James 5.16 clearly exhorts us to “Confess your faults one to another.” My question is how far does this extend? If we are honest with ourselves, we may find that we have sinful thoughts about other people multiple times per day. This can be evil thoughts of all kinds. So, do we track down each person, each time it occurs, and confess it? This seems not only tedious, but potentially impossible.
Here’s an idea: perhaps we only do this when it affects the other person. This initially sounds plausible, but, as a matter of fact, it too suffers from a fatal flaw. We are often under the unfortunate and mistaken assumption that our own internal sins only affect ourselves. However, we know from experience and the Bible that no man is an island (Rom. 14.7-8). What we think helps form our character, and our character affects not only who we are, but also the lives of others we encounter. So, if this principle holds, then we’re right back where we started.
So perhaps another track is needed—after all, a fool speaks all his mind (Proverbs 29.11). Perhaps it is something like this: when we have done something that clearly has an external affect, or when we have done something or had any attitude toward someone that they have perceived as an offense, we ought to seek reconciliation. This “clearly” bit helps delineate things a little, but it doesn’t eliminate all confusion outright. Thus, another guiding principle is needed, one that I suggest be joined to this one. That is: follow what God is leading you to do. This can be known through the Bible and through wise counsel. If God is moving you, then please follow it!
There are a few questions that remain, however: What other considerations should we take into account with respect to confessing our faults one to another? What role should the local church play formally in these instances? How does the concept and practice of forgiveness come into play? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!