You know what I hate? I hate when I am corrected by my wife. Especially when she is right! My first tendency is to get defensive. “Michael, do you think you can start trying to spend more quality time with the kids?” (just to throw something completely random out there that I have never actually heard 🙂 ). “It seems like you have been working a lot lately.” “What?!! I have not. Yes, I have had a lot of projects over the last month or two, but this is necessary to make ends meet. Which is more important: spending time with the kids or making sure they have food?” That is how things often go down when the confrontation is just between me and my wife. My first reaction is to get defensive. Many times I have sat in church and listened to a sermon where I could swear my wife must have called my pastor and given him fodder for the morning. The pastor essentially says the same thing as my wife, but to a more general audience. “The Bible tells us that we need to spend time with our family. Are you working too much? . . .” etc. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened. When it does, I can do nothing other than bow my head and say, “Yes Lord. I hear you.”
I have a hard time listening to the correction of others, especially when the correction is so direct and focused on me and my failings. Quit smirking. You do too. I often have to laugh at my sin nature as I reflect upon it. When someone attacks me personally, I usually won’t listen. When admonishment is given to a general audience in which I happen to reside, I will listen. Why? Because it is less personal. It seems more like God is the one doing the correcting, not the individual. Take this particular post for instance. I am indicting myself here, exposing my personal failings. Why does this come so easily right now? Because I am the one instigating the admission. Rarely do I write a blog of confession right after I have received an email or message of direct criticism (and I get plenty). This is just our nature – our sin nature.
In matters of biblical studies and theology, the ante is raised, especially for those of us who teach. Besides the corrections I receive on this blog, and from other bloggers who feel the need to write their own blogs correcting me, I often get emails from people who see themselves as called by God into the ministry of correction (is that a spiritual gift?). I am amazed at the number of people whom I have never met and who have never contacted me before, who feel ordained to send me a “first contact” of correction. There are people that I, upon seeing their name in my inbox, avoid like the plague. Feelings of dread come at the very sight of their names. Why? Because every time, their communication consists of some sort of criticism. Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that every time we are corrected individually, we should submit to the correction. Often times the correction is off-base. However, there are those times when the correction is much needed, but the person giving the correction does not wisely consider our sin nature.
Isn’t there a Proverb for this? Hold on…Yep, here it is:
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Tact. Tact. And, did I mention tact? Oh, wait. Here is another.
There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Speaking of correcting those whom you feel are spreading dangerous doctrine:
2 Timothy 2:24
The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition. (emphasis mine)
Concerning those who have fallen into sin:
Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. (emphasis mine)
That “you who are spiritual” qualification discredits my intervention, oh, about sixty percent of the time. The other forty percent of the time I am disqualified by my tone!
And then there is the “apologists’ creed:”
1 Peter 3:15
But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.
How often do we read the first part, bear up arms, load the guns, and forget about the major qualification: “with gentleness and reverence.” (Not to mention this is to come “to those who ask!”) Again, this is just tact.
Some points to consider when you feel called to the ministry of correction:
- Search for the plank in your own eye (Matt. 7:3). When found, get rid of it. If you can’t get rid of it, stay silent.
- Attacking someone personally when you have never contacted them before is not tactful. You don’t have their audience. You should not expect them to listen.
- Attacking someone personally every time you correspond with them is not wise. I try to live by the 5/1 rule. Five words of encouragement for every one word of correction.
- Publicly condemning someone comes at great expense, not only to the ones who are directly involved, but to those who are introduced to the controversy. Think long and hard before airing your complaint publicly.
- Realize that most of the time, the people you correct are not under your authority. Therefore, you have no right to speak to them as if they are in submission to you. This is a tremendous problem as Christian leaders attempt to use the internet to conduct ministry. It is so easy to write a quick “open letter,” arrogantly supposing that you are something you are not. This can do more damage to the body of Christ than the error your are supposed to be correcting.
- If you are to call someone out publicly, write your statement, then rewrite it ten times. Each time, soften your complaint with more gentleness.
- Remember that the person against whom you are logging your complaint is one who was created in the image of God. Live in fear of this. Follow David who, though he had every reason to start a public campaign against Saul, feared Saul due to his own fear of the Lord. Due to this, he would not lift up his hand against him (1 Samuel 24:6). We need more Davids.
- To the one being corrected: do your best to consider what is being said, even when the correction did not come tactfully.
- To the one who is falsely confronted: forgive the person. Don’t let it eat at you. Forgive them the moment you are hurt. Remember, they are sinners are well. Grace goes both ways.
Rarely do I use this ministry as a platform to call someone out. This is just not the place. Don’t get me wrong. This does not mean I have not often been tempted. In fact, three weeks ago I spent all day working on a 3000-word post which was directed at a theologian whom I believed was taking a serious turn for the worse. I reworked and reworked it. I deleted words and rephrased sentences. I did everything I could to follow the principles I laid out above. When I finished, I read it out loud and asked for feedback from some members of my staff. They were encouraged by it and felt that it was tactful. I waited ten more minutes and then decided to delete it. This is what I told our staff: “This is just not us. It is not what I want us to be known for. I will let others write these types of things if need be. I don’t care about the traffic it could bring. Let’s continue to do what we do and deal with these things in a more indirect way. It is more tactful and effective anyway.” A day wasted? Yes. But as my mentor Chuck Swindoll would say: “phooey.”
When we follow these principles, not only will we be more biblical, but when a time of stern correction is needed, we will have an audience with the one who needs the correction.