When is it appropriate for a Christian to try to correct another Christian?
Correction of another Christian is a difficult topic. It can be very positive, as Proverbs 25:12 observes: "Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear." However, correction in the wrong context can also cause much trouble: "Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you" (Proverbs 9:8).
In our culture, people do not like to be told they are wrong. One of our society's favorite verses seems to be, "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matthew 7:1). However, the full context of this passage is important to consider. Jesus did not teach against correcting others. He taught against hypocritical judgment of others. He taught, "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (v. 5).
Before correcting another Christian, then, we should first evaluate our own life. Are we dealing with sin as needed personally? Once this area is addressed, then we can move forward to correct another Christian. When seeking to correct another Christian, Paul's advice is key: "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). Our goal is to speak what is true in a way that shows care and love.
In addition, Matthew 18:15-20 offers the biblical pattern of reconciliation regarding correction of a person who has sinned against you. First, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother" (Matthew 18:15).
If private confrontation is unsuccessful, the next step is to include one or two other people (Matthew 18:16). The next step is to involve your local church congregation (assuming the person involved is involved in your local church; Matthew 18:17). If this is unsuccessful, the person is to be treated as a "Gentile and a tax collector" (Matthew 18:18). In other words, this meant the person was to be treated as an unbeliever.
How would you treat an unbeliever? Even in a worst-case scenario, you would still treat the other person with dignity and respect. However, when a person is unresponsive to the pleas of many Christians seeking his or her correction, it may be that the person is not truly a Christian. Instead of close fellowship, the goal is then prayer and possibly evangelism. The goal is for the person to repent and again be part of the church.
Not every sin a person commits must be confronted, but ongoing or public sins often need to be confronted in the life of a believer. In these cases, we must speak the truth in love and utilize God's plan for reconciliation in an attempt to bring unity to the body of Christ.
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