The Blessings of Correction!
Are you active in seeking the correction of others?
Do you earnestly desire to be corrected yourself?
Correction! When someone hears of correction, he may wonder how such a subject can be a blessing as our title has it. But if God has given us a great amount of instruction on how to correct others and much instruction on how to respond to the correction of others, we can know that God considers admonishment, reproof, rebuke, and correction to be vital to our life and work as Christians. Others can be blessed through our correction of them and we can be greatly blessed in rightly responding to others correction of our own faults and failings.
The world looks at this subject in a very different way. People around us have little interest in correcting others, for they have the relativistic and post-modern attitude that says everyone is entitled to his or her own beliefs and everyone may live by any moral standards they choose. People also generally are not at all interested in being corrected by other people. They think that they have a right to their own beliefs, their own morality (or immorality), their own lifestyle, and their own worldview.
But what does God say about this subject? What has He revealed in His divine Word? We invite you to read the following pages to receive a brief survey of what Scripture says about admonishment, reproof, rebuke, and correction. You will learn how important this is to our Lord God and why it should be important to you and me as well.
How much do you value truth? How much are you willing to seek truth? Do you have a sincere, heart-felt passion to know Gods will and walk in it, regardless of personal sacrifice on your part? How much are you willing to lay aside mistaken ideas, views, beliefs, and life patterns if you could be shown a better way and clearer truth? These are questions that we should ask ourselves as we think of the desire and need for correction.
Correction Needed for Change and Growth
If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we are not where God wants us to be. He wants us to grow and change and be more tomorrow than we are today. In fact, the Christian life is one of changeextensive, difficult, inner change and growth. This is what the Word of God describes. Paul wrote, ”We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This transformation requires knowledge and requires change. Do you welcome such transformation?
The apostle also wrote, ”Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Are we seeking to be transformed by the renewing of our mind? This too requires learning, knowledge, and change. Peter admonishes us: ”Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Are we actively pursuing this kind of spiritual growth in our life?
We know that this kind of inner change of character and outer change of behavior, requires extensive personal involvement on our part. Peter tells us: ”As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” (1 Peter 1:14-15). On the one hand, we are not to be conformed to our past life or to the world around us. On the other hand, we are to actively seek to be holythrough the power and enablement of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13).
We must remember that this personal growth is not merely self-effort, but it is an effort with God working in us to sanctify us and change us according to His Word and will. Paul explains this connection in Philippians 2:12-13: ”Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. God is at work in the truly obedient believer. God grants us to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:16).
We have seen that our growth and transformation comes through our own willingness, desire, and effort to change. But we must always bear in mind that “God equips us in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight” (Hebrews 13:21). Both personal growth in holiness and Gods inner power through the Holy Spirit come to us through Gods divine Word. This is why Paul could tell the Ephesian elders, ”Now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). It is Gods Word that is active in our spirit and mind that enables us to grow in holiness and Christlikeness by the power and strength of the Holy Spirit.
Giving and Receiving Admonishment
But is this all there is? Is there nothing further than personal effort, God’s strength, and Gods Word? There is another important component in our own personal growth and in our efforts to bring others to the point of change and growth. This has to do with personal sharing of truth with others and receiving truth from others. If we overlook this, we do so at our spiritual peril. How does this work?
Again and again in Scripture we are commanded to share the truth with others for their own good and growth. Notice a few admonitions. Paul wrote, ”Concerning you, my brethren, I myself am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14). The term admonish is from the Greek noutheto, meaning “to put in mind (from nouthethes and this from nous [mind] and tithemi [to place].”[i] It may be translated as admonish, warn, instruct.[ii] Lawrence Richards states that the Greek means “to warn or advise and to instruct. The noun form, nouthesia is translated as admonishment and has the idea of warn or warning, or instruct or train. ” He points out that we get the sense from Scripture that admonishing is a ministry calling for much warmth and closeness. He goes on to state, “When we love our brothers and sisters and have a genuine concern for their well-being, we can hardly hesitate to encourage them to live godly lives and thus bring glory to the Lord.” [iii] Giving admonishment to others is essential to their spiritual growth, and receiving admonishment is necessary to our own spiritual growth.
Admonishment and Correction Needed
From Genesis to Revelation, God emphasizes the need to receive admonishment and correction from others. He also stresses the importance of giving this to others, for their good. After the first sin, God encountered Adam and asked him penetrating questions to awake his conscience (Genesis 3:8ff). This was correctionand it was needed. After Cain killed Abel his brother, God confronted Cain and emphasized the seriousness of his sin of murder. Sadly, Cain didnt repent (4:5ff). But this was needed reproof.
As we come to the New Testament, we notice that John the baptizer rebuked Herod, for John had been saying to Herod, ”It is not lawful for you to have your brothers wife” (Mark 6:18). The king refused to repent and eventually took Johns life (vv. 26-29). On one occasion, Jesus rebuked Peter because of his expression of words that would have subverted Christs mission on earth (Mark 8:33). After His resurrection, Jesus walked with two disciples to Emmaus, and said to them, ”O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:25). Sometimes people need to be awakened to their spiritual needs and knowledge of God’s plan. This is part of the rebuke, reproof, and correction process.
In the remainder of the New Testament writings, we often read of both giving and receiving admonishment and rebuke. Paul writes, ”Admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Our admonishing, encouraging, and helping must be done with a patient and kind attitude. Yet sometimes we must encounter those who are obstinate in their disobedience. In such cases, Paul would say, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret” (Ephesians 5:11-12).
If certain false teachers are hard and obstinate, Paul says that they should be confronted with severity. He states: ”There are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for sake of sordid gain. . . . For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:10, 11, 13). While some people are to be confronted with gentleness, these men must receive a different response. They are to be silenced and are to be “reproved severely” (NASB) or sharply (ESV, NET Bible).
The Scriptures Needed in Correction
We are not to use our own wisdom or expertise when we speak to others, but we must always use the Scriptures as our source of truth. Paul wrote, ”All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Word of God should be used to teach another what is right and truthful. It should be used to admonish or reprove the person for his wrong beliefs and behavior. It must also be used to correct and restore the person to the right way. And, finally, the Scriptures should be used to train the person in the way of righteousness. The result is that one may be outfitted for every good deed.
Doctrine. The divine instruction or doctrinal content of both the OT and the NT. . . . The Scripture provides the comprehensive and complete body of divine truth necessary for life and godliness. . . .Reproof. Rebuke for wrong behavior or wrong belief. The Scripture exposes sin (Heb. 4:12,13) that can then be dealt with through confession and repentance. Correction. The restoration of something to its proper condition. . . . Instruction in righteousness. Scripture provides positive training. . . in godly behavior, not merely rebuke and correction of wrong behavior.[iv]
This shows how vital the written Word of God is in the process to maturity and holiness and, significantly, this passage shows how the Scriptures are to be used by both us and others to bring about this desired end.
Even the old covenant writings were used in admonishment and correction. We read, ”The commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light; and reproofs for discipline are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). David also writes of the benefits of the Word of God to his life. With regard to the law, testimonies, precepts, and commandments, David says, “By them Your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:11). Although some may react against the instructions of the Lord, we need to be warned by them for our own good.
Paul tells Timothy how he is to use the Word of God in his life. The apostle says, ”Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). Notice that the reproving, rebuking, and exhorting must be done with the right attitudewith patience. Paul also gives this instruction: “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,, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25). The Word is to be used in this correcting admonishment. No fallible speculation will suffice.
If you are driving the wrong way on a one-way street, wouldn’t you want to be warned? If you are learning a new math procedure, wouldn’t you wish to be corrected for your mistakes? If you have a serious disease, wouldn’t you want the doctor to inform you of the danger? We immediately answer Yes. In a similar way, if we need spiritual correction, we should greatly welcome it so that we might not be guilty for doing nothing.
The Need to Share Truth with Others
Again and again in Scripture, we are urged to communicate truth with others that they may correct their belief and behavior. In the Law of Moses, we read: ”You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17). The ESV puts it this way: ”You shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. This passage probably has to do with a situation in which one who refuses to reason frankly with his neighbor, helping him to see his sin, would share in the guilt of the neighbors sin when it is committed; it might also suggest that to fail to reason frankly will result in bitter feelings that will overflow into sinful action.” [v] This should give us a great motivation to share truth with another for his good.
The Hebrew writer rightly says, ”Encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called Today, so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (3:13). The term encourage here is from the Greek parakaleite, meaning ”to call on, entreat, and also, to admonish, exhort, to urge one to pursue some course of conduct (always prospective, looking to the future, in contrast to the meaning to comfort, which is retrospective, having to do with trial experienced.)” [vi] In view of the deceitfulness of sin, we should earnestly encourage or admonish other believers that they might repent and make corrections in their life. Likewise, in light of this sin, we should openly welcome the admonishment of others lest we be deceived and remain in sins deadly grasp!
The Desirability of Receiving Truth from Others
Not only should we be willing to share truth with others, but we should value truth ourselves. One of the greatest expressions of love that a person may give to me is to point out my sin, the need of repentance, and the importance of change. Gods Word counsels, ”Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:5-6a). How often we overlook this basic truth. It is one thing for a friend to say that he loves me; it is another thing for that person to demonstrate his love by correcting me if he finds a fault in my life! This passage says that such a friend will wound us, this is true, but he is faithful as he does this loving deed!
Open rebuke affords a person the chance to reflect on the course of the faith he or she is walking, where hidden love perceives but fails to communicate the possibility of such a need. The wounds of a friend are meant to cut to the heart for the good of the person.[vii]
We should highly prize a friend’s willingness to point out our errors and failings (providing this is not done in a critical and harsh way). ”He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue” (Proverbs 28:23). Have you not been favorably inclined to a person who ventured to rebuke you for one of your failings? If we value truth and sincerely desire change toward increasing holiness, we will definitely crave this correction more than a false friend who flatters us hypocritically.
Another statement about receiving admonishment would be Ecclesiastes 7:5: “It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than for one to listen to the song of fools.” Do we honestly want another person to rebuke us if we really do need it? This is the only way we can correct wrong behavior and grow closer to God’s will. Another reason to welcome a friends admonishment and rebuke is that we will grow in wisdom through the encounter. “He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise” (Proverbs 15:31). Do we react to such reproofor do we encourage it so that we might have life and wisdom?
We may respond to such admonishment in one of two ways. We may either love the reproof because of the spiritual benefit it brings to us, or we may react to the reproof and express our ignorance. Note how this is expressed: ”Whoever loves discipline [or instruction] loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1). If we want knowledge as sincere followers of Christ, let us open ourselves up to spiritual correction.[viii]
Proper Attitudes in Giving and Receiving Admonishment
Suppose that you tell your wife, I love you! This is a fitting, desirable, and normal sentiment, isn’t it. But the statement will mean nothingless than nothing if your heart did not have a genuine, sacrificial love for your wife. The attitude you have when you say something makes all the difference in the world. You must have sincere love or unhypocritical love in order for your words to mean anything and in order to warm the heart of your wife.
The Lord wants us to admonish others especially those close to us, those in our family, and those within the family of God. But He wants us to have pure motives and a sincere heart as we do this admonishing. Notice a few passages that show us this inner attitude that must accompany an outward admonishment:
Spirituality and Gentleness: ”Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you will not be tempted”(Galatians 6:1).
Kindness, patience, and gentleness: ”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, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
Sincerity and lack of hypocrisy: ”You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brothers eye” (Matthew 7:5).
Love: ”Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed” (Proverbs 27:5).
Righteousness: ”Let the righteous strike me, it shall be a kindness” (Psalm 141:5).
Love and Gentleness: ”What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Corinthians 4:21).
Brotherliness: ”Do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:15).
Obviously, the Christian should manifest the entire spectrum of spiritual qualities mentioned in Scripture. The fruit of the Spirit enables one to admonish and correct another person with the right spirit or attitude.
Being Open to Correction and Change
Since God uses other people to show us our faults and help us to effect change in our life, let us openly welcome this for our own good! Let us never refuse to be corrected, never reject someones admonishment, or never take lightly the critical comments of another person. While it is easier to be corrected by a kind and gentle person, let us even welcome someones harsh or unkind criticism. It may be that we can even learn something of value from a rebuke that we consider unjustified and unfair. Let us have a heart to receive correction! So much value may come from negative comments from others. What we may consider negative may actually include some helpful admonition that could improve our walk with the Lord and make us a better person.
Suppose that you were walking on a sightseeing journey in a large city. You don’t know the city well and have tried to plan your walk with a map. Now imagine that someone stops us and asks us where we are going. We explain and the person tells us that it would be better to go down two blocks, travel three blocks and turn right to see a famous landmark and to then travel a block to the left to visit a beautiful park. This person happens to be a policeman who has served in this city for twenty years. Would it be wise to follow the kind officers directions? Indeed, it would. Otherwise, we might wander around in confusion and even walk through dangerous neighborhoods. Likewise, we just dont know everything about life and God’s will and if someone with a better knowledge can share some truth to us, let us welcome the admonition!
The Scriptures frequently emphasize the benefits of receiving counsel and admonition. Notice this passage that we cited before: “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:5-6a). This speaks of love that offers us a rebuke and the faithful wounds of a friend. Yes, this rebuke may give us a wound but the outcome can be positive. Another passage we noticed earlier says it well: ”Let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me; it is oil upon the head; do not let my head refuse it” (Psalm 141:5). In this case, the admonition is likened to being smitten but the result is refreshing and positive. The discipling blows and rebukes of the righteous are the true kindness.[ix]
If we are wise and understanding, we will invite the admonitions of others so that we might grow. Solomon wrote, ”A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool” (Proverbs 17:10). If we have spiritual understanding, we will receive a rightful rebuke and it will go deep into our soul for our wellbeing and growth. Notice also the two responses to admonition: ”Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence” (Proverbs 15:32, ESV). Again, we see the great benefits to being open to admonition. ”He who regards reproof is sensible “(15:5b). Notice another vivid verse of instruction: “Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence; reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge” (19:25, ESV). “A scoffer doesnt learn at all, the simple will learn by seeing, but a wise person simply needs a word to learn.” [x]
The follower of Christ who really values God’s word and His will may find opportunities to learn and change from many sources. The key is to be open to Gods will communicated through others. James tells us that ”the wisdom from above” is reasonable (3:17). This may be translated as ”willing to yield” (NASB margin and NKJV). It may also be rendered as “open to reason” (ESV), ”accommodating” (NET Bible), or ”open to persuasion.” [xi] The original term described someone who was teachable, compliant, easily persuaded, and who willingly submitted to military discipline or moral and legal standards.[xii] We can see the value of having this teachable spirit if we would have Godly wisdom. Do you have a worldly wisdom that resists reproof and correctionor do you have this spiritual wisdom that is willing to be persuaded when in the wrong?
Only a few days ago, I was corresponding with a friend and I received a letter stating the person’s reluctance to write and point out what was perceived to be an error in my beliefs. This is the way the letter began:
I hope that you will not be offended at all by my comments. This has been something that I have held back for a long time now — partly because of not wanting to hurt or offend you, and also because of the deplorable spiritual state that I have found myself in over and over for lack of obedience. However, I believe that it would be best to tell you what I really think at the risk of offending you and also at the risk of you thinking that I am a hypocrite for my comments because of the way that I have been living. . . . First, I believe that you are genuinely deceived pertaining this matter. The reason that I believe that, Richard, is because frankly I just don’t believe that you see this accurately. . . .I am going to quit here for now, but I am definitely open to further discussion about this matter. I just don’t want to engage in any quarrel with you, but debate is fine.
I wrote back to the correspondent and said that I am glad that she wrote and invite her or anyone else who believes that I should be corrected in any matterwhether beliefs, teachings, or action. I told her that I sincerely and earnestly want correction if anyone should think that I need it for this is the way to learn, evaluate what we believe, and to know more of Gods will. Paul wrote to his son in the faith, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching” (1 Timothy 4:16). Others may see something that I don’t seeand I want to see and understand. On the other hand, if the other person is seeing something inaccurately and wrong (as I believe this person was), then I would have the opportunity to clarify the issues so that truth may prevail. If the other person values truth as much as you do, then both the corrector and the corrected will benefit.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will take every opportunity to seek counsel and run after instruction (Matthew 5:6). If we value God’s righteousness, we will be willing to endure whatever reproof or rebuke may be needed. We need the same attitude as the noble-minded Bereans. Paul came to this town and proclaimed the message of salvation to them. How did they respond? Did they react? Did they reject? Did they ridicule? ”These were more noble minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Although this is speaking of the message of salvation itself, the same principle is true for any Biblical truth that someone may bring to our attention. Do we receive the word of truth they bring, do we have great eagerness in being open to the truth, and do we examine the Scriptures to determine whether the word they bring is actually true?
The two possible responses to correction are vividly set forth in Proverbs 9:7-10:
He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself,
And he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you,
Reprove a wise man and he will love you.
Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser,
Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Notice the response of the scoffer. The scoffer will insult the person who approaches him with admonition. He will also hate the one who offers a legitimate reproof. We have probably all known people like this. We approach a person with love and kindness and with a sincere desire to help by admonishing the person. Maybe we want to share with the person a sin we have noticed in his life. Or we want to help the person eliminate a fleshly attitude, a carnal disposition, a wrong view, or a compromising behavior. But instead of receiving our correction, the person reacts. He may clam up and refuse to speak. He may withdraw from us and refuse to have contact with us. He may be hurt for he is unwilling to admit his error and his opinion of himself is so high that he is refuses to acknowledge that he is wrong. Instead of solidifying a relationship, the offended person rejects us and obstinately remains in his error and sin.
On the other hand, notice the very different response of the Godly and righteous person who values knowledge and is open to change. Scripture says, “Reprove a wise man and he will love you” (v. 8). If a person has spiritual wisdom, he will love the person who brings a word of reproof! He recognizes that God could be using the reprover or admonisher for His purposes, to bring about a greater conformity to His will and ways. Instead of hating the admonisher (as the scoffer did), the wise person will love the admonisher for he represents the opportunity to learn, to grow, to better understand God’s will, and to improve ones own character. Again, the passage shows the connection between admonishment and growth in knowledge: “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser, teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning” (v. 9). This shows a connection between being a wise person who craves more knowledge and the righteous person who will grow in learning. They go hand in hand. The truly wise person, with God’s wisdom, will be a righteous man, and a righteous man will have spiritual wisdom. The important point is that this person will be very open to the reproof and correction of another person.
Reaction and Rejection of Admonition
Although admonition can and should be a positive experience, we know that not everyone sees it this way. In fact, probably most people either neglect admonition, or react to it, or totally reject it. Admonition seems to be saying that there is some defect in our knowledge, out behavior, or our characterand we need to change. Most people resist change, thus they resist those who imply that they need to change.
Scripture has much to say about this negative reaction to admonition and correction. Proverbs personifies wisdom that has been rejected (1:28-30, 33):
Then they will call on me, but I will not answer;
They will seek me diligently but they will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the LORD.
They would not accept my counsel,
They spurned all my reproof. . . .
But he who listens to me shall live securely
And will be at ease from the dread of evil.
Notice that some people hate knowledge, will not accept wisdoms counsel, and spurn reproof. All too often this happens, even among those who profess to be Christians. Another description of this reaction to counsel is found at Proverbs 5:12-14:
And you say, How I have hated instruction!
And my heart spurned reproof![xiii]
I have not listened to the voice of my teachers,
Nor inclined my ear to my instructors![xiv]
I was almost in utter ruin
In the midst of the assembly and congregation.
Doesn’t this give a fitting picture of those who refuse to listen to reproof whom we have known! We may want to point out a sin in a person’s life. Or we may want to share with a person how his lifestyle conflicts with some basic aspect of the Word of God. Or we may notice that a person is living with moral compromise. Thus we sincerely and kindly approach a person, but there is a clear reaction to our entreaties. As the scripture above says, some people seem to hate instruction. They spurn reproof. They do not listen to teachers or teaching. They do not incline their ear to the correction. And the end result is that they arrive at utter ruin.
We have already discussed Proverbs 9:7-10, where there are three reactions to correction. The reactor will give dishonor to the reprover (v. 7a), he will insult him (v. 7b), and he will hate him (v. 8a). Instead of offering hearty thanksgiving for this admonition that could potentially help and bless, the one who reacts to it will suffer harm. The one who needs correction will both hate and separate himself from anyone who could help: A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise (15:12). The person may desperately need the knowledge of sin and righteousness you can share, but they would rather go to those who will agree with their moral or spiritual compromise.
What kind of result comes to one who does not accept honest correction but instead reacts to it? First, Scripture says that he is not wise: ”Whoever loves discipline [or instruction] loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid!” (Proverbs 12:1). Even death awaits one who will obstinately react to instruction: “Grievous punishment is for him who forsakes the way; he who hates reproof will die” (Proverbs 15:10). A special warning is given to one who continues to resist sincere admonishment and correction:” A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy” (Proverbs 29:1). The disastrous effects and results of insubmission to honest reproof and correction are great! Lets make sure that we dont fall into this carnal reactionary trap!
Why We Should Value Correction
We have already stated that we should earnestly desire the sincere correction that other people may offer to us. This is seldom given. And it is seldom received. It would seem that people are more likely to gossip about another or slander another than come with a loving and kind attitude to point out our errors. If you have a friend or friends who are willing to point out your failings (in a kind, gentle, and truthful manner), you are rich indeed. Notice a few benefits that come through sincere correction:
1. We can learn of our blind spots that we formerly did not see.
2. We can glean the insights of others who know the Scriptures.
3. We may be able to see how certain Biblical passages and teachings bear on our life situation.
4. We can be warned of our spiritual state if we have come to a point of apathy or carelessness.
5. We can be encouraged to look at our situation in life differently.
6. We can have called to our attention certain faults that another sees but we have overlooked.
7. We can be exhorted to greater love and good deeds.
8. We can be admonished to look at our heart and life more carefully.
9. We can be shown our character defects and our lack of Christlikeness in some measure.
Obviously, not only can we be benefited through the correction that others offer us, but our own correction of others can be just as valuable to them. No one can view his own life infallibly. Jeremiah observes, ”The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9). We also read, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26). Since we can’t fully know ourselves, it is wise to be open enough to consider whether another person can see what we cant see. While it is true that some people may be entirely mistaken in their view of the situation, we should at least be willing to consider their sincere insights. Notice this passage that encourages daily encouragement and admonition:
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called Today, so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end (Hebrews 3:12-14).
Reproof and Correction in Scripture.
Scattered throughout Gods Word we see examples of reproof or admonition.
· Samuel the prophet rebuked Saul, the king: ”You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you. . . ” (1 Samuel 13:13).
· Nathan the prophet rebuked David the king: ”You are the man. . . . Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight?” (2 Samuel 12:7-9).
· Elijah the prophet rebuked Ahab the king: ”I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the LORD” (1 Kings 21:20).
· Elisha the prophet rebuked Gehazi his servant: ”Did not my heart go with you, when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Is it a time to receive money and to receive clothes and olive groves and vineyards and sheep and oxen and male and female servants? Therefore, the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever” (2 Kings 5:26-27).
· Hanani the seer rebuked Asa the king: “The eyes of the LORD move to and fro thought the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars” (2 Chronicles 16:7-9).
· Zechariah rebuked the people of Israel: ”Thus God has said, Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you” (2 Chronicles 24:20).
When we come to the New Testament, we also find examples of reproof and correction:
· John the baptizer rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees: ”You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7).
· John the baptizer rebuked Herod the king: “It is not lawful for you to have your brothers wife” (Mark 6:18).
· The repentant crucified robber rebuked the sinful robber: “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” (Luke 23:40).
· Peter rebuked Ananias: ”Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back some of the price of the land?” (Acts 5:3ff).
· Peter rebuked Simon: ”May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore, repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you, For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity” (Acts 8:20-23).
· Paul rebuked Elymas the magician: ”You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10).
· Paul and Barnabas rebuked the Jewish people of Antioch: “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles”(Acts 13:46).
· Paul rebuked Peter, ”If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? . . .” (Galatians 2:14ff).
These are just a few examples of reproof and correction found in Scripture, but others could be cited. We can conclude that from beginning to end, God expects us to correct others when we find sin and inconsistency in their life, and God expects others to correct us when they find such sin in our life.
Issues Relating to Reproof and Correction
Many questions may come to our mind as we consider this important Biblical topic, and not all of them are clearly answered on the pages of Scripture. This is when we must apply the principles of the Bible to such cases. Here are a few points to consider:
1. I’m not perfect at all. So how can I correct another person?
God doesn’t expect us to be sinless before we share truth with another person. He just asks us to be genuine. Christ commanded us to not judge another person hypocritically, judging a person for a minor fault when we ourselves are guilty of serious wrongdoing. Jesus then says, ”You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brothers eye” (Matthew 7:5; cf. vv. 1-4). The key is to remove our obvious sins and then we should freely correct another.
2. I know little about Scripture, so how can I know enough to point out another persons sins?
Not all of us are experienced Bible students, but we do know something about what Scripture says. We may not know all there is to know in the teaching of Christ, for example, but we may know that Jesus said one who divorces his wife, except for fornication, and marries another person, commits adultery (Matthew 19:9). If we know a friend who is considering such a step, we know enough to share this simple truth. Obviously, it should be done with care and wisdom, and it is far easier to share truth with one who is truly saved.
3. How can we reprove a person if we are not sure he has really sinned?
This must be done with caution and care. Ask the person if it is true that he believes a certain false doctrine. Or inquire whether the person is failing in a certain moral area of his life. Kindly, gently, and lovingly approach a person with a tentative attitude until you discover the truth of the matter.
4. What limitations are there if we seek to correct an unsaved person?
Since the person has no saving relationship with God, the person may not have much motivation to repent and change. While there are many times when we must reprove an unbelieverespecially family members, friends, or fellow-workerswe should not expect as much from the encounter. Yet love should motivate us to do what we can under the limitations.
5. How does correcting a fellow-Christian differ from reproving an unbeliever?
Within the body of Christ, we have the whole range of Biblical instruction to consider. We should have other brothers or sisters who likewise are interested in the offending brother and would like to see change. Further, Jesus says that we should approach a brother who sins and tell him his fault: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother” (Matthew 18:15). The Lord tells us what should be done if the brother refuses to repent (vv. 16-20). This kind of procedure cannot be implemented when an unbeliever is the offender.
6. Why is it important that we have the right attitude of forgiveness when we rebuke a fellow-believer?
Jesus tells us that we should forgive others. He said, ”Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, I repent, forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). We must have a sincere attitude of forgiveness when we approach such a person for we have been forgiven by God for Christs sake (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13).
7. How can one prevent the other person from reacting to our comments rather than openly responding positively?
This is one of the most difficult issues regarding offering reproof to another person. The most important thing that can be done is to make sure our motives are pure, our attitude is one of love, and our approach is one of gentleness and kindness. We have noticed these necessary qualities earlier. If they can sense our honest interest in the their welfare, they are more likely to respond in humility and repentance. If we, personally, have been guilty of the same sin or false doctrine, by all means share this with the person to establish rapport.
8. What basic principle can we keep in mind as we seek to offer sincere correction to one whom we notice in sin?
A missing note in our lives is that of the fear of God. Professing Christians in this country are far too casual in their Christian life and their approach to God. If we have a fear of God and if other children in God’s family also have a genuine fear of God, our whole life will be lived with a solemn and sober realization of our responsibility before Him. We will look at life with a seriousness that make confrontation possible and desirable. If we have a keen sense of sin and long to know and do the will of God, we will want to be corrected by other believers and we will see a need to correct others as well. Paul wrote, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11; cf. Hebrews 10:31).
9. What can we do when our attempts at correcting another person fail? So often I’ve felt helpless and hopeless when I’ve tried to share truth with another and they seemed to have little or no interest in either hearing or changing.
This definitely is a dilemma that we’ve all faced. If, for some reason, we don’t believe that the procedure of Matthew 18:15-20 is applicable or possible, then we can just earnestly and sincerely express our honest concern about the sin of attitude, the sin of words, or the sin of behavior that we see in the other person. We can express this with a broken and humble heart, pleading for the other person to open their heart to the truth and be willing to forsake the sin (Proverbs 28:13). And we can then commit it all to God in prayer, asking for Him to convict the person of his sin and need to change.
10. How do we practice this matter of correction with family members and friends?
This makes the issue of reproof and correction very practical. How does a husband seek to correct his wife who continues to smoke, regardless of the harm she does to the rest of the familyincluding her unborn baby? How does a wife seek to correct her husband who spends time watching sports on television, regardless of the laziness and carnal spirit that this reveals? How do parents correct their teenage children who do not obey the legitimate restrictions that are placed on them? How does a son or daughter correct the parent who uses bad language or has a bad temper?
While we cannot deal with every conceivable issue that can arise in a family setting, we can say that if the parties are true Christians, this simplifies the matter somewhat. Then the person can appeal to God’s Word to solve the offense. He or she can also bring the matter to a trusted leader who can help mediate a resolution. If the offender is not a Christian or is a fallen child of God, the problem is more difficult. Some unsaved people may still respect portions of the Word of God and one can use this Word to convict the heart of the unsaved person. Or maybe one can appeal to the unbeliever to do what he knows to be right, or what will be for the good of the family, or what will not harm the family members, or even what God would want.
11. How should we respond to a person who harshly and unkindly accuses us but has faulty reasoning in his accusations? What if his approach is demeaning and unloving?
It may not be possible to change the other person, although we can try, with the help of God. We must make sure that we dont dismiss the other persons accusations but take them seriously and consider them with the help of God. If we find them to be false, we should kindly share this with the accuser and point out the error in his thinking. We should make sure that we confess to any sin at all in our actions that the person has observed, while explaining that the remainder of his charge is unfounded and wrong. Ask him to reconsider this original charge, in light of your further explanation.
12. When someone approaches us with a belligerent attitude and says or writes in a demeaning way, can there be any positive result in this?
Indeed, even in such a circumstance, we can learn much. While we may not be able to change the heart of the accuser, we can be personally benefited by the encounter. I remember receiving a series of unkind and largely inaccurate letters from an abusive professing brother. Someone marveled that I thoughtfully read the false words of rebuke. I replied that I always want to be open to any counsel from another person, regardless of the person’s attitude. Even if most of the accusations may be untrue or misguided, I sincerely want to receive any small portion that may have an element of truth in it. I value truth so greatly, that I am willing to receive truth from anyone and under any circumstances. Buy the truth, and do not sell it, get wisdom and instruction and understanding (Proverbs 23:23).
13. What can we do if someone really doesn’t want to be bothered or isn’t interested in our attempt to correct?
This is a perennial problem that we must acknowledge. If the offense is serious enough and we are in a Scripturally-guided body of believers, we should follow the directions Christ gave in Matthew 18:15-20. We might also notice Jesus directions at Luke 17:3-4: ”Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; an if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, I repent, forgive him.”
Yet we know that there are sins that we might want to bring up to a person but the sin may be so small that we would do well to lay it aside at least temporarily.[xv] We may know that a person’s attitude is such that he seems unapproachable and it may be difficult to deal with his sin in such a situation. But we can still pray for the person to change. We can pray that God would give people like this repentance ”leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Although Paul does seem to be dealing with more weighty sinful matters in this case, the principle remains: let us pray that God would bring people to repentance and change even in more minor offenses, even when we cannot directly confront such a person with their sin.
Give Me the Truth!
Years ago I read a quotation that expresses a truth that I’ve emphasized again and again in my writing. It describes in a vivid way the attitude that should be in our heart if we are sincere truth-seekers and honestly want to know God’s will.
Give Me the Truth!
If you are my friend, if you are concerned about my soul, give me the truth. Do not flatter me. Do not praise my virtues while remaining silent about my vices. Do not fear the truth will offend me. Do not treasure our friendship, our friendly relations, above my salvation. Do not think that by ignoring my sins, you can help me. Do not think that being blind to my sins will prove you charitable. However I may react to it, whatever may be my attitude toward you after you have done it, GIVE ME THE TRUTH!
For the truth, and only the truth, can make me free from the shackles of sin, strengthen me in the pathway of righteousness and lead me to the joys of heaven. If I am wavering, weak, lukewarm, indifferent, neglectful; if I have been overtaken in a trespass; if I have been drawn into the pleasures of the world; if I have left my first love; if I have been led astray by error, or, if I have done none of these things, but simply need to grow in knowledge and then be edified, GIVE ME THE TRUTH![xvi]
If we have this kind of earnest longing for truth, if we sincerely want to know the will of God, and with a genuine fear of God, we will want to be open to truth wherever it may be found and whoever may present it. We need to know that God may use different ways to correct us, and some of those ways may not be what we would normally want. But regardless of God’s ideal, we can learn from another if only we will keep an open mind and a receptive heart to truth. Even if there is only partial truth, mixed with error, we may still be benefited.
If I can learn God’s will more fully, please correct me! If I can discover some aspect of God’s word that needs to be applied to my life, please correct me! If I can eliminate even one sin from my life, please correct me! If I can add even one virtue to my life, please correct me! If I can change some negative response or add some positive response, please correct me! If you can be used of God in some way at all, please correct me! Even if you have some faulty reasoning or have inferior attitudes in your reproof, please correct me! And please correct me in love!
Offering reproof to others and receiving reproof from others can be sensitive and difficult issues. But let us approach both of these with a serious concern for God’s will, God’s truth, God’s righteousness, and God’s glory.
[i] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament
[ii] Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.
[iii] Expository Dictionary of Bible Words.
[iv] The MacArthur Study Bible.
[v] ESV Study Bible footnote.
[vi] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary, s.v., Exhort, Exhortation.
[vii] ESV Study Bible note.
[viii] Those who wish to improve themselves must learn to accept correction; the fool hates/rejects any correction (ESV Study Bible note)
[ix] NASB Study Bible note.
[x] The simple learn by seeing a beating, but the wise take instruction from a simple word of reproof (ESV Study Bible note).
[xi] NET Bible footnote.
[xii] MacArthur Study Bible note.
[xiii] In old age he will look back and sadly acknowledge that he has played the fool (NASB Study Bible note)
[xiv] The NASB Study Bible note adds, In spite of the repeated urging to listen or pay attention to their instruction (1:8; 3:1; 4:1; 5:1).
[xv] Notice our booklet, Forgiveand Be Forgiven!
[xvi] Bill Crews, quoted in Is it Lawful? Edited by Dennis G. Allan, and Gary Fisher (Guardian of Truth, 1989).