By W. Frank Walton
A member drops out of sight. After a long while, someone asks, “Where’s brother Blank?” Someone gets around to talking to this absent brother, but by now he’s spiritually “cold” and might not be revived. In another congregation, harsh, hateful words are exchanged in a business meeting. It was all a misunderstanding but now it’s too late – another congregation will be formed and brethren who worshiped together will probably not see or speak to one another for quite a while. Yet, in another church elders are to be selected. But feelings are hurt when ancient incidents are dredged up, which should have been resolved years ago. Now, this church might not have elders for years to come.
What do these situations all have in common? An urgent need to heed Romans 15:14: “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another” (NASB). Paul knew brethren in Rome were spiritually strong enough to work out any difficulty among themselves. They were sincere and good-hearted. They knew God’s will because they were informed. They would care enough to communicate spiritual warnings to one another. Could Paul have the same confidence in you and the brethren with whom you worship? Do we care enough to give loving correction or constructive criticism? Are we willing to accept it?
Brethren often don’t feel comfortable in being open and honest with one another. Some are so “touchy” that their feelings are easily offended, egos bruised or pride deflated. We all admit we have our faults, that we could do better, and that we could use constructive criticism. But we feel personally attacked so that we don’t welcome helpful comments.
Many times we know of some problem that needs to be pointed out and dealt with, but too often it’s swept under the carpet and overlooked. We’re obligated to lovingly correct a sinning brother (Lk. 17:3). “Admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men” (1 Thess. 5:14). This takes initiative, concern and involvement to speak the right word at the right time. Will we care enough to communicate concern to one who is apathetically wandering away from Christ? Will we speak a kind, encouraging word to refresh a struggling soul? Also, patience in personal relationships helps us cut some slack for others. We need to be as understanding with them as we are with ourselves and as we wish others to be with us.
What are some practical things to remember in admonishing (warning, correcting) and communicating with one another?
Things To Avoid
1. Don’t assume too much or the worst. Don’t put them on trial as being guilty until proven innocent. “Love . . . thinks no evil” (1 Cor. 13:4,5, NKJV). Get your exercise, in other ways instead of jumping to conclusions. “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13). Get all the facts.
2. Don’t be disgusted with others, thinking they’ll never change. No person is hopeless. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? God loved us when we were ungodly rebels (Rom. 5:8). God never gives up on us.
3. Don’t dredge up the past as today’s ammunition. God doesn’t bring up the past against us (Heb. 8:12). Since we’re his children, let’s not imitate the Devil who is “the accuser of our brethren” (Rev. 12:10). Any hostile critic or thoughtless person can pass along inaccurate, unfair or baseless innuendo. You’ll find what you’re looking for in others, if you want to badly enough. Gossip is the Devil’s brew. Such “corrupt communication” (Eph. 4:29) pollutes the air of brotherly relationships. Don’t talk to everyone else who isn’t involved about the problem.
4. Don’t belittle, ridicule, talk down to or “tell someone off for their own good. ” Rash, acidic words can’t be recalled. Admonishing someone isn’t just getting an obligation off our chest. This is cold and uncaring. Instead of thinking, “I just don’t understand how they could do this,” try to empathize. Understand we all have weakness and blind spots. Don’t just find fault and exaggerate: “You always . . . you never . . . every time I turn around, etc.” But find a solution – together!
Guidelines To Remember
1. Let’s form closer brotherly relationships. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:10). We’re not just to tolerate one another. It’s hard to confront a stranger. But love shows we’re following Christ. Our common hope draws us closer together as family. Family love is optimistic and persistent. It “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:7-8a). Love is demonstrated in outgoing care for one another’s welfare. When this is obvious, we can be open and honest with one another. We won’t fear to speak what’s weighing heavily on our minds.
2. Criticism should be directed at the performance (the act) and not as an attack against the person. Most brethren are basically good, or they wouldn’t even bother claiming to be part of God’s household.
3. Be reasonable, fair and realistic. Look at all the names listed in your directory. Imagine all the trials, temptations and problems each one faces daily. Before Ezekiel preached to the exiles, the Lord wanted him to empathize with his audience: “I sat where they sat” (3:15, NKJV). Think, “How would I feel if this fault was pointed out to me?” Don’t expect more of others than you do of yourself.
4. Show in the Bible why something is wrong and needs to be corrected. Help them to see in God’s “mirror” of truth. This helps to show it’s not just a matter of personal opinion or taste.
5. Give reasons for change from the Bible. “If you fix your mind on the right things, you won’t be tempted so much and your attitude will change” (cf. Rom. 12:2; Phil. 4:8; Prov. 23;7). Or, “God promises us that if we put up a fight resisting the devil, instead of listening to his temptation, that he will flee from us” (Jas. 4:7). “If we feed our faith, it will be stronger and won’t fail us” (Lk. 22:32). Being “filled with all knowledge” helps us to apply Scripture to each situation. But give incentives for them to change . We have the potential to do better. Encourage them by painting the picture of them overcoming (Jas. 1:22-25).
6. Tone is important (Prov. 15:1). It’s not always what we say, but how we say it that helps effective communication (Col. 4:6). Each person is different. It takes practice and prayer for wisdom to sense the unique situation of each person. Be perceptive and kind in finding the right words and place to talk. Be non-threatening and on their side. “How can we work on this? What do we need to do to change the situation for the better?” Anticipate their reaction so you can defuse defensiveness. “You might be thinking this . . . I know how you feel . . . I know what you mean … I’ve had a hard time with this too … I’ve made the same mistake before and now what you’re facing . . . I wish I had someone to talk with me to help me, but I had to learn the hard way.”
Make sure they understand the reasons for the correction or warning. Make sure they know you care about, identify with and understand them and the problem.
7. Commit yourself to help. “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it it called ‘Today,’ lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13). We all need each other and constructive criticism. We all are sinners, since we all have faced temptation and have succumbed to the Devil’s wiles. We can draw support and count on one another to help in time of need (Gal. 6:1-2). In the Lord’s army, we shouldn’t shoot our wounded. Let’s lift one another up as we march arm in arm toward heaven’s glory.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 3, pp. 83-84
February 2, 1989