It may surprise some readers to learn that the Bible both encourages and requires us to correct those practicing sin. More than that, it provides a blueprint for effective correction. The apostle Paul urges Timothy to “patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2b, NLT).
We, too, must exercise patience when correcting those overcome by sin and recognize that change is often a timely process. Because sin frequently prevents us from recognizing the damage it does to our lives we often resist the correction of others and even embrace outrageous excuses to rationalize our behavior. We rarely welcome corrective comments from friends and loved ones, no matter how well intentioned or helpful, because we prefer to remain in the mud, blithely unaware of or disinterested in the destructive path we are hurtling down.
On a separate occasion Paul offers succinct and instructive guidance to the Galatian church: “If another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are spiritual should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1, NLT). How we correct others makes all the difference. If we operate from a posture of self-righteousness or brash arrogance we accomplish nothing. Instead we are to correct in a spirit of gentleness and humility. That makes it much easier for the recipient to digest our counsel.
Such an approach accomplishes two things. First, it increases the likelihood the person we advise is receptive to correction – no one entertains condescending rebukes from those with smug dispositions. Second, it minimizes the risk we fall into the same or similar sin. Whenever pride taints our actions or motivations we place ourselves in a position of peril. Remember Solomon’s insight: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18, NKJV).
Keep in mind, though, that instances occur when a believer’s sin is so grievous or they are entangled so deeply that a gentle admonition is insufficient. Such cases require an urgent and forthright rebuke. Jude encourages us to make a distinction between the two. “On some have compassion,” he says, “but others save with fear, as if pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh” (Jude 1:22-23, NKJV). Of course determining when to act with bold urgency requires discernment. Absent guidance from the Holy Spirit we ought to avoid that approach.
Correcting someone overcome by sin is not easy; nor is it without risk. It is quite possible the person you rebuke, however gently and lovingly, severs his or her relationship with you. For that reason many conclude the effort is not worth it. But before you arrive at that conclusion I encourage you to listen to the words God gave the prophet Ezekiel. “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezekiel 3:18, NKJV). God holds us accountable when we fail to correct and rebuke those practicing sin.
In light of the Scriptural support for correcting those drowning in sin, why do so few of us do it? Many factors likely drive that decision but the most prominent is probably a desire to obey Jesus’ command, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1, NKJV).
Judgment and correction are quite distinct, however. The former involves condemning the accused, executing a sentence, and administering punishment. It is the sole province of God. In contrast, correction seeks to restore the wrongdoer’s relationship with the Judge.
If you know a friend or loved one ensnared by sin, who is either unaware of their condition or disinterested in the consequences, won’t you take time this week to come alongside and gently correct them? That faithful act of love may do more than change their life; it may change yours as well.