This morning we have our second to last topic for the summer sermon series and the original question that led to this message was “how do you say no without feeling guilty about it?” Now that’s a pretty broad question so I combined it with another question I’ve been asked before to narrow it down to “how do you say no to family and friends without feeling guilty about it?” And I felt like it was okay to do that because I think for most of us saying “no” to a stranger isn’t nearly as difficult as saying “no” to a family member.
And when I took a second to think about why we might feel guilty about saying no to a friend or family member, a few different reasons came to mind. The first is that the guilt comes from uncertainty that we should be saying “no” or correcting our friends - we’re going to deal with that. The second is that the guilt comes from uncertainty that we’re saying “no” for the right reasons - we’re going to deal with that. The third is that the guilt comes from our desire to people please and we’re really concerned with how the person is going to react to us saying no or telling them they’re in the wrong - and we’re going to deal with that a little indirectly. Now, how I would like to go about this is to tell y’all three stories - two of them from my life, so the only one being thrown under the bus this morning is me - to illustrate how the Bible would advise us in these kinds of situations.
Profuse are the Kisses of Enemies
So first let’s deal with the guilt of whether or not we should be saying no to our friends or correcting them at all.
When I was in high school, I took a shop class. And I tell you what, I have never been in a shop that nice since, and I don’t think I ever will again - which is a little depressing. Now the shop class was divided into several rooms. The shop itself had a room with most of the machines, a room where Mr. Howard kept racks of lumber, a room with hundreds of clamps for glue jobs, a sealed room for finishing projects with stain and oil, and a classroom. And each week we had to sit in the classroom and take a safety quiz to make sure we were up on the rules that kept us safe. These were not complicated rules, they were rules like “no loose hair or clothing in the shop” and “don’t leave a machine until it comes to a complete stop.” Never the less, I was sitting next to a kid who was unprepared for these safety quizzes and he felt the need to copy off my answers. Now this young man was not subtle about his cheating; in fact, I believe he even nudged me at one point to move my hand so he could better see my paper.
So I did what any self-respecting nerd would do, I put down the wrong answers, made it as easy as possible for him to copy them, waited for him to turn in his paper, then changed all my answers. Astonishingly, this happened several times before he noticed that he kept failing these quizzes while my scores were just fine. Now, would anyone say that I was being a good friend to that other kid?
Proverbs warns us that “faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” I made it easy for this kid to copy my answers, I gave him exactly what he wanted - but I was not acting as his friend. In that situation, a good friend would have told him that he should probably put in the effort to be safe in the shop and learn the rules that the quizzes were checking. Scripture tells us that a good friend will say no or correct their friends sometimes, which should help absolve us of any guilt from doing so.
Now let’s deal with something that’s closely related, because we should be correcting and saying ‘no’ to our friends, but why we’re doing it matters - speaking to that second possible source of guilt.
A while back, my favorite video game released something called a dungeon. These are missions designed for 1-3 players that can take a few hours to complete - the bosses are hard to kill, there are puzzles that are tricky to solve, and sometimes it’s hard even to just find the path forward. This particular dungeon is called the Grasp of Avarice and if you finished the mission it gave you access to a really sweet rocket launcher that’s a callback to the first Destiny game. Now, when this mission first dropped, I tried to solo it - to do it by myself. And I was determined that I wasn’t going to look up any guides or find any tips online. So I drop into this level and walk into what is very obviously the right path . . . and a springboard of spikes appears out of nowhere and kills me. I re-spawn and look around, and there’s a control room with flashing panels - probably to turn off the springboard that had just killed me. So I walk into that room . . . where spikes shoot out of the wall and kill me. Now, this happens a whole bunch of times, but I slowly inch my way forward in the level. Until I come to the first boss. I shot rockets at that thing for probably thirty minutes and barely put a dent in its health . . . then it hit me once, killed me, and the encounter reset with him at full health.
At this point I determined that I needed someone else to help me in the mission, so I called my brother and we figured out a time that we could both waste several hours of our lives and do the mission. That day comes and we load in to that first room. Ian saw the obvious path forward and started moving towards it. Would anybody here believe me if I told you that I didn’t let those spikes kill him several times like they killed me? No? That’s good, because I definitely led him into almost every trap I could, because, you know, it’s funny when it’s someone else. Now, would anyone say I was being a good friend to my brother?
Proverbs tells us that “the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.” If we say no or correct our friends in a way that we are earnestly trying to do what’s best for them, we shouldn’t feel any guilt for doing so. If a friend asks us to do something that it would be better for them if they did it themselves, we should say no without guilt. If we just don’t feel like it or it might inconvenience us or the outcome of saying no will be entertaining, some guilt would be appropriate. For this, the appropriateness of our guilt relies on why we’re saying no or correcting our friend or family member.
Christ our Exemplar
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.
Christ sets the greatest example of friendship we have. He called His friends around Him, He did incredible things and shared amazing experiences with them. But when Peter tried to keep Him from going to the cross, He said no. When the disciples asked about forgiveness, He corrected them and told them that there should be no limit to grace. When the people around Him were doing things they shouldn’t do, Christ corrected them. But what is critical is to look at how He follows that correction. In those times when He corrects the people around Him, He still loves them, He offers them forgiveness when they need it, He maintains the relationships - but doesn’t operate out of fear of saying ‘no’. And that relationships is the same one He has with you and me. When we look to His Word, it’s going to tells us no sometimes, it’s going to tell us we’re wrong sometimes, but there is never any doubt that when we go astray, Christ is ready to bring us back with love and forgiveness won on His cross.
And with our friends, in our lives, we strive to maintain that balance between Law and Gospel, between correction and forgiveness. We will sometimes have to tell people we love no, we will sometimes have to correct people around us our of earnest care for them - but we never leave them in a place where they could forget our love and forgiveness for them. Even as Christ brings us to His Word, His gifts, and His people to remind us of His Law, His love, and His forgiveness for us. Amen.