[Editor’s note: The following material was presented by one of our former members, Evan Diaz, during Sunday evening worship—October 10, 2010.]
We’re going to look at two sides of the same ques-tion regarding correction: 1) How well do you give it? and 2) How well do you take it?
The very question implies that there is a need for correction, and when we read our Bibles, we certainly find this to be the case (Jude 22-23; Matt. 18:15; 1 Tim. 5:20). From kings to apostles and to every one of us today, the Bible is clear that everyone at some point will mess up and be in need of correction (Rom. 3:23).
Just think of how many times you’ve read in your Bible words that carry the idea of correction. In 2 Timothy 4:2 alone, we see it three or four times! “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Con-vince, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching.”
It is obvious that giving and receiving correction is a necessary part of the Christian life, but before we examine the question at hand, let’s look at the different kinds of correction: there is a destructive kind and a constructive kind. Let’s look at first the destructive kind and why we should avoid it.
Destructive Criticism (Contentious, Divisive, Nagging)
You may know someone who nags, or is contentious or divisive—someone who will never fail to find fault with everything you’re doing. They’re also not shy about pointing it out in the least tactful way possible. There is a reason that Paul, in his letter to the Romans (16:17-18), urged the brethren to note those who are divisive and to avoid them. Also in Titus 3:10 we’re commanded to reject those who are divisive if they won’t change.
● Destructive criticism ought to be avoided because it is especially detrimental to younger Christians. For one, it can break down their spirit, leaving them to conclude: “I can’t do anything right anyway; so why even try?” This is the attitude they’ll have, and if they don’t just give up outright, then what they’re left with is a bad example to follow.
● Destructive correction can also make a person numb to genuine edification and admonishment. Just like the boy who cried wolf, if all your experience regarding correction is negative, you have learned to just ignore it. When useful advice comes your way, that makes it so much more difficult to accept or even hear.
Finally this kind of “correction” ought to be avoided because it can build resentment among brethren. It is hard to think well of someone who, every time you see them, has something negative and critical to say to you or about you.
Destructive criticism, therefore, should be avoided because it is not beneficial to anyone, and it can even be sinful.
On the other side of the equation is constructive criticism, exhortation, rebuke, and edification. Unlike destructive correction, this is not done selfishly or out of hate or spite or anything like that. This is done out of love and with the expectation and hope that, if the shoe was on the other foot, your brethren would do the same for you.
We’re told to be wise in all our dealings (Matt. 10: 16). I think it is especially so when dealing with sensitive issues such as correction. Though it may be unpleasant while it is happening, it is always portrayed as a good and a necessary thing.
The fact of the matter is that nobody likes being wrong. No one wakes up in the morning and says to himself, “I wonder how many times I can mess up today.” We normally don’t try to be wrong, or do wrong, but on occasion it happens, and when it does, what do we do? First, we must recognize that there are:
Matters of Opinion or Option
Matters of Doctrine or Obligation
We’re not really concerned with matters of option or opinion tonight; we know if people have an issue with us. Maybe they don’t like our haircut, or they think our clothes don’t match. It’s polite to hear them out, but of course we don’t necessarily have to do as they wish. However, as a Christian, if it is something that is expedient and is easy enough to do, it might be a good idea to go ahead and do it—all other things being Scripturally equal (i.e., Paul becoming all things to all men that he might win some).
When it is a matter of doctrine, how do you respond? Let’s look at some Biblical examples and see what we can learn.
As it pertains to Apollos, Aquilla, and Priscilla, let’s notice some key things that happened. This married couple knew enough of the Bible to realize Apollos wasn’t preaching the correct thing. They didn’t put it off. When they heard him preaching incorrectly, the Bible indicates that they spoke with him as soon as they could.
● They assumed the best of him; they didn’t jump to conclusions and think that Apollos was teaching incorrectly on purpose and just disfellowship him before even speaking with him. They came to him with the correct attitude: they “explained to him the way more perfectly”; they didn’t “show him how wrong he was.”
Apollos accepted the correction graciously; he didn’t get defensive. “How dare you try and correct me? Do you know how long I’ve been preaching!” He went on to do much good for the cause of Christ (Acts 18:27-28).
The incident involving Peter and Paul was a different situation entirely. Paul didn’t take Peter aside in private and correct him gently: he “withstood him to the face.” William Burkitt wrote of this phrase: “It is in the original a military word, signifying to stand against, either by force of arms, as among soldiers; or by dint of argument, as among disputants: it is a word of defiance, and signifies an opposition hand to hand, face to face, foot to foot, not yielding an hair’s breadth….”
Why was this the correct course of action for Paul to take? Unlike Apollos, who was innocently teaching incorrectly, Peter knew what was right and wrong. He was sinning willfully and publicly. Not only that, he was an elder in the church and he was causing others to sin as well because they were following his example. We know that, when an elder sins, he is to be rebuked in the presence of all (1 Tim. 5:20).
● Also, when we read through the various Gospel accounts, everything indicates to us that Peter was a man that both spoke frankly and was spoken to frankly. Paul likely knew this and took it into account when correcting his brother; he didn’t go to him gently and make subtle suggestions, he “withstood him to the face.”
What Did Not Happen
● Paul did not make excuses for his friend (fellow apostle). He did not rationalize it away or ignore it or put off his obligation to reprove when he realized what had been done. The situation demanded immediate action, and that’s exactly what happened.
● Peter did not hold a grudge, get upset, or complain that Paul was not tactful enough. He didn’t complain, “It wasn’t what he said, but how he said it.”
● He didn’t get puffed up and say, “I’m an apostle. Who do you think you are correcting me!” No, we have every indication that Peter graciously and humbly accepted Paul’s correction, and he even spoke very fondly of Paul and his writings (2 Peter 3:15).
King David and Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-6)
This is a lesson of wisdom in practice, if I’ve ever seen one. This wasn’t some simple conversation between brethren. Nathan probably knew that, if he said one wrong thing, David could just say the word, and it would be all over for him. So rather than taking a direct approach with someone whose conscience was likely seared in that regard, he took a roundabout approach. Nathan appealed to David’s strong sense of justice as king and his past of being a shepherd himself. It was not until David’s righteous anger was kindled and he unknowingly condemned himself that Nathan rebuked David sharply. Thus David’s conscience was pricked and he found himself undone and repented on the spot (v. 13). And out of this event came some of the most beautiful writings in the Bible, such as Psalm 51.
So when we are correcting someone, let us keep these things in mind:
1. Don’t shirk your responsibility. The Bible is clear that as Christians we have the obligation to watch out for our brethren, and this is a vital part of that.
2. Make sure you have your facts straight; don’t go on hearsay or gossip.
3. Assume the best of your brother.
4. Have the proper attitude. Are you doing it because you love them and want to help them get to heaven, or are you trying to get back at them or just make them feel bad? Remember what Jesus said about “the golden rule” and treat them how you would want to be treated.
5. Take into account their personality and the unique situation they are in. You can talk to some people very frankly and plainly, and others you have to be very careful and measure your words.
6. Never compromise on the truth. If you know what the truth is on a matter, do not budge from it for any reason.
7. Don’t make excuses for friends or family members. We have this horrible tendency to do this, and we need to be aware of it. You might rationalize and think it’s okay if your children or parents do something, but what would you think if someone you didn’t like as much or know as well did the same thing?
When we find ourselves on the other end and being corrected by someone, we ought to keep in mind these things:
1. It’s not easy for many of our brothers and sisters to muster up the courage to correct another; accept what they are saying graciously and humbly, and then examine yourself to see whether they are right in correcting you before you get defensive.
2. Assume the best of your brother. You ought to assume that your brother is coming to you out of honest and pure motives and love for your soul—not because he is malicious or mean.
3. Don’t get defensive or puffed up. It doesn’t really matter how long you’ve been a Christian or what position you hold. If apostles and kings can be corrected and rebuked sharply yet still take it graciously and humbly, who are we to get defensive when someone treats us the same way?
4. Don’t reject it because the person wasn’t tactful enough or didn’t say it in a way that you like. No matter how it is said, if what you are told is correct, you ought to accept it and make the proper changes in your life.
5. If, in examining yourself, you find that you have shirked your responsibilities as a Christian, leaving undone things that you should have done, or perhaps you have done something you ought not, then repent of that today. If it is a matter known only be-tween you and God, make it right and repent privately. However, if it is a public matter or has brought reproach on the Lord’s church, you can make that right as publicly as the sin was committed.
BORED TO DEATH
PARENTS of teenagers frequently hear them complaining because “there is nothing to do.” “I’m bored!” they will say in disgust. Or when told to do something constructive, their reply is often, “That’s soooo boring!” The modern world of America, with all its convenient gadgets and the instant gratification and entertaining aspects of videos and CDs, has contributed to the development of the “bored” personality.
Unfortunately, boredom commonly follows youth into adulthood, and too many times into the church as well. To hear some talk, they are “bored to death” with the activities, or lack thereof, of the church. Although it is true that in many cases certain congregations are floundering in mediocrity because of poor and visionless leadership, uninspired and shallow preaching, and indifferent and apathetic members, it doesn’t have to be that way! Each child of God must look himself squarely in the eye and assume responsibility for his own spiritual growth!
Spiritual boredom suggests that a person is unconcerned not only about his own soul, but also about the souls of a lost world. Was this the attitude of Christ, the apostles, or the early church? No (Matt. 16:24-27; Acts 5:42; 8:4)! Boredom produces unconcern! Spiritual boredom suggests that a person is not interested in the distinctive nature of the church that one reads about in the New Testament. Did Christ have an interest in the church? Absolutely! Yes! Without a doubt (Acts 20:28; Matt. 16:17-18; 28:18-20; 1 Pet. 1:18-19)! Blood was the purchase price!
Spiritual boredom suggests that a person is indifferent to doctrinal issues and lukewarm about such things as whether baptism is necessary to one’s salvation. Is there any way to misunderstand the words of Jesus regarding baptism? No (Mark 16:16)! Is there any way to misunderstand the teaching of Peter regarding this essential doctrine? No (Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 3:21)!
Boredom, my friends, is a symptom of something far deeper! Spiritual boredom leads a person to careless and nonchalant thinking regarding the acceptance of additions or changes made to the worship assembly, such as instrumental music, not observing the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week, the use of drama and entertainment in the assembly, women serving in the capacity of a preacher or an elder, and in the leading of prayer in the assembled body. This kind of reasoning also leads to unscriptural conclusions regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage. To be sure, Jesus and the inspired Paul taught that all of the above, plus many other areas, were to follow the Divine pattern as set forth in the Word of God (John 4:24; Matt. 15:8-9; 1 Tim. 3:1-14; Titus 1:1-16; Matt. 5:32; 19:1-9; Rom. 7:1-3).
Spiritual boredom, then, as defined above, implies a sense of listlessness! To be listless spiritually is to insure that one’s name will not be listed in the book of life. The only way to defeat a “bored” mentality is to take action, shake off the rust, develop a deep love for God and His Word, and keep moving forward. Paul pleaded for Christians to learn this teaching: “…I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon” (1 Cor. 3:10). Are you “bored to death” spiritually? I pray not!