In our lifetime we are going to sin (1 John 1:7-10). Undoubtedly, some of those sins are going to be committed in the presence of others. There are going to be times when we either do not recognize that what we did was a sin, or that we understand it to be a sin but do not want to take the appropriate action to correct it. In either of these situations, the opportunity for another person to come to us and point out our personal sin exists. What should our attitude be toward someone who approaches us with our sin and suggests correction? Let’s look at some attitudes that we might have toward personal correction in our lives.
“I haven’t done anything wrong.” Often when confronted with personal sin this will be the first response. This attitude, however, is a mistake. Even when we are reasonably sure that we have not done anything wrong, our attitude should not be that of Bart Simpson, “I didn’t do it; nobody saw me do it; you can’t prove anything.” Even popular culture recognizes the error of this fatalistic response. When confronted we should be open to the possibility that we have sinned. When it is demonstrated that we have sinned, many times the difficulty comes in swallowing the hard conclusion that I did something wrong. It takes humility and meekness to even admit the possibility and much more to admit the actuality. At this point a correct response should be, “Let’s sit down and see what the Bible has to say about the subject and if I am wrong, then I will try to make things right.”
“You don’t have a loving attitude.” This is a popular response when we confront someone who needs to be corrected. That is because it is a legitimate concern. The Bible speaks clearly that those who are going to attempt to offer correction to others must have the right attitude when so doing (Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:15). We must both look to ourselves and speak the truth in love when engaging in personal correction. However, to use this expression as a statement of defense falls short because it does not deal with the issue at hand. It is a diversion away from the original problem and those who say this generally are trying to avoid the real issue. Some even go to the point of saying that suggesting any form of correction is not loving. The scriptures, however, simply do not teach this and we recognize this to be true in our lives as well specifically in relationship to our children. The parent who wields no discipline upon their child is really the parent who does not love his child (Proverbs 13:24; Hebrews 12:5-11). In loving adult relationships also, reproof is required when sin is involved and this is not an indication that someone does not love another, but that they do (Galatians 4:16). When confronted with correction, we should assume that the person coming to us has the best of intentions in mind.
“The preacher is wrong.” Well, that may be the case. Sometimes preacher’s make mistakes and say things that are not correct. However, the Bible is not wrong. When the preacher sets forth scripture regarding the truthfulness of his statements and one disagrees, the proper course of action is to go discuss things with the preacher. This, however, is the last thing that the one with the incorrect attitude toward correction wants to do because if one sits down and engages in a study of the Bible, one is usually going to find things that one does not want to admit. Part of the requirements the Bible places upon preachers is to rebuke and reprove (2 Timothy 4:2). When this illuminates our personal sin, self-reflection is the appropriate course of action (1 Corinthians 13:5), not castigation of the preacher. Remember that the preacher (if he is a good one) is not setting forth his own personal opinions, but the word of God (2 Timothy 4:1).
“No one cares about me and my problems.” Many times, individuals will state these particular words out of an attitude of selfishness. “Woe is me; no one loves me; aren’t I a wreck!” We used to sing a song in grade school about eating worms. The chorus went like this, “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I’m gonna eat some worms.” The point of the song was that self pity usually results in actions that are self destructive. The truth is that someone does care. When we hear teaching on subjects that are uncomfortable to us it is because someone cares enough for us to present what the Bible says on the subject. Since the Bible is the ultimate standard by which we will be judged (John 12:48), it is the ultimate loving and caring thing to do. What is really meant by this statement is that no one is trying to comfort me in my sinfulness. In contrast our attitude should be, “I have problems; help me to resolve my problems.”
“Look at all the other hypocrites who need to repent too.” Similar to the “you are not being loving” line, this is a diversion. When we are confronted with the issue of our own personal sin, we have the responsibility to examine ourselves and make correction (James 1:22-25). Whether or not another person in the church is a hypocrite has nothing to do with our own personal attitude toward correction. The assertion may be true that there are others acting hypocritically, but this does nothing to correct the problems in our own lives. Pointing to others in the church who are acting hypocritically as a defense against our own personal correction simply increases bitterness in our lives toward those around us as well as toward our own personal sin. No doubt if a hypocrite is involved in the correction process, he should recuse himself until he gets his own personal sin resolved (Matthew 7:1-5). However, this does not mean that one is “off the hook” from being confronted with sin. One still must deal with the problem of one’s own personal sin.
“You just are refusing to forgive.” When the result of personal correction ends in the right way there should be forgiveness. This does not imply, however, that there will be further teaching on the subject. To the contrary, usually when a person sins this means that there needs to be additional teaching on the subject. This is the correct and appropriate response. When a child comes home with an “F” on a test paper and asks Mom and Dad for forgiveness, and forgiveness is granted, this does not mean that all study on that particular subject should cease. To the contrary, the parents will probably spend MORE time in the pursuit of that particular subject with the child. Does this mean that they have refused to forgive the child? Of course not, in fact we recognize just the opposite. True forgiveness implies that the one in need of forgiveness needs help and that the one’s who are doing the forgiving have an obligation to help. Additional studies on the subject are the natural result of forgiveness whether it is in regard to a child’s test results or an individual’s personal sin. Unintentional sin many times is due to ignorance. This implies the need for further education on the subject. So when the general subject comes up, it is not because we are refusing to forgive, but because we have actually forgiven in the way that God wants us to forgive (2 Corinthians 2:5-11).
Our attitude toward personal correction will determine our ultimate estate in heaven. It is part of God’s plan that we accept the corrective efforts of our fellow Christian when it comes to personal sin (Matthew 18: 15-17). While it is not comfortable for us to do this and while sometimes it is a painful experience, we can be assured that God will bless those who appropriate display the right attitude toward personal correction. Ultimately, we will stand before God in judgment as to how we received these efforts. On the day of judgment, do we really want to stand before God and say that we were not receptive to other’s efforts to provide personal correction? Do we really want to face God with that attitude? How much more better is God’s plan to face our own peers now and make correction than to face Him when no more opportunity for correction is available.