How successful have you been at trying to correct someone of some mistake they are making in life? There are tons of times when I am around people in all kinds of situations where I see something that they are doing that is causing them far more harm than good and I have a longing to offer correction, to help them be more productive in life. But I learned a long time ago that just because you see something that you feel sure is a mistake and needs correcting doesn’t mean that the other person is going to appreciate your correction or see any need to change what they have been doing all along.
So, what should you do? Do you just ignore the mistakes and go on? Sometimes that is probably the best thing to do when the mistake isn’t a big thing and will likely not do a great amount of harm. But what about the times when you realize the mistakes being made are going to lead to major problems and harm down the line. Imagine for a moment that it is in one of your adult children or grandchildren or maybe one of your closest friends in life and you love them dearly and can’t stand the thought of them going on in the same mistake, realizing where it will lead. There is certainly always a risk in correcting another person about anything. They may resent it. They may turn to ask you who in the world put you in charge of their life. They may even turn completely against you and tell others what a lousy friend you turned out to be. But what if the mistake is one that you realize will not only affect their life but the lives of their children or their marriage and you feel deeply you need to say something?
There is a Scripture in 2 Timothy 2 that I think relates to this very situation. In verses 22-26 Paul wrote to his young son in the faith to advise him as the evangelist in working with Christians. “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, skillful in teaching, 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, 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.” Paul had just explained to Timothy how to be a vessel unto honor in God’s house. So, how does this passage affect us in wishing to correct someone we love about something that we feel is extremely important that may affect their lives and their eternity as well as affecting the lives others around them?
Notice, it starts with a plea to make certain we are living the kind of life we are called to live by God before we start trying to correct anyone else. Paul told Timothy to flee from the way of life that was built on his passions and desires and pursue with all energy things like righteousness, faith, love and peace with others from a pure heart. It is always smart to start down the road of correcting someone else by doing some personal examination of our own lives first. I remember years ago witnessing a man that I liked a lot, who was extremely over-weight trying to correct a younger man for smoking. He was telling the younger man that it was an awful habit that would harm his body and became harder and harder to quit the longer you went on. He even explained to him how much it cost over the years to be a smoker. But his correction didn’t go over very well. The younger man looked at him and said, I think you ought to lose a hundred pounds or more before you start talking to anyone about a bad habit that could harm their health. Obviously the whole thing didn’t end well. Both were frustrated at each other and neither went away thinking they would change their lives. That doesn’t mean we have to be perfect to offer any help to another. But we can start by saying, “I know I am not doing everything right myself, but I wish you would consider what your actions are doing to you.”
Secondly, Paul challenged Timothy to avoid foolish arguments that simply bring on quarrels and don’t do any good. There are worlds of things in life about which we disagree with other people and think they are mistaken that aren’t worth arguing about. I think of all the silly arguments that go on all the time that change no one but simply alienate us from others around us. In that day they had tons of arguments about their pedigree. Trace your history back. Are you a real Jew? Such silly arguments seemed to dominate many people’s thoughts. Paul said, avoid all such arguments.
Third, don’t be quarrelsome, but kind to all, skillful in teaching and patient when wronged. It isn’t unusual to be hurt in life even by people we love and trust. But how we react to times of hurt will demonstrate more about us than how we react when everything is going great and people are treating us like we are something special.
Fourth, correct another person with gentleness. If a thing is important and affects the person and others in a horrible way, then be sure you approach it with a spirit of kindness and gentleness that will more likely bring change than a harsh confrontation where you try to argue the person into change. When we are confronted in a way that puts us down, we all tend to react by defending our actions and looking for things in the other person we can attack. But there are times when we all need correction. Imagine what we might have been like if our parents hadn’t loved us enough to correct those things in our lives that were wrong. One of the major things that stands out to me in this text is that if we correct a person with gentleness, “Perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.” When we are striving to be right with God ourselves and we long to help others to be right with him, God gets involved to help our correction lead to the changes that are needed. This demonstrates to me that before offering correction it is smart to start on our knees in prayer to God for his guidance and help so that it might have the right result. When God helps it may lead to the person escaping from the devil’s trap to find true freedom in Christ. Remember Jesus said, “If the son shall make you free, you will be free indeed.”
So, it is good to love another enough to correct wrongs that may lead them in horrible directions. But how I do that will make all the difference in the world.