Joe Neal Pinion is a retired friend who lives in White, Georgia. Our relationship began during my first pulpit work in Adairsville. He and his wife would often invite me into their home for a meal, or just a friendly afternoon’s conversation. Joe Neal and I shared common interests — Indian artifacts, fishing, and gardening. Which brings me to my story …
Early one afternoon, Joe Neal decided to go out to his garden and cut some okra for supper. He had just harvested a few pods from a stalk, when suddenly a red wasp flew down the collar of his shirt and started stinging him on the back. His reaction was immediate — kill the insect before it could injure him any further. However, in his fervor to slap the wasp, Joe Neal forgot that he was holding a knife and inadvertently stabbed himself in the process! While he did eventually kill the offender, he also inflicted a rather considerable wound in the exchange. Ironically, Joe Neal did more harm to himself with the knife than the wasp could have ever perpetrated. (He required medical attention in order to mend the trauma from his self-induced stabbing.)
I’ve often reflected on that little footnote in Joe Neal’s life. In my thinking, it serves as a sort of metaphor for what sometimes happens in congregations of the Lord’s people today. See if the following sounds familiar …
False doctrine (2 Peter 2:1ff) is introduced to a local body of believers via the pulpit. The shepherds of said congregation recognize the “sting” of error and respond accordingly (Acts 20:28-31) as the Word enjoins them — with firm, and yet patient love (Acts 15:25a; 1 Corinthians 13:5a).
In the meantime, some over-zealous brethren, who don’t even attend that congregation, feel compelled to “help” in the wasp’s extermination. In their desire to keep the body poison-free, these self-proclaimed “protectors” overreact to the wasp’s attack. It’s not enough to quell the false teaching (Titus 1:11), they must also crush the false teacher with verbal assaults and personal attacks.
Unfortunately, the local body of believers is also slashed in the process. Faithful brethren are represented as “compromisers;” devoted Christians are labeled as “cowards” for not dealing more aggressively with error. Tragically, the exterminators mutilate the very body members they are allegedly trying to help. By their malicious and caustic attitudinal “jabs,” they slowly bleed the life out of the church. “There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword …” (Proverbs 12:18a). To them, the sword of the Spirit is merely a weapon of destruction (read their bulletins and papers and observe the weekly/monthly preponderance of attacks and warnings), and the body is treated as though it were a medical student’s cadaver rather than a living, feeling entity.
Many times faithful brethren turn toward more liberal and unsound elements in the church because those who claim to uphold and defend the truth do so with such over-bearing, self-righteous attitudes. Stab! Jab! Cut! As a result, faithful brethren begin to cower and recoil from the pain of these repeated stabbings. While they hate false doctrine, they hold a mutual hatred for false practice. (You can’t “knife” an entire congregation and say, “I love you” at the same time — Ephesians 5:28,29. It’s like telling your spouse that you love him/her while engaging in physical abuse). It’s impossible for the exterminators to have a church’s best spiritual interests at heart when brethren are smarting as much as from recurrent knife wounds as they are from a wasp’s sting.
Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying here — sometimes certain limbs and organs must be “excised” (Ephesians 5:11; Romans 16:17; 2 John 9-11) in the interest of the body’s survival (1 Corinthians 5:6; 1 Timothy 1:19,20). But, even then, it should be administered with the utmost of care (Ephesians 4:15), and only by those who are qualified (James 3:1-11) with sharp cutting instruments (Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:29; Proverbs 15:4; 21:23; 25:15).
No, error in the church must not be tolerated (Titus 1:10-13). Yes, false teaching and teachers are to be stopped (2 Timothy 2:14-18). Yes, gospel preachers are to be bold (2 Timothy 4:2; 2 Samuel 12:7). But the way to stop a wasp sting is not by verbally “carving up” the entire body (Proverbs 18:21), but rather by exposing the infected wound to the healing message of the Great Physician — by administering the Balm of Gilead. Tear down the wasp nest, when possible, and then help the body recover. Teach the truth (1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13). Nurse the wound (2 Timothy 2:24,25; 1 Thessalonians 2:7); don’t aggravate it further. Only then can the body begin to heal and grow strong (Acts 15:25,31).
“… The Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must BE KIND TO EVERYONE, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must GENTLY INSTRUCT …” (2 Timothy 2:24,25a NIV; Proverbs 10:18b; Genesis 13:8a).