Verse 7 of 2 Thessalonians 2 paints a remarkable picture of something that happened within the end-time Church of God: “For the mystery of iniquity does already work: only he who now restrains will restrain, until he be taken out of the way.”
Other parts of the Bible describe what this “mystery of iniquity” was. Dozens, even hundreds, of top leaders in God’s Church were committing iniquity and plotting to fundamentally transform the Church—yet it was a mystery. It stayed underground and dared not show itself. Why? Because of “he who now restrains.” That sinister force was completely restrained and held in check by one man!
Once God took that man out of the way, nothing was left to hold back this widespread evil influence. It took over and destroyed God’s Church.
Speaking of this prophecy in Malachi’s Message, Gerald Flurry wrote, “There have always been people in God’s Church whom Satan can use unless they are controlled. … Christ used Paul to hold back this satanic force in his day. … It is a ‘mystery of iniquity’ because it was hidden. It dared not show itself because of ‘he’ who restrained it. He was a man who was seen and whose authority was feared—Herbert W. Armstrong.”
This shows how determined Satan is to infiltrate and destroy God’s Church. It reveals that people in God’s own Church—which could include any one of us—can be used by Satan if not controlled by God and God’s government. It also reveals the need for vigilance and for restraining evil!
Men, this danger also exists in our lives, in our relationships, in our families, in our work and in our era of God’s Church. Realize that this is a core element of biblical manhood: A godly man restrains Satan’s influence!
How did Herbert W. Armstrong restrain? He restrained through his example, for sure, but he also restrained through direct confrontation. He had a God-commissioned office, he had authority, and he used it. People knew that and feared it. And through that confrontation, God blocked the volcano of evil that was boiling beneath the surface of His Church.
This should be true of a godly man in his household! In that context, God should be able to say of you: He who restrains will restrain!
We need to develop godly authority. We need to learn how to confront evil. We need to build the courage to restrain Satan’s influence. We need to become men who deal with iniquity with godly boldness.
In fact, we need to embrace confrontation.
We need to fulfill our manly duty to embrace conflict when God shows us it is necessary. If God is leading us to restrain evil, we should not shy away from confrontation: We should seize the opportunity.
This requires godly wisdom. Right confrontation is motivated by love and outgoing concern. Stepping out and restraining a wrong influence, conflicting with evil and exercising authority must be an expression not of our will, but of God’s love!
‘The Nature of This Work’
Evil covers the Earth like the water covers the ocean beds. It surrounds us; it seeps into our thoughts; it soaks into our families. What do you do when you see evil leaking into your household?
A lot of men want to avoid confrontation at any cost. In many of us, our Satan-inspired human nature expresses itself that way, especially in this modern era. (Some men have the opposite problem.)
Here is a practical example. In our Pastor General’s Report, we have reprinted an article a few times by Evangelist Stephen Flurry called “Upholding God’s Standard in Dress and Appearance.” One of the subheads is simply: “Confrontation.” It says this: “[U]pholding God’s standard in dress and appearance also means that we—both ministers and wives—must confront problems as they arise. If we shy away from confronting problems—in this case, problems that are visible to all—then our congregation’s standard in appearance will only sink lower.
“A couple years ago, my dad told me that we ministers tend to avoid confrontation whenever possible. ‘But the nature of this Work,’ he said, ‘dictates that we be people who will confront’” (emphasis added).
In this article to Philadelphia Church of God ministers, Mr. Flurry was not saying that they should bulldoze through the congregation, squashing everything in their path. He was emphasizing the ministers’ duty to uphold God’s law. The nature of God’s Work, of God’s Church, of God’s way of life, demands that we confront! We must be willing to take on problems and stand up to evil! This is an important aspect of the love of God!
“Open rebuke is better than secret love,” Proverbs 27:5 says. What good is love if it isn’t expressed? It doesn’t benefit anyone. You might feel very loving toward someone, but if you’re not expressing it, it does that person no good. You know what is more beneficial than that? Open rebuke. At least then the person might actually profit from what is said. And sometimes, rebuke can be extremely helpful.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (verse 6, Revised Standard Version). The Ferrar Fenton version renders it, “The reproofs of a friend preserve; but an enemy’s kisses betray.”
Are you friend enough to deliver a “faithful wound” when necessary? If someone you care about is doing something that is hurting them and they cannot see it or refuse to see it, someone needs to intervene!
God gives His ministry for this purpose, to help His people overcome evil and become perfect (Ephesians 4:11-13). They address these problems through delivering sermons and Bible studies, through personal counseling, and by stepping in when necessary to point an issue out as it is happening. When God is using a minister to correct some type of sin, it is not a comfortable thing. But that man is a tool for God to pour out His love on us! God is using him to try to help us turn away from things in our lives that are hurting us and toward the godly righteousness that will bring blessings!
But ministers are not the only ones who have this obligation.
Becoming Like God
God confronts evil! When Lucifer became wicked and tried to usurp God, God met him head-on and kicked him and his demons out of heaven! Revelation 12:12 shows that this type of confrontation happened not only before the Earth was created (Genesis 1:2), but again in this modern era. In fact, God confined Satan and the demons to this planet on or around the very same day “he who now restrains” was “taken out of the way.” God says woe to you who live on the Earth, because Satan is here among you now! People in God’s Church saw that horrific fact in action. We witnessed firsthand the devastating consequences of failing to restrain evil.
God allows us to live in this woeful state—having Satan cast down among us—for a reason. He wants us to learn to confront evil!
Clearly, this is not just a job for a minister. Confronting evil is crucial for everyone who follows God! And confronting evil is not restricted to trying to overcome sin in your own mind. In some cases, you have the duty to intervene and confront evil in the lives of your wife, your children, or other members of God’s Family.
Each of us is striving to become like God, and God confronts evil. He tells us over and over in the Bible that we must do the same. “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Provoke means to incite or even irritate. That is not comfortable! “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother” (Matthew 18; also Luke 17:3). “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness” (Galatians 6:1). Temper criticism with praise; be kind—but still, take action. “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). The English Standard Version renders this, “admonish the idle”—”comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.”
Notice: these verses are addressed to “thy brother,” “brethren,” etc. This is not just part of the minister’s duty; this is part of the Christian’s duty.
In Your Home
We cannot fear confrontation! Shying away from it because it is uncomfortable is a failure to love someone enough to help them stop hurting themselves or prevent them from making a mistake!
If you are a father, you must confront your children. Satan is broadcasting non-stop to influence, tempt and even force people into evil, destructive thoughts and actions. He is working hard, constantly fighting the positive influence that God and you are exerting on your child. He is not afraid to confront you!
If you are not confronting your children, you do not love them! Read Proverbs 13:24; 19:18 and 29:15. God says if you spare the rod—a very direct form of confrontation—you hate your son! If you love him, you will chasten him promptly. The father who loves his child springs into action when he sees evil.
Our world is dominated by Satan’s influence. Because of this, your children are vulnerable—perhaps already suffering from serious sins. Children everywhere languish under parents who tackle those evil influences with insufficient force, or ignore them altogether.
Neglect is not confrontation. Nagging is not confrontation. Negotiation is not confrontation. Godly confrontation means establishing firm rules with clear, just, effective penalties, and following through consistently.
Godly confrontation is hard to do. But consider the alternative. As you sit back, the evil spreads. It’s like a brush fire on a windy day. If you don’t stamp it out—hard and fast and completely—it will spread!
If you are a husband, you cannot fear confronting your wife. The man who fears confrontation will one day realize that his wife is actually the leader of his home. Confronting your wife is not the same as confronting your child. She is an adult; she is your bride; she is an heir together with you. But it is the same in the sense that in both cases, you should confront it! You should exercise your authority to lead your family away from harm. You should restrain iniquity.
How to Do It
Here are three steps for exercising loving confrontation.
1. Be courageous.
Think of the example of David. When the entire nation cowered in the shadow of Goliath, he ran to the battle. Most of us prefer to ignore the problem and sweep it under the rug. Then it festers and grows. In these situations, time is not on your side! Don’t procrastinate, when you know the responsibility is yours. Sprint forward, grab hold of the problem, and wrestle against it.
If everyone in God’s Church were a courageous problem-solver, how much work would we save the people above us?
2. Be crystal clear.
If you are going to really help someone, the person has to know exactly what you’re asking of him. Once you’ve stepped forward to confront evil in the life of your child, your wife, or your brother or sister in Christ, make sure you state things clearly. Football coach Bill Parcells said, “The only way to change people is to tell them in the clearest possible terms what they’re doing wrong.” Don’t equivocate. Make sure that what you are saying is clear.
3. Be humble.
This is essential to love-motivated confrontation. This should motivate you from the moment you notice something is wrong to long after the confrontation conversation(s) has taken place. Remember that you have sins and need to be confronted from time to time. Recognize that the person you are talking to is a child of God! Do not assume that you see the whole situation completely. And pray for real godly humility.
Remember, it was not Mr. Armstrong’s intellect or personality that confronted evil. “It was God’s Spirit working through Mr. Armstrong that held back the ‘man of sin,’” Mr. Flurry wrote in Malachi’s Message. This should be true of a man within his family. He must use God’s Spirit. When you confront, make sure God is with you! For Him to work through you for the benefit of the person you are confronting, you must have godly humility. In fact, the process often involves you being corrected yourself. For example, Matthew 7 says you must remove the beam in your eye before you can attempt to remove the fleck in your brother’s eye.
When you confront someone, whether your brother, your wife or your child, be slow to wrath (James 1:19-20). Mr. Flurry writes in his booklet on James, “The wrath of man contains none of God’s righteousness. So that means we must always let God’s righteousness direct our anger, or we will make many mistakes. We absolutely must rule our emotions.” Your impatience, your frustration, your bad temper is worthless to God! Do not discipline your children with these emotions; they are only destructive. And in general, when you rely on your own human emotion, you are going to make a mistake.
So yes, godly confrontation must be done the right way, with courage, clarity and humility. Yes, it requires you to eradicate carnal thoughts: pride, frustration, wrong emotion. Yes, it requires you to take personal correction yourself. But do not let the hard work of godly confrontation dissuade you from doing it! It is your duty as a man! Don’t fear the hard work required. Fear the sin, the evil, the suffering that results from neglecting confrontation! Let God use you to restrain that iniquity! It is your critical duty of biblical manhood. Embrace love-motivated confrontation.