Correcting others is a sensitive topic that requires wisdom, discernment, and grace. As Christians, we are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), which means we must balance truth with compassion.
This article will provide a comprehensive overview of the biblical principles for correcting fellow believers. We will examine Jesus’ teachings, instructions from Paul, proverbs, and other Scriptures that give guidance on rebuking, admonishing, and restoring others.
- We have a responsibility to gently correct serious sin in fellow believers. This should be done in a spirit of humility, restoration, and love.
- Correction should be done privately first before involving others. The goal is restoration, not shaming.
- We must examine our own hearts first before correcting others. Do not rebuke while angry or self-righteous.
- Seasoned believers should correct younger believers patiently as fathers and mothers. Avoid harshness.
- Correction should be done for the purpose of godly edification, not tearing down. Be constructive with criticism.
- Pray for and forgive those you correct. Aim for reconciliation, not estrangement.
- Jesus on Correcting Others
- Paul on Correcting Fellow Believers
- Proverbs on Correcting Others
- Other Biblical Examples of Correction
Jesus on Correcting Others
Jesus gave clear instructions on the godly way to correct fellow believers in Matthew 18:15-17 (NKJV):
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
Jesus outlines a sequential process of four steps:
- Go privately first. The first step and ideal resolution is to speak to the person alone and point out their fault gently. Avoid shaming them publicly.
- Take one or two others. If private rebuke is ineffective, the next step is to take one or two other people so that the correction can be confirmed by witnesses.
- Tell it to the church. If small group rebuke fails, the situation may need to be brought before the whole church for collective correction.
- Treat them as an unbeliever. Excommunication is the final step reserved for those who persist in serious unrepentant sin. They are treated like unsaved outsiders until they repent.
The goal of each step is restoration and redemption. Only if the person stubbornly refuses correction is more serious action required. This pattern shows how God desires repentance, not punishment or humiliation (2 Peter 3:9).
Jesus also warned against judging others hypocritically in Matthew 7:1-5 (NKJV):
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
We must examine our own hearts before presuming to correct others. Do we have unresolved sin or ulterior motives? We forfeit the right to rebuke if we are hypocritical, greedy, resentful, or self-righteous.
In summary, Jesus calls us to correct humbly and gently, not from a position of spiritual superiority. The goal should always be restoration.
Paul on Correcting Fellow Believers
The Apostle Paul built upon Jesus’ teachings by providing additional guidelines for rebuking and correcting believers.
Rebuke Sin Boldly
Paul corrected fellow believers sternly when they were involved in public sin that compromised the gospel witness. He rebuked Peter openly for hypocrisy over eating with Gentiles in Galatians 2:11-14 (NKJV):
Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?”
Paul was not afraid to rebuke fellow leaders when the integrity of the gospel was at stake. He corrected publicly to set an example for other believers being led astray. However, his motivation was always to build up, not tear down.
While Paul could rebuke sharply, he also showed tender compassion when correcting those who were struggling or confused. He pleaded with the Corinthians to gently restore believers caught in sin in 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 (NKJV):
But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.
Paul urged patience and forgiveness for those ensnared by sin so that excessive sorrow would not crush their spirits. The body of Christ is called to restore gently, not condemn harshly.
Admonish as a Father
When writing to the Thessalonians, Paul compared giving correction to a father instructing his children in 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 (NKJV):
as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
Wise fathers correct firmly yet patiently, with the child’s best interests at heart. This pictures how seasoned believers should admonish younger Christians – not harshly like a drill sergeant but compassionately like a nurturing parent. The goal is their spiritual growth and maturity.
Reject Divisive People
While we should be patient and gentle with struggling believers, Paul said some corrupt people must be rejected to protect the church. He exhorted Titus not to waste time arguing with divisive heretics in Titus 3:9-11 (NKJV):
Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.
Not everyone receives correction humbly. After repeated admonitions, some must be denied a platform if they persist in promoting disunity and false doctrine. Wisdom and discernment are required to know when further rebuke is fruitless.
In summary, Paul modeled balancing grace and truth in correcting others. He rebuked strongly when the gospel was undermined but also emphasized patience, compassion, and forgiveness in most situations.
Proverbs on Correcting Others
Proverbs contain valuable wisdom regarding giving and receiving correction:
Do Not Rebuke Mockers
Proverbs caution us not to waste spiritual correction on those who ridicule and reject it:
Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you. (Proverbs 9:8, NIV)
Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse. (Proverbs 9:7, NIV)
Rebuke of any kind will be met with contempt and insults by those proudly clinging to sinful lifestyles and beliefs. We should focus efforts on those who have ears to hear correction.
A Gentle Answer Deflects Anger
Providing correction gently and tactfully is more likely to lead to repentance:
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1, ESV)
Gentleness pacifies anger allowing the Spirit to work in their conscience. Harshness blocks correction by provoking defensiveness and outrage.
Do Not Rebuke Angrily
We must check our own hearts first before correcting others:
Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you. (Proverbs 9:8, NIV)
Anger and resentment make correction less effective. Wait until emotions have settled before attempting to admonish someone.
He Who Listens is Wise
A teachable spirit that receives correction humbly pleases God:
Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray. (Proverbs 10:17, NIV)
Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise. (Proverbs 19:20, NIV)
The way of pride leads to destruction while the way of humility leads to wisdom. We must examine our own hearts first when given correction.
In summary, Proverbs contain timeless principles for balancing truth and love when correcting others. Harshness alienates while gentleness and patience have greater power to persuade.
Other Biblical Examples of Correction
There are many other examples in Scripture that reveal godly methods of correction:
Nathan Rebukes David
After David committed adultery and murder, the prophet Nathan famous rebuked him using a parable to expose his sin indirectly at first in 2 Samuel 12:1-7. David’s heart was pierced with conviction, leading to repentance. Nathan confronted boldly but with wisdom.
Priscilla and Aquila Instruct Apollos
When eloquent Apollos taught inaccurate doctrine in Acts 18:24-28, Priscilla and Aquila did not shame him publicly but took him aside and explained the way of God more accurately. They corrected privately and aimed to build up, not tear down.
Paul Confronts Peter
As mentioned previously, Paul corrected Peter openly only when public sin was undermining the gospel itself in Galatians 2:11-14. He was uncompromising regarding the integrity of the Good News.
Church Discipline in Corinth
Paul urged the Corinthian church to exercise discipline towards the man committing incest with his father’s wife in 1 Corinthians 5. Excommunication was a last resort to jolt the man into repentance and protect the church from leaven-like sin.
In summary, Scripture gives many examples of balancing grace and truth in the delicate task of correcting fellow believers. The ultimate goal should always be restoration and redemption.
Correcting others is a spiritual responsibility we cannot ignore. Fellow believers need loving accountability to spur growth in Christlikeness. However, it must be done with immense wisdom, patience, and humility. We must examine our own hearts first and correct only out of love, never spite, superiority, or resentment.
The Bible provides clear principles and real-world examples for how to rebuke and restore those who have wandered from the truth. When done correctly with the right motivations, correcting others can steer them back onto the righteous path and deepen unity in the body of Christ. We speak truth boldly at times but always with the ultimate goals of forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption.