On Correcting Others

There is a time and a place for offering much-needed correction:

The Christian should be known as one who lives right and believes right. In other words, orthopraxis and orthodoxy are both essential. We are all on a spiritual journey as believers, and when we veer off the straight and narrow path we need to be open to correction, to guidance, and even rebuke.

The spiritual Christian is one who is fully open to all this. The godly person has a teachable spirit, and will listen to words of correction. We are of course to listen to, and take heed of, God’s correction. As Jeremiah put it, “Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing” (Jer. 10:24).

But we are to also be open to the correction and admonitions of other believers. Indeed, giving correction to others is an important part of the Christian life. Consider a few passages from Paul on this. In 2 Timothy 3:14-17 we find these words:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Or as he said in 2 Timothy 2:24-26: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”

And there are plenty of Proverbs that speak to these matters. Here are just a few of them:

Prov 9:9 Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
    teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.

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

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

Prov 13:1 A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not respond to rebukes.

Prov 15:31-32 Whoever heeds life-giving correction
    will be at home among the wise.
Those who disregard discipline despise themselves,
    but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.

Prov 25:12 Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear.

Prov 27:5-6 Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

Of course giving instruction, correction and rebuke need to be done carefully and prayerfully. The right timing and right setting is often crucial. The aim is not to just score points or to be proven right, but to win a brother who may have gone off into error.

Serious matters like heresy certainly need to be challenged. In other less important areas we need to learn to pick our battles. We do not need to respond to everything we find to be incorrect or theologically dubious. So we need wisdom and discernment here.

Those who are just trolls looking to start a fight can be ignored. But if someone seems open to correction and has a desire to learn and grow, then engaging with them can be a good thing indeed. And when you have your own website, or a large social media presence, the need to sometimes rebuke, challenge or correct is often there.

One example

I get folks coming my way all the time that can be more or less off on various things. Sometimes they can be ignored, and sometimes they may need correction. Recently a fellow sent in a comment that is a good example of something I found to be rather problematic. Normally his comments are pretty good, but this was – sad to say – not too good at all.

In a short comment he managed to get quite a few things wrong – and unbiblical as well. I could have binned it, or I could have posted it and offered a short reply. But as this is my site, I can, if I so choose, deal with such things in longer articles. Thus my response here. In response to a recent article I penned on the need to give warnings, he said this:

You seem to have conflated with world with Israel. All the OT warnings post Abraham are to Israel. Israel, God’s people to bring the Messiah. None of us live in a country that is any way like ancient Israel in this respect. We all live in lands were Baal worship is the main religion (I speak figuratively).
Our calling as the church is not to return our countries to their ‘true’ calling, they don’t have one. It is to proclaim the gospel, as Paul did on Mars Hill: respectfully, critically, deeply thoughtfully – that is, not ranting Bible passages at people to whom the Bible means nothing – and with a profound understanding of the mindset of the times.
Anything else we oppose on the basis of the things internal logic: this applies to freedom of speech, climate, Covid, the endless deceits of politics and the aggrandising power grabs of the rich and powerful.
Indeed we are in the end time. The end time started with the Resurrection wherein our job is to make disciples.

Oh dear, there are a number of things wrong here. He is at least right in his final sentence: the last days have been with us since Jesus first came. But most everything else really does need to be challenged – and corrected. First, I am not conflating Israel and the world. But the idea that only Israel could be warned and rebuked and no one else is simply wrong – big time.

Indeed, this fellow needs to actually read the Old Testament carefully, especially the prophets. Constantly there are words of rebuke and warning given to pagan nations. Consider some of these passages where a prophet took on ‘the world’ with warnings and rebuke: Is. 13-21; 23,24; 34; Jer. 46-51; Eze. 25-32; 35; 38,39; Joel 3; Amos 1,2; Zeph. 2; Zech. 9;12.

Sometimes pagan individuals are warned and rebuked, as Abimelech in Gen. 20 – he too was under the law of God. And sometimes entire prophetic books are devoted to rebuking and warning pagan nations, such as Nahum (which deals with Assyria), and Obadiah (which deals with Edom). Yet my critic evidently thinks these prophets of God were wrong to make these warnings!

And I of course nowhere said nations we live in today are like ancient Israel. But so what? Neither was Assyria or Babylon or other pagan lands back then. Yet God was more than willing to have his prophets speak out against these nations and their sins. Indeed, they were usually condemned for the same sorts of sins that Israel was condemned for. Moreover, often the very same language is used to both as well!

I do not mind being chewed out and rebuked – it happens all the time. But I do expect that the one doing it at least knows what they are talking about. When they run roughshod over the biblical data while attacking me, then I am not all that impressed to be honest!

And what in the world does “ranting Bible passages at people” have to do with anything? That is the sort of commentary I usually get from non-Christians. Is this fellow really suggesting that Wilberforce, for example, was wrong and just ‘ranting’ when he fought for Blacks and opposed the evil slave trade as he spoke to others about this – even to pagan MPs? Was he just plain wrong to do this, and should he have simply shut up, and just preached the gospel?

Preaching the gospel means sharing the entire counsel of God. That includes being salt and light, and standing up for righteousness even in a hostile world. To limit the gospel to individual salvation while ignoring everything else is foolish in the extreme. In fact it is unbiblical.

All we seem to be getting here is the logical fallacy of the false dilemma. The clear implication of this guy’s remarks is that we must choose one or the other: either we ‘preach the gospel’ (whatever exactly that means), or we be salt and light. But as the taco shell commercial rightly says in reply, ‘Why not both?’

Of course we are to do both, and it is ludicrous to try to force believers to pick one or the other. One might as well force airplane passengers to pick a plane with only a left wing or only a right wing. Sorry but I will always go with one that has both. But I have discussed this false dichotomy far too often already to have to repeat myself here.

Lastly, this idea that we cannot use biblical truth when dealing with pagans on social issues is problematic as well. First of all, the word of God is a hammer which we are to use boldly. Romans 10 speaks of faith coming by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Of course we can use Scripture, whether persuading people to come to Christ, or to affirm who God is and what he requires of us all.

Sure, there is a place for being prudent and careful in how one shares with non-Christians. If this guy had actually read hundreds of my articles, or read my books, he would have seen that I often use non-biblical language when it is appropriate to help build bridges to non-believers.

My books on homosexuality, abortion and euthanasia for example all have the same pattern: the first half presents all the secular social science data on these issues. That data can stand on its own, since all truth is God’s truth. But the second half of these books present the biblical and theological data. Both are vital and both can be offered.

I realise that a pagan may not like to hear Scripture, but I will present both: biblical truth as well as the truth and facts found in the social sciences, etc. I will not shy away from either. Those who insist we must ONLY share Scripture with unbelievers are just as wrong as those who say we never should use it with them.

So I must say I found this fellow’s comments odd to say the least, and just not all that helpful. Consider the second half of this article to be an example of me offering a bit of correction when I feel it is needed. It is hoped it will be received in the spirit it was given in. But when folks come to my site and offer rather strange and often unhelpful remarks, I will reply. Whether those words of correction will be embraced and have a beneficial outcome remains to be seen.

[1861 words]

3 Replies to “On Correcting Others”

  1. Another amazing article, thank you very much for you words and work.

    And praise the Lord for His amazing timing with this article, my wife and I were having a discussion on the idea in this article yesterday. It will help clear up some of the areas where my words were lacking in clarity.

    Than you again Bill.

    God bless.

  2. “All the OT warnings post Abraham are to Israel”??? Seriously?

    Do these people read their bibles?

    Excellent rebuttal Mr. Muehlenberg however you missed the most obvious example given by Jesus – Jonah to Nineveh – although there clearly are many examples you could choose from but this is a pertinent one given from Jesus.

    Yes we obviously do need to shine the light.

    Thank you again and keep up the good work. 😉

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