By Jonathan Dodson
Loving correction is an important gospel ministry.
It can seem like a kindness to overlook sin, but it can also be the kiss of death: “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:5-6).
True friends love one another enough to inflict wounds, to point out the weeds in the garden. Enemies, however, hang out with us, flatter us, but never “risk the friendship” to confront us. Their love is thin. Often, they love being liked more than they actually love. It can be difficult to correct one another, but it is a matter of love.
More than love, correction is a matter of gospel integrity. When we correct, we not only promote the health and flourishing of brothers and sisters in Christ, but we also honor promote the gospel of Jesus:
“As I urged you…charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to speculations…and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Tim 1:3, 11).
Things contrary to the gospel infringe not only on individual pride, but also upon the glory of the holy Trinity. Correction is gospel ministry for the good of others and the glory of God.
Leaders are Responsible for Modeling Correction
Spiritual leaders in the church are responsible for the ministry of correction. Like parents in the family, the leaders of the church are responsible for loving, patient correction when disobedience arises. We should model gracious but firm, patient but clear correction to promote the beauty of the church:
Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim 2:23-25)
Correction should be done in humility, recognizing we could easily fall into the same sin. Rebuking with tenderness and genuine concern for others. This should be done, not as a way of exulting in “being right” but to gently lead others to repentance. Repentance, Peter insists, brings times of refreshing (Acts 3:20). Like a gust of cool air across the face, repentance guides us into the delightful presence of Jesus.
Correction is for Transformation: Ministry for Everyone
The gospel ministry of correcting, exhorting, and rebuking should be practiced by all because everyone is a priest in the kingdom of God: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal 6:1). The phrase “you who are spiritual” doesn’t refer to an elite group in the church. It simply means, you who have the Spirit, which is every, single Christian.
The aim of this ministry is always the transformation of a brother into the glory of the Savior. It is for our deep, abiding good and the glory of God. Therefore, leaders should call the church to become better gardeners—friends for glory—to one another.
Correction is for Protection: Ministry to Everyone
The gospel ministry of correction is also for the protection of the whole community, a way to care for the whole flock. When a flowerbed begins to show weeds, a gardener pulls the weeds in one area so that the weeds don’t spread. This way the whole garden can bloom in beauty. Similarly, correction in the church is for the protection of the church. We tend to the one to care for the ninety-nine, for the flourishing of all.
We can protect the flock through teaching and exhorting: “Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing” (1 Tim 6:3-4).
Teaching allows the authority of God’s Word to do its work. It places in check those who have an agenda other than the gospel. We must be cautious of those who crave controversy, quarrel over words, and create dissention, “He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth” (1 Tim 6:5). We correct to protect, to care for the whole church.
Jonathan Dodson is the founding pastor of City Life Church in Austin, TX which he started with his wife, Robie, and a small group of people. They have three wonderful children.