and avoid conflict at all costs.
Secondly, the majority of us grow up in an environment where we are taught not to question our parents. We were not allowed to disagree with our parent’s decisions. This has unconsciously ingrained in us an attitude of tolerance towards the wrongdoing of fellow brothers and sisters.
The Consequences Of Elephant-Toleration
Tolerating the elephants in our midst has far reaching consequences. The Apostle Paul had to deal with a huge elephant in the church of Corinth (1 Cor. 5:1-13). A member of the church (and possibly one of their leaders) was having a sexual relationship with his father’s wife. As if that wasn’t bad enough, that individual was arrogant and unrepentant of his sin. What bothered Paul even more, was that the church chose to be silent on that matter. They tolerated the sin in their midst! Paul instructs them to immediately purge that man from their midst. He tells them the reason why — “A little leaven leavens the whole lump… (1 Cor 5:6)”. In essence, what Paul is saying is this — if they don’t deal with this matter and continue to tolerate it, this kind of behaviour will become acceptable in their midst. That little leaven will corrupt the value system of the whole church.
You might be thinking — “I think we’re smarter than that! If there is blatant sin in our midst, we should be smart enough to recognize it and avoid it!” Are you sure?
If you were a Christian prior to the 1990s, keeping the Sabbath was never an issue. Every Sunday morning, you would expect to see the same familiar people in church — all of them; unless they are sick or have an overseas engagement. The Sabbath day is guarded fiercely as a way of honouring God and because it is the 4th commandment.
Fast forward 30 years. What is our attitude today towards the Sabbath today? Almost every other week, I would hear of church members missing Sunday services for a round of golf, or to throw a birthday party for their kids, or because they are too tired, or their kids are preparing for PSLE. But here is the real problem — what is the response from the rest of us when we are told of such things?
“Hey, no worries. Take care and we’ll see you next week! Enjoy your round of golf!”
It doesn’t even bother us. As we have tolerated this kind of behaviour in the church, not keeping the Sabbath has become something acceptable in the church. Does it bother God? Isaiah 58:13 tells us that it does. So, why are we so accepting of it?
The little leaven has indeed corrupted the whole lump. This is the danger of not confronting the elephants in our midst. They have the potential to corrupt the whole body.
How To Confront An Elephant
At about this point, you might have come to a realization that you have not been confronting your elephants and you are determined to do so from today onwards. So, where do you start?
The Apostle Paul gives the quintessential principle for elephant confrontation — “…if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing…” (1 Corinthians 13:2). Love must be the motivation underlying all elephant confrontations. Whether it is to confront an alcoholic or someone caught up in an adulterous lifestyle or a serial liar, every confrontation must be done in love.
What exactly does that mean? Our goal must never be the condemnation of our fellow brethren but rather, his/her restoration. We confront our brother/sister because we want him/her to be set free from that sin or worldly character. This is true love and this must be our motivation for confronting the elephants. Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8). We want the best of our fellow brothers and sisters. That is why we confront their sin!
Jesus gives us an excellent model on how to deal with the elephants in Matthew 18:15-20. It starts off by addressing the issue privately with the individual. If the individual is unrepentant, then the circle of confrontation slowly increases. The goal of this model is to give our errant brother/sister every opportunity to repent.
Some Tips From Experience
I would like to offer you a few tips when dealing with the elephants before I end this article. Firstly and most importantly, make sure your facts are accurate. Do not judge a brother before hearing his side of the story first. Remember this important counseling principle – there are always two sides to every story.
Secondly, your tone and language should spur the individual towards repentance and not condemnation. So, choose your words well and watch your tone throughout the conversations.
Thirdly, don’t go into a session unprepared. Anticipate the type of responses you would get from the individual and see how you can respond in a way that will lead him/her towards repentance.
Lastly, surrender your emotions to God. Confrontations are not always pretty. Some things being said during the confrontation may hurt you deeply. Therefore, ask the Holy Spirit to help you keep your emotions in check.
Inside my Bible on my study desk, is an old photograph from the year 2005. It was my first year as a full time worker in my church, and I was in the Youth Department. This photo has great significance for me. It was taken right after the Youth Leaders Camp. There are about a hundred or so young people in this photo. I remember every one of them fondly. This was a passionate bunch. Many of them gave up their teenage years to serve the Lord fearlessly. They were full of zeal and full of fervour for God and His purposes.
Fast forward 13 years. About 90% of these leaders are no longer in church. Some of them are no longer Christians. Deep within me, I’m filled with regret. Why? Because when these youths started to walk away from the Lord, I stayed silent. I stayed silent when they started dating a non-Christian. I stayed silent when they started to be involved with the clubbing scene during their university years. I stayed silent when they started to skip church.
I stayed silent… and up till this day, I live with this regret. What would their lives be today, had I spoken up, had I chosen to confront their sins, or warn them against the temptations of the world? I may never know.
Fellow brethren. Don’t tolerate the elephants among us. God has entrusted them to us, so that we can love our brothers and sisters into repentance and restoration.
Therefore, let us as a body of Christ dare to confront the elephants around us for the sake of our fellow brethren.
Originally from Muar, Malaysia, Ernie Song has been serving in a full time capacity at RiverLife Church since 2006. He is married to Jasmine and they have three sons. Ernie loves to cook (and eat!) and enjoys playing various musical instruments! He is a Manchester United fan and spends his free time gardening and taking care of his fishes. He is currently pursuing a Masters in Divinity at TCA College.