Many avoid coming to church, according to research (see my last posting), because of fear that they will be judged instead of well received. Some of their fear of judgment is really just a bad conscience that doesn’t want to be reminded of their sin; but in all honesty, there sometimes is some truth to it, too. That being the case, I thought it would be good for us to consider a few reminders, so that no one might be kept from salvation by anything that we might do.
Don’t be a stumbling block
Let’s be careful about our words, attitudes, and “looks”. Being careless of how people perceive us can become a stumbling block to those who who might otherwise want to investigate the teachings of Jesus. Now this is not to say that we must walk on egg-shells about sin, but it is to say that we really must avoid even being perceived to hold any sort of attitude like, “You will go to Hell over this, and you’ll deserve it!” Stumbling blocks, in the Bible, are people who tempt or otherwise cause other people to sin or stand in the way of doing what’s right. Jesus said, (Matthew 18:7) “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” A correction of sin is much more palatable and apt to “take”, when it is clear that we are broken hearted about the sin, not rejoicing in the condemnation.
Be careful of the reason you’re offering a critique
The difference between sinful judgment and appropriate correction often depends on the motive for the criticism. Some folks offer criticism, because it makes them feel better to put others down, to “tell them off”, not because they’re really trying to help. Always be certain that the reason for offering a critique is a sincere interest in the other person’s benefit.
Remember that only God’s word is binding; your opinions are not
Some Christians have a difficult time discerning between their opinions, tastes, and speculations and God’s word. It’s an old problem that Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14-15. What must be remembered is that our opinions (e.g., holidays, foods, and clothing) and traditional ways of doing things (e.g., meeting in church buildings, sermon before communion, etc.) is something different from the fundamental pattern of the New Testament (e.g., elements of communion, male spiritual leadership, or a cappella singing). Jesus taught, (Matthew 18:18) “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (the italics are my emphasis). Note that what is bound and what is loosed must be previously bound or loosed in heaven (i.e., by God); we’re not on our own to bind or loose as we wish. Application? Make sure what you correct in someone is really something that God would correct — book, chapter, and verse.
Remember that positive encouragement is better than negative critique alone
People who would like to change their lives for the better are often helped much more by specific things that they ought to be doing, not merely by “Don’t do that!” The inspired apostle Paul effectively instructed the church in Ephesus about moral living (Ephesians 4:22—5:10) with both “don’t” and “do” statements. And what makes the “do” statements all the more effective is when we congratulate and encourage people as they show growth and progress. There’s a thousand ways to do things wrong, that’s why simple criticism is so easy; but offering a positive “do” with encouragement to grow is a lot rarer — and more helpful.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care
The first reaction most folks have to correction is that the corrector is trying to be more hurtful than helpful, because in most cases that’s the way it is. That’s why a Christian’s motivation must be crystal clear — love. That’s why Paul commanded that we “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Whether it is made clear by the voice, by the attitude, by touch, by deeds of benevolence or generosity, by friendliness, by a smile — the message needs to be, “We’re here and we care” (hopefully, this sounds familiar). Because when it is clear that we care, the message (what we know) will be better heard and considered.