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‘Full of Grace and Truth’
A Talk by Dusty Peterson  

(This talk was first given by Dusty at his local Fellowship in England. The two Bible readings for that meeting were Proverbs 15:3-14 and 3 John 1:1-8.)

INTRODUCTION  

Good morning everyone. For the benefit of those here today who don’t yet know me, I’m Dusty Peterson . I’m a software engineer by trade but I’ve spent the last six years studying God’s Word full-time and writing various Christian books and articles. (I’ve been a believer for 23 years– almost to the day as a matter of fact.)  

I don’t do a lot of speaking, so I hope you’ll be patient with me. As we heard earlier in the month, the ability to speak well in public is not related to soundness. A lot of very talented speakers today are false brothers, whereas the Apostle Paul admitted to the Corinthians that he was not a great speaker. I must say that, in my time, I’ve heard a lot of absolute rubbish preached, but it was often preached very capably. (After all, Hitler himself was able to beguile an entire nation due to his speaking ability.) What I’m trying to say is, please don’t determine the quality of my material by the quality of my presentation!  

May I also say that I’m delighted to be here. I mean that in both senses: Firstly, I’m happy to be here behind this lectern this morning (although I’m acutely aware that it is a very heavy responsibility indeed to bring teaching to the Body of Christ). I’m extremely grateful to the eldership of this church for trusting me and giving me this opportunity to bring what I believe the Lord wants me to say today…  

But I’m also very happy to be here in the sense of being attached to this Fellowship, and to have met so many good people so quickly.  

There are just a couple of ‘admin’ points for us before I get into the topic of my talk. First of all, please test everything I say. (As we also heard a few weeks ago, it’s important not to judge by the outward appearance, but it is important to judge my words. Please check what I say against holy scripture.) Secondly, I will happily take some questions at the end, so, if any queries occur to you as we go along, it would be great if they could be held on to until then. I hope that’s all right.  
 

PART 1: The NEED for correction  

Okay. When the Lord Jesus Christ was here on Earth with us, He was described as being “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ). Since His followers are called to be like Him (Eph. 4:12-20 etc), we all need to endeavour to be similarly full of grace and truth – and this is the title of my talk today. Earlier, I quoted the Apostle John saying “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth”. This is a really remarkable statement. It wasn’t unity he put first, or even faithfulness. It was truth. (Of course, the truth – i.e. the Bible – both commands us to be faithful and to seek unity, but it is truth which needs to be the basis of each. If anyone disagrees with that statement, I would urge them to read Part 4 of the first book I co-authored. [Please see endnote [1] for details.])  

The fact is that, no matter what a believer wants for his local church, or indeed what he wants from his local church, the most basic requirement for seeing that desire come to fruition – as long as it is a biblical desire of course – is truth. So, whether a person wants their Fellowship to be…  

  • A loving sanctuary for the People of God, or

  • A seriously effective house of prayer, or

  • A place where God regularly speaks and moves, or

  • A local example of a pure, betrothed, bride’ of Christ, or

  • A church capable of discipling folks to the kind of level that the Lord Jesus did, or

  • A Fellowship which sees the Lord adding to its number daily “such as should be saved”, or simply,

  • A fully-functioning part of the Body of Christ...  

...Whatever our individual dreams and desires for our local church, the key in every single case is for us congregants to increasingly know – and obviously obey – the truth. (Whatever we want for our own lives – again, provided that thing is biblical – is also achieved through knowing, and obeying, the truth.) Clearly it is rather hard for a person to obey the truth if they don’t first have a good grasp of the truth. The more we know the truth, the more we can obey it.  

The essential point I’m leading up to is that every Christian needs instruction and correction. We all need our brothers and sisters in the Lord to be watching out for us and to be prepared to point out truths that we are missing or ignoring. (Please note that I am talking here of correction regarding both doctrine and practice – i.e. our beliefs and our behaviour.)  

My talk today is about this subject of correction, and my thoughts have been organized into two parts. To begin with I plan to discuss the ways in which a Christian should try to receive correction, and then I want to look at the ways in which a Christian should try to bring correction to another. (My suggestions come from 23 years of experience of making a lot of mistakes myself and watching others make them as well. I therefore beg you to consider what I have to say, rather than unnecessarily repeating the same errors that I and others have made – and which any right-thinking believer would regret.)  
 

PART 2: RECEIVING correction  

The flesh hates correction. It therefore makes sense for me to approach this section of my talk by putting myself in the hot-seat and by telling you how I will endeavour to respond when I receive correction from anyone in this Fellowship. (However, I obviously believe the following principles should be applied by all believers.)  

BE THANKFUL  

The first point to make is that, if someone gives me correction, I will always seek to be thankful – i.e. to show gratitude. Why ought I to be thankful when someone comes up and criticizes me? There are three reasons I want to suggest here:  

(1) Firstly, I ought to be grateful because correction will enable me to be a better-equipped servant of the Lord. If I want to be a true, and growing, disciple then I will need correction (and even admonition) at times.  

(2) Secondly, I ought to be grateful because the flesh and the devil are always seeking to deceive us and take us away from the truth. If I give in to my flesh, or am fooled by the enemy, I may well need others to help show me my actual situation. (Indeed, I have come to believe that we Christians are designed to need our brothers and sisters to watch out for us – just as different parts of a human body are needed to protect and restore other parts so that they can do their job properly. God surely encourages us, in Proverbs, to have a “multitude of counsellors” for this very reason (Prov. 11:14 ; 15:22 ; 24:6). We all have blindspots or errors in some areas, and we all have experience and wisdom in others. We need to be prepared to share with, and accept from, each other in this matter so that we can all be spiritually healthy.)  

(3) Thirdly, I ought to be grateful for correction because God says that we must love the truth – and must therefore seek it – and that His People “are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). If I have an error in my theology then it will inevitably lead me to have a distorted view of God – which can only serve to distance me from Him. In Psalm 119 we are told to avoid “every false way”. In fact, it says nothing of the sort. The Psalm in question says we are to “HATE” every false way (see verses 104 & 128). It follows that I should love being helped to recognize false ways in my life.  

So, I need to be grateful to the person bringing the correction. I should also be grateful to God, for He says that we are to be thankful in ALL circumstances, even those which hurt (e.g. see Eph. 5:20 ).  

BE OPEN  

Next, whenever someone attempts to correct me, I will endeavour to be open to that correction…

In this regard, let’s go back to Proverbs 15, which was the first reading this morning. We’ve already seen, in verse 10, that “he that hateth reproof shall die” (not, ‘he that hateth reproof shall not store up much treasure in heaven’, or ‘he that hateth reproof shall lack friends’, but “he that hateth reproof shall die”). Very many of the other verses in that chapter of the Bible are directly relevant to this talk, but I’ll leave you to check the rest of them at your leisure. For now, I just want to mention one other – i.e. verse 32. It reads: “He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding”.  

It shouldn’t matter who the person bringing the correction is, I still need to be open to it. It shouldn’t matter to me if the person trying to correct me is well-dressed or not, eloquent or not, even sound or not. Regardless of what the person is like, if they try to bring me correction, I need to be open to it. Even if they are horrible in the way they present it, what matters most is whether the point they are making is legitimate or not. (An American friend of mine recently had someone ‘nuke’ him, as he likes to term it, for sending the person a criticism of a new fad with which they were getting involved. But this person focused entirely on the style of my friend's letter rather than facing up to the question of whether his points were right or not – yet it is the latter which is the most important issue.)  

CHECK IT CAREFULLY  

Next, if someone brings me correction, I will always endeavour to check it out carefully and to take it very seriously – even if I don’t initially believe the other person is right about the particular point they have raised.  

Now, I may be able to think of one or more scriptures which appear to negate the criticism being offered me, but, in order to encourage us to read the whole Bible, God has made a lot of individual verses rather ambiguous. [For proof of this, please see my talks entitled ‘Beware False Balances’ freely downloadable from the Bayith website (bayith.org).] Therefore, if I disagree with some correction because I think I know of a verse which gainsays that correction, I will take care to triple-check that my understanding of the verse, in context, does indeed line up with the rest of Scripture before responding with it.  

Even if I am certain that the correction on offer is completely wrong, I should still take it away and mull it over and check it against holy writ. It may well also be advisable for me to ask the other person for clarification – and/or for all the supporting Bible verses they can bring to bear. In truth, even if the correction is totally unfounded, it may still give me useful tips as to how I can pre-empt similar criticisms in the future. (What I mean here is that I may unintentionally have done something which, although entirely reasonable, did allow folks to misunderstand my actions. Perhaps I inadvertently wrote an ambiguous statement in a particular article – which enabled people to misconstrue my agenda. Even if my motives were entirely pure and what I wrote was fair, some tightening of my work can avoid anyone else from wanting to make the same criticism of me.)  

BE AMIABLE  

The fourth and final thing I will try to do whenever someone brings me correction is to be amiable. In a moment we will look at some advisable ways to bring correction, but the ‘bottom line’ is that, even if the person correcting me fails in all these ways, I still need to respond amiably and graciously. Why is this? Well, mainly because the Bible tells me to. Colossians says: “Let your speech be alway with grace”. But there is another important reason for giving this response. Let me explain by way of an example:  

You sometimes see people being ill-mannered to total strangers for no reason at all. Maybe they arrogantly push into a queue ahead of someone else, or perhaps they laugh loudly and viciously at a person nearby who has just had a misfortune. If you think about it, this sort of behaviour is ridiculous, because that ill-mannered person may come to need that same stranger’s help. Suppose the obnoxious person suddenly has an accident. The stranger who has been abused may well be seriously discouraged from aiding someone who has just been horrible to them without cause.  

This sort of thing happens quite a lot in the workplace. A person is unjustifiably sharp, or otherwise unpleasant, to someone in another department, apparently never thinking that they will probably need to ask that same person for a work-related favour one day. Won’t the abused person be significantly less motivated to help the individual who was ill-natured toward them?…  

In the matter of bringing correction, the same is basically true of Christians. If I am objectionable in my response to someone who was simply trying to bless me with correction, and if, later on, they are the only person to recognize some other problem in my life, I have shot myself in the foot – or possibly even dug my own grave – because my graceless reaction in the past will discourage the other person from correcting me again.  

And what if the person I have alienated goes on to inform other members of the church that I am difficult or disagreeable when challenged? Will that news encourage those other folks to bring me correction when I need it? I don’t think so. (I’m not suggesting that true Christians will cease to love a brother who is unpleasant when being corrected, but I am saying that it could easily tip the balance regarding whether the offended party is willing to put themselves in harm’s way again by bringing correction in the future. It might even distance them so much that they physically cannot spot their brother’s subsequent errors.)  

If we feel that someone we know has indeed become reticent to challenge us, it is wise to be pro-active and to reassure them that they need not be so. For instance, we can humbly ask them if they have any concerns over any area of our walk. This is just one simple way in which we can help show them that we are teachable after all.  

PART 3: BRINGING correction  

Okay. So much for receiving correction. What if the shoe is on the other foot and we need to bring correction? What is the most effective way to do that? (Notice I have deliberately used the word ‘effective’ here. We must keep the goal in view – the goal being to rescue the person from their error, or at least to leave them without excuse. The goal must never be to get the matter off our chest, or to make ourselves look clever, or anything like that. We need to make sure that our motivation is right. We must be careful not to correct others out of ‘religiosity’ or to ‘score points’. Just as the flesh hates to receive correction, so the flesh loves to give correction, so we have to make very certain that any correction we bring is given for godly reasons.)  

PREPARATION  

Before correcting another believer, we must do some preparation. For a start, we must check our facts. And by that I not only mean we must check to ensure that the correction we plan to bring is biblical (it surely goes without saying that it is essential we get this aspect right), but we must also check that the perceived problem does indeed exist in the other person. It is very easy to misunderstand a person’s actions, or to mishear things people say. We can often get wires crossed – especially if we have heard of the matter secondhand. And jumping to firm conclusions is extremely foolish and dangerous. We must be sure we know the other person’s side of the story before launching into correction. I cannot emphasize this point strongly enough.  

Another thing that I have come to realize is absolutely crucial, whenever bringing correction, is to pray before doing so. Even if it is a small, simple matter at issue, we must be careful not to act in our own strength. For all we know, the other person may be going through a terrible time at that moment, e.g. in their work life or family life, and even one wrong word can do a terrible amount of damage in such circumstances…  

I have also come to see that the enemy is very good at creating situations where one person is minded to bring correction to another at exactly the wrong time (and in exactly the wrong way – i.e. in a way which presses all the wrong buttons). The correction may well be legitimate, but if it is not handled in God’s timing or in His way then it can bring serious harm to the Body of Christ.  

Another reason we need to pray – and need to make sure we bring our correction in the way God wants for that specific situation – is that most people today seem, to a lesser or greater degree, to have a ‘spiritual blindness’. If a person has been taught an error in the past which has pleased their flesh and is something to which they have held for a long time – despite them being exposed to arguments which deny that view – they will almost certainly have developed a degree of spiritual blindness which will make it far tougher to correct them…  

Their understanding will be clouded, and they may well get angry and unpleasant when their view is challenged. Only God knows how to deal with such a blindness, so we must be sensitive to His leading because we may only get one opportunity to bring our concern. (In other words, the other person may become too hardened against us and our suggestion if we get our first approach wrong.) I have met some absolutely lovely Christians in the past who, when gently challenged on certain errors, suddenly and dramatically changed for the worse toward the person correcting them – because of a spiritual blindness in that area.  

Another important principle when preparing to bring correction is to avoid being hasty. Unless we’re unlikely to be able to contact the other person in the future, there is rarely any need to bring correction on the first day we discern the problem. It is frequently very helpful to hold back and instead to start building (or improving) a relationship with them before confronting them with the criticism.  

(Sometimes it will be the case that God does not want the issue raised for quite a long time – especially where the error in question is only a symptom of a deeper problem which needs identifying and addressing first. Besides, a delay will also give us the chance to learn more about the person – and thus pick up some valuable clues as to how best to approach them. A delay will probably also make it easier for the other party to receive our comments, because they will be impressed that we initially held back rather than rushing in straightaway.)  

Having said all this, if the other person is known to be spreading their error – e.g. by publicly teaching a heresy – then we may not have the luxury of biding our time.  

The closing point I want to make here is that, if we are thinking of bringing a relatively advanced piece of instruction or correction, we do need to consider the doctrinal maturity of the recipient, else we may find ourselves trying to cast our pearls of wisdom before a metaphorical swine – which is not only a pointless activity but, according to Scripture, a dangerous one as well (Matt. 7:6).  

DELIVERY  

If, after completing our preparation, we decide that it is right to go ahead and deliver the correction, what are the keys to doing that successfully? One point I really want to stress here is the need to be amiable, or graceful. (Unless one is dealing with children, I believe it is only for mature elders who are full of the Holy Spirit and who are known to be upstanding men of God to ever ‘rebuke sharply’ in a church context. Even such strong admonition should still be given in a gracious way. Besides, all types of rebuke should be used very sparingly, and should rarely be the first resort. And anyone giving a rebuke must be absolutely certain of their ground, for they will look supremely foolish - and will grievously exasperate the person they rebuked - if the correction later proves to be wrong.)  

If we lack grace during such a delicate activity as correcting someone’s life then we are potentially going to do damage both to the other person and to our reputation. For example, a single harsh comment could destroy a new believer’s faith – or could put a sincere seeker off Christianity for good. (Please see James 3:5-8 for more details on the terrible dangers of a poorly-controlled tongue.) No man or woman of God could easily cope with having that on their conscience. How then do we correct people in an amiable or graceful way?  

It is invariably good to start by finding a few encouraging things to say about the other person. The Lord Himself did this to each of the churches in Revelation (as long as there existed any such thing to say about them!). This approach does a great deal to prove that our desire is not to ‘knock’ the other person. We need to make sure that they know we’ve got their best interests at heart. We also need to speak in a patient, gentle, humble, tenderhearted way (see Col. 1:10-11, 1 Thess. 5:14 , 2 Tim. 2:24 , Gal. 5:22 , 1 Thess. 2:7, 1 Pet. 5:5, Eph. 4:32 etc etc). The world out there hates the true Church, and many of us believers have a hard enough time contending with that. Let’s make sure we don’t let this same attitude inside, when what the Body of Christ actually needs to be is a sanctuary, restoring us after the batterings from the world.  

A further point worth quickly making is that, if the issue we are raising is one with which we ourselves have struggled in the past, then we should definitely consider letting the other person know this (unless the information is sensitive and the other person lacks the maturity to handle it aright). This will again help to demonstrate that we are not trying to correct the other party just for the sake of it, and will also tell them that we probably know what we are talking about – and therefore that we would probably also be an ideal person to advise them on how to deal with the problem. (I should make clear at this juncture that I am saying all these things for my instruction too.)  

Another important way for us to show grace is to think the best of the person. For instance, when we choose our words, we need to bear in mind the fact that there may well be mitigating circumstances. The British Army is strong here. Before chastising one of their men, officers are taught always to give the soldier a decent opportunity to explain his actions, in case it turns out that he had a good reason for doing what he did, and the officer ends up looking an idiot – and thus losing the respect necessary to do his job.  

OTHER POINTS RE: DELIVERY  

Apart from the need to be graceful, there are a couple of other things which can help make correction more effective. The first is that we should explain our concern very clearly. A colossal number of divisions within the Body of Christ are simply due to inadequate levels of communication. We need to make sure there is no room for misunderstanding. In this regard it is usually also helpful to ration our criticisms rather than expressing a whole raft of them in one go. For, not only does the latter approach run the risk of pushing the other person’s carnal side beyond what they can handle, but it may also mean that some of our criticisms end up not getting explained fully.  

We also need to consider the gender, and relative age, of the person we are attempting to correct. For example, according to Scripture, a person seeking to bring correction to a significantly older individual (say, more than 20% older) needs to be very careful to give the correction in a respectful manner. 1 Timothy 5:1 states: “Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father”. I well remember an occasion when I rebuked an elder. I paid a heavy price for doing so because, although it was very mildly worded, I gave my rebuke in public – which greatly embarrassed the person who had introduced me to this elder and prompted him to privately rubbish me (unjustifiably) to that elder for several years afterwards.  

Following nicely on from this anecdote, a further recommendation I would make is that correction should normally be done privately. Trying to correct someone in front of other people can sometimes work well (hence 1 Tim. 5:20 ), but it can also REDUCE the likelihood of the correction being accepted. It’s generally far better to try bringing it in private first. (If, for whatever reason, you strongly suspect that the other party will not listen to you, it may be possible to ask a mutual friend to bring the correction instead – but obviously this route must only be taken with care and discretion.)  

I am not following Matthew 18 in this regard because that passage only refers to private trespass against us rather than adherence to some wrong doctrine or practice. [For proof of this, and for solid advice on how to handle these types of personal conflict, see endnote [2].]  

EXTRA POINTS TO CONSIDER  

My talk today is not an exhaustive discussion of this whole subject, but merely some tips I’ve picked up over the years. There are just two further pieces of advice I want to offer on the best way to bring correction. Firstly, in some cases it is more helpful to communicate our concerns through a letter rather than bringing them verbally. Writing is often the best approach if the point at issue will require careful or substantial explanation. It is also often the wisest route on those occasions where we are unlikely to express ourselves well in person – perhaps because we have a weak short-term memory or because we might get flustered (e.g. because we do not know the other party very well, or because they are not terribly open to correction)...  

I say this because a letter allows us to draft and redraft our phraseology as many times as we need in order to get the most godly and effective wording possible. Additionally, many people find it far easier to accept admonition by reading something on their own than by being criticized in person. (Indeed, people find it even easier to accept correction from an item, e.g. a book, by a third party. It just makes matters less personal – so people feel less humiliated – and, as I say, the important thing is that the individual gets corrected, even if it takes a bit more effort on our part.)  

Although such indirect approaches must be used with caution, since a letter obviously lacks the human intonation etc that we would naturally communicate if we were dealing with the person face-to-face, nevertheless such methods do also allow the ‘correctee’ time to consider the issue properly before having to supply any response. Face-to-face correction, or correction given over the ’phone, affords the person vastly less time to chew the matter over before needing to give some sort of reply. And this brings me happily to my final thought on how best to bring correction…

 Specifically, we frequently cannot expect the other person to change, or even to accept our correction, there and then. This is especially true: (a) if the person is not very mature spiritually, or (b) if the issue we are seeking to correct is something the person has believed for a long time or is something they have taught a lot of other people, or (c) if our correction represents a major shift in their worldview. In such cases it is only fair, once we have made our point clearly and fully, that the other person be allowed to take it away, check the Word, meditate on it, and ask others about it...  

If the person seems unresponsive while we are trying to correct them, we really do have to learn to ‘back off’ and give them space to consider our concern in their own time rather than to keep hammering them with the same point on that one occasion – which will only get both sides agitated (and therefore at risk of saying something they will regret). After all, there is seldom any desperate hurry for the person to change, and a surprisingly large proportion of such people will take your comments seriously when they mull them over during the subsequent hours and days.
  

CONCLUSION  

Well, that’s it. When being corrected, we need to be Careful, Open, Amiable and Thankful. (One way to remember this is c – o – a – t, or ‘coat’.) And when giving correction we need to be Careful, Amiable and Prayerful (which could be summarized as c - a - p or ‘cap’.) Whichever situation we find ourselves in, let’s make sure we’re ‘covered’ with our coat or cap.  

Alongside the need for truth, what I particularly want to stress today is the need to be loving to one another, i.e. loving to the brethren. If a person does not treat the brethren in a charitable, loving way then 1 John 3 (part of which formed our second reading this morning) says that this person is not a believer. For example, verse 10 says “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” And verse 14 reads “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death”. (The Word says this because, if we do not genuinely love our brothers in the Lord then we are clearly not in touch with the true God – else His Spirit would be supplying us with more than enough of the love, and desire to love others, that we need.)  

In closing, we must be prepared to give correction – and at least as prepared to receive correction – because both are paramount if we want this Fellowship to be all it can be. If we want this church to be blameless, if we want it to hear God, if we want it to be salt and light in this area, if we want it to grow; whatever we want for our lives and for this church, it all starts with truth – and it all ends with truth.

Any questions?

Thank you for listening, and God bless you.

 

 

Endnotes

[1] The book is called Alpha – the Unofficial Guide: Overview. See the ‘Better Than Rubies’ section of our website (bayith.org) for more details and for stockists.  

[2] For a good, if rather direct, piece which proves that Matthew 18 only applies to private transgression against us rather than, for instance, to public teaching, see Paul Proctor, ‘Heretics and Hypocrites’, 08:May:2005, http://newswithviews.com/PaulProctor/proctor70.htm. For helpful material on how to handle Matthew-18-type challenges, see the article by Jay Adams, ‘Forgiveness, first published in Evangelical Times, 1997, or Ken Sande, ‘Forgive as God Forgave You’, which is a chapter from his book The Peacemaker (Baker Books, 1997).

  

 

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