CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

On Offering Correction

Feb 4, 2017

This is another article basically for Christians only, and as with so many of these pieces, one directed at myself just as much as at others. It has to do with correcting others, especially publically. Now that in itself is not all that controversial or problematic, since we have many Scriptural injunctions to do just that.

But the real issue is when, how and why we offer such correction. More on that in a moment. First, let me offer just a few of the many biblical passages which speak about the importance of correction, and which admonish us to offer correction:

CorrectionProverbs 5:12 You will say, “How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction!”

Proverbs 10:17 Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.

Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.

Proverbs 13:18 Whoever disregards discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored.

Proverbs 15:5 A fool spurns a parent’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.

Acts 20:31 Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

1 Thessalonians 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

1 Timothy 5:20 Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

James 5:19-20 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

There are many other such passages we could offer here. That we should admonish others and offer correction, warning and rebuke – for faulty behaviour and faulty beliefs – is not in question. But something that requires real wisdom and caution is when we do it, how we do it, and why we do it.

I say this in part because things like the Internet and the social media make it a lot easier for some folks to become semi-official Correctors! We all know of people who seem to believe it is their mission in life to go around constantly correcting everyone – especially for any deviancy from their particular script.

As I said, I am speaking to myself here as well. I too do indeed offer correction – both on my own website and in the social media. There is a place for it and a need for it. When false doctrine is being pushed, when the reputation of Christ is being trashed, when the Christian gospel is being mangled, there is a vital place for offering correction and/or rebuke.

So I do this, and hopefully it is done by the Lord’s leading. But I know that this is not always the case. I do not always get it right, and sometimes I step over the line. And by the way, you might be surprised to learn how many times I wanted to offer some correction, but I simply zipped my lip, having decided it was wise not to say anything. Discernment and wisdom are certainly needed in this.

So it seems there are various reasons why people are keen to correct others. At one end of the spectrum it is because that is how God is guiding them, and they are keen to stand up for biblical truth and to see God glorified. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who do it for carnal, fleshly reasons.

That is, many do it out of pride, out of self-righteousness, from a Pharisaical spirit, and to build up self – at the expense of others. I suspect that most of us – myself included – might be all over the place on this spectrum. Sometimes we are doing God’s work in God’s way as we offer words of correction, warning and rebuke, but sometimes there is ego, pride and self involved.

That is why we must always stay humble and soft before the Lord. Of course that is true for all of the Christian life. But in our desire to offer correction, it would be helpful if we all spent time on our faces before God, asking him to search our hearts and check out our motivations.

Self-deception is so very easy and powerful: we may think we are faithfully serving the Lord and walking in the Spirit, but we may often be serving ourselves and walking in the flesh. Sometimes a word of correction is definitely needed, but still there are matters of when is the best time to do it, how it is done (see Galatians 6:1 for example), and for what reasons.

A right thing can be done for wrong reasons. A good end can be worked at by a wrong means. Sometimes correction is required, but because we offer it in a spirit of pride or one-upmanship, or at a bad time, it will not be of any use, and will likely just make matters worse.

So again, I have to personalise this. Sometimes I am guilty of opening my mouth when I should have kept it shut. And sometimes I should have opened my mouth but I chose to remain silent instead. And often I was quite ready to offer correction, but with no or little prayer to back it up.

The correction may well have been called for, but because I was not fully in step with the Spirit, it was not as effective as it should have been. So I am still learning and growing here. Because God has given me the gift of teaching, and because he has called me to a very public ministry, words of correction, warning and rebuke are very much a part of what I do.

But doing such things wisely, carefully and prayerfully is always essential. It is so easy for pride and self-righteousness to be motivating us, instead of a pure love for God, for others, and for the truth. So please, all of us who are in a “correction” type of work need to tread carefully here.

And the wrong response to what I have said here would be to just shut up and never say anything, for fear of getting it wrong, or doing it for the wrong reasons. But an equally wrong response is to just go on with constant correction, never taking out the time to ask God to search our hearts and see why we do what we do.

So consider this article to be a word of correction! But it is a word of correction to myself as much as to anyone else. In this regard, to say “I stand corrected” is a very good place to be in!

[1176 words]

5 Responses to On Offering Correction

  • As I read this timely article, Bill, I kept thinking of the Petra song, “Don’t Let Your Heart be Hardened”: www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rldw0DrX54
    I believe a ‘soft heart’ is essential if we are to have the right attitude towards others. This seems to prevent us from sounding harsh, judgmental or trite in our conversations with others. And everyone of us, myself included, needs to stand back and look at ourselves regularly. I know there are many times I’ve looked over what I’ve written, then felt uneasy, brought it before God, and subsequently amended my words.

  • This is one of the many reasons why we are told to be quick to listen and slow to speak. (Jas 1:19) We may know something needs doing but we often need to think things through thoroughly to determine how something should be approached. It is not so much what you do but how you do it. Of course we should always be considering the best interests of the person or people involved. That does not mean a softly, softly approach is always best but it sometimes can be. You don’t necessarily have to get the full impact all at once either.

  • Sometimes reproof or correction of someone else’s error in deed or word may be achieved by asking questions in a gentle, brotherly spirit. Other times, God’s servants may be – and have been – gaoled for telling the world and the professing Church the awful truths they needed to hear! Matthew 18:15-20 is in the same book as Matthew 10!

  • “I stand corrected” is a very good place to be! Amen. Thanks Bill. Another fruitful study. Calls to mind Jeremiah 10:24 “I know O Lord that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks, to direct his steps. Correct me O Lord! Not in thy wrath lest Thou bring me to nothing.” Matthew Henry Commentary “We may bear the smart of Gods’ rod, but we cannot bear the weight of His wrath.” I stand eternally in grace having been corrected in His Cross. We may image Him in all we say and only by the Spirit can we do this so Paul: Walk in the Spirit, be lead by the Spirit and not fulfil the lust of the flesh. Like others above, when I feel unsure about my ‘truth’ and wait and correct, joy, or don’t wait, I reap pain. Wrath is the backdrop to all communications as Moses taught in Psalm 90. Beautiful insight from “the meekest man”. Blessings.

  • Thanks Bill. Very sound, Biblical and balanced and a subject matter we all need to hear.

Leave a Reply