Faithful are the wounds of a friend … amen?! Do you like THAT wisdom? Among a few pet-peeves in my ministry, one that continues to gnaw at me (too often with respect to others, and too seldom concerning myself) is this one, concerning professing Christians ~ most of those I know being convinced about inerrancy. So of course, they will agree (quickly, wholeheartedly, without reservation) about this theological premise: “I sin daily in thought, word, and deed. I am a desperate sinner ~ saved only by the wonderful grace of God.” True enough … so ~ what is my peeve?! That if a fool (like myself) should ever point out one specific sin of the millions, to such a professor ~ well, the battle is on, it is all-out war, and the defensive walls rise!
My discovery, point, and peeve is that it is evidently much easier to confess to the general principle of sin than to any particular ones: “I am a sinner in general … but not in the specifics.” This reminds me of a groaner of a joke: “I do not like shopping at general stores, because I cannot get anything specific!” My brothers & sisters, we must deal with our own specific sins before God, and we must be faithful concerning hard words with and for our friends. I am calling for a mutual ministry of admonition … that we would be ready, willing, and able to both give and receive. Some counsel:
1. Aim to receive all criticism and admonition as coming from God’s love and grace. John Calvin admonishes: If we will be judged by people here and now (that is, repenting and turning away from sins which are exposed by the ministry of other people in our lives), then we will not be judged by God for these same sins later.
2. But what if my critic is 99% wrong ~ and only 1% right ~ in his harsh analysis of me?! Well, thank God and your critic for that 1% … and deal faithfully with that part. God can use even an ill-motivated enemy to move along my sanctification. Paul was buffeted by Satan with many wounds; through these, God worked growth in Paul. Critics can expose our blind-spots and tenderize our hardened consciences.
3. Keep short accounts with everyone so that when rebuke-for-sin is necessary (either way), nobody is distracted to think that the rebuke is really about settling old scores (or using imagined slights as excuses for another fight).
4. How does it feel, to be rebuked harshly?! Does anyone really enjoy that? “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” (the GOLDEN RULE). The design of this RULE is that you should lead, in the right way. Notice, then, the pattern of Paul in so many of his epistles. Paul leads with encouragement, and ends the same way ~ even if the middle of his letter is heavy on rebuke. And even in that portion which must focus on the censure, Paul will mention his true affection (brothers & sisters; my little children). Paul treated even the Galatians & Corinthians with tenderness.
5. Recall your PEACEMAKER training?! Beware (especially within yourself) the equally poor responses of Fight & Flight … of murder or suicide … of running at the enemy to do vigorous battle or running away to hide (hiding sins and hiding feelings).
6. Is it possible ~ follower of Jesus Christ ~ that you are not close enough to anyone such that this co-ministry of hard, necessary words could even happen?! If true, this is an ultimate example of Flight: You so fear this kind of necessary and healthy admonition, rebuke, and criticism that you forego all human relating. You may imagine that you are avoiding pain, but it is merely a temporary respite, and much greater pain is soon to come.
7. Finally ~ in the midst of hard words, trials, tragedies, disappointments, conflicts, admonitions, and rebukes ~ even a few of these which are really not deserved (yet all of them are painful), a question always presses us from on high: Do I really want to become more like Jesus Christ (to be continually renewed after the image of the Son of God) or am I actually more interested in preserving my dignity, fighting for my rights, and staying true to myself (even if God is interested in transforming that self)? Our response to criticism and admonition may reveal our actual answer to this greatest of sanctification’s questions.
A final “hard word” (but I hope you do not think it is): It would be inappropriate for me to pass around a clip-board right now, asking who wants to sign up for this kind of HARD-WORDS CO-MINISTRY! Why would it be improper? Because you are already signed up for this, by virtue of Christ bringing you into His body (the church), and this is especially true for you official, communicant members who (know it or not) were thereby committing to this ministry of mutual blessing. So let us be faithful (and kind) ~ in the giving and in the receiving.