by Tim Hall
When confronting error, what is our ultimate goal?
Many a physical therapist has been cursed by their patients. Why are they inflicting such pain? Don’t they know that the patient is recovering from a painful injury or illness? They seem to enjoy the fact that they’re causing more pain as they go through the exercises.
No, the good physical therapist doesn’t enjoy causing pain. They know, however, that true healing sometimes involves pain. Scar tissue must be broken down so that a full range of motion can be obtained. Though putting weight on the healing bone is excruciating, there’s no other path to restoring strength to that limb. The goal of the physical therapist is not to weaken (debilitate), but to strengthen (rehabilitate).
Spiritual parallels can easily be found. A person is led astray by friends or smooth-talking representatives of an erroneous group. What then? “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1, NKJV). Attempts to recover the erring brother must be made, but let them always be made “in a spirit of gentleness”. Too much harshness might drive the person farther from the truth.
Paul spoke about this idea in 2 Corinthians 13. In this letter he had dealt with many thorny issues. The Christians at Corinth had demanded much of his attention with their errors, and he might have felt quite annoyed as he closed the letter. But he states his purpose in trying to correct them: “Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction” (2 Corinthians 13:10).
Paul could use sharpness when needed. He didn’t mince words when confronting false teachers. But let no one think Paul took pleasure in ripping someone. His goal was not to destroy, but to build up. To build the other up, however, sometimes demanded breaking down the scar tissue of error. (He used the same phrase in 2 Corinthians 10:8.)
Are there brethren who have the ability to slice their opponents with the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) and leave them bleeding? Yes, they can intimidate by their mastery and skillful use of the Scriptures. But is this God’s will for using his authority? Or is it not rather that we edify – build up – one another?
Error must be confronted, and sharpness is sometimes the method to be used. But may we never fail to seek, in the final analysis, the good of the one in error. To do that, we’ll speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
by Tim Hall