If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. --2nd Thessalonians 3:14-15 (NIV)
So watch yourselves.
"If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. --Luke 17:3 (NIV)
The usual sounds of laughter and conversation had turned, almost immediately, to silence as he approached. We glanced around in nervous fashion, darting our eyes questioningly from one face to the next, begging one another silently to be the one to speak up. Before Jim* had a chance to squeeze in beside any of us at the lunch table, Mark* shifted his weight and moved to stand up.
"Hey bro, room for me?" Jim asked.
"Actually," Mark responded, "why don't you and I go sit inside the commons, I need your opinion on something." His usual easy-going tone was just the same as ever.
If anyone could address the problem with Jim, it was Mark. His way of speaking was sincere and diplomatic, even under pressure. As a group leader in our on-campus fellowship group, Mark could always be counted upon to dispense godly wisdom when you needed it the most. Jim was about to receive a particularly large portion of it; His recent behavior was inappropriate at best, outright offensive at worst.
I don't know what it was that Mark said to Jim that afternoon. Perhaps Jim was truly unaware of how he his behavior was being interpreted. Maybe no one had corrected him before because they were afraid of the reaction he might display--after all, he was something of an intimidating guy. I do know that Jim's attitude changed for the better from that point forward. Things were initially awkward when he rejoined us at the lunch table, but soon we were all back to laughing, talking and sharing a good time before our afternoon classes.
No one likes being told that he is wrong, particularly if he is taken to task in a public manner. Being receptive to constructive criticism or well-meaning admonition is difficult when we our defense mechanisms have kicked into high gear. That is why it was so effective for Mark to take Jim aside. Close friends can help give us a proper attitude adjustment when it's needed.
My truest friends have been there to "get in my face" when I've gotten off track with my personal relationship with God. They offer their sincere advice and opinions when they observe that my behavior is not aligned with that of someone who professes to be a Christian. I'm thankful for friends like Mark* who know how to point out sin in such a thoughtful, caring manner without downplaying the serious nature of it. Sin is far worse than a faux pas, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be handled with care--especially among Christian brothers.