Practically none of us like to be corrected. It is hard to receive correction from a loved one, and it is harder still when correction comes from someone we feel has no right to offer it, or from one with obvious problems of his or her own.
How do we respond to correction? Do we receive it with thanks? Or do we tend to become defensive, tensing up and immediately thinking of our corrector’s problems—as if they made the correction less valuable. Do we let correction help us, or do we stew with resentment and even offer counter-accusations that can damage or destroy our relationships with those who are correcting us?
“He who keeps instruction is in the way of life, but he who refuses correction goes astray” (Proverbs 10:17). Clearly, the matter of receiving—and giving—correction is important to us as Christians. What, then, is our Christian responsibility regarding correction?
If we think back to our childhood days, we may remember how it seemed that correction was coming from everywhere. Parents and guardians exercised their responsibility to train us, to help us avoid hurting ourselves and to grow out of youthful selfishness. If we had older siblings, they were not shy about telling us when we had said or done something wrong. At school, teachers imposed discipline and tried their best to help us grow as students. And our peers were perhaps the most merciless of all in demanding that we live up to their code of behavior.
What were the consequences of resisting or refusing correction? Our parents might spank or “ground” us for misbehavior. Our teachers could “flunk” us for failing to learn our lessons. Peers could shun us, and schoolyard enemies might even beat us up.
Looking back, it is interesting to consider how we reacted differently to the various sources of correction. Some of us gave in almost entirely to peer pressure, while others were mocked as “teacher’s pet” or “mama’s boy” when they tried their best to internalize adults’ correction. Some of us struck out in anger—physical or emotional—against those trying to correct us, while others retreated into a “whipped dog” posture or learned to conform outwardly to correction, while privately nursing the hope that a day would come when they would be in a position to unleash correction on others.
As we grew, we gained responsibility. At work, or in our families, we increasingly found ourselves in a position to correct others. How did we handle that duty? And how do we handle correction today, whether we are giving it or receiving it?
God commands us: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). Parents have a responsibility to correct their children, and wise children can gain great value from following the guidance of dutiful parents.
Children are a blessing from God. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate” (Psalm 127:3–5). The parents’ job is not to bully or browbeat these gifts from God, but rather to train the young people in their care in the ways of God. “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
Parents should strive to provide their children with a godly example to follow, to the best of their ability. Those who are themselves failing to live God’s way—who demand their offspring’s obedience with a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude, can expect to reap a whirlwind of rebellion as their children grow older. Even though adolescents rarely detect hypocrisy in themselves, they are expert at spotting it in adults.
This does not mean that parents who have faults should excuse those faults in their children. Certainly, a parent struggling to overcome a particular problem should be especially able to show mercy and understanding when finding that same problem in a child. And when parents who are seeking God nevertheless feel themselves unable to provide a positive example (e.g. the parents are tobacco smokers, and have been unable to kick the ingrained habit), they can still help their children understand the seriousness of the problem and motivate their children to avoid it themselves.
However, even when parents have done their very best to instill godly values and good behavior in their children, some will fail to heed their parents’ wise guidance, and will rebel. However, parents in God’s Church should not despair if, for a while, a son or daughter goes into the world. If parents did their part in teaching them God’s way of life, there is yet hope for their children. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). The foundation laid by parental correction can prepare a wayward child to learn lessons “the hard way”—from “real world” experience.
Correction by Experience
Consider the parable of the prodigal son. We can draw several lessons from Christ’s parable about a young man who squandered his inheritance. “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:11–16).
When we separate ourselves from God, He does not stop loving us and caring for us—it simply cuts us off from receiving the protection and blessings He wants to give those who are willing to obey Him. As long as we do not commit the unpardonable sin—willfully and knowingly reject His gift of the Holy Spirit—nature can take its course, buffeting us with the evil ways of Satan’s world until we recognize our folly and come to appreciate all the good things God has provided, just as the prodigal son came to understand about his father. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father…’ But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son’” (vv. 17–21).
The prodigal son was corrected by experience. Humbled by what he had faced while away from his father’s protection, he returned home with gratitude he had not previously felt. We, too, as Christians, have that opportunity. If we will not accept correction from parents, or from teachers, or from loved ones, or from Scripture, God will allow us to have life experiences that should motivate us to again seek His protection.
What Is Correction?
It is important to recognize the difference between correction and mere criticism. If someone tells you, “George, everyone knows you are selfish and greedy,” it is a criticism—a value judgment. But if your critic cannot give you an example of your wrong behavior, or cannot give you tangible steps you can take to improve, then criticism is all it is—it is not proper correction. If you perceive that your neighbor George displays selfishness and greed, you serve him best when you help him see his behavior so he can change. For example: “George, I do not want people to think of you as selfish and greedy. But, when you take three donuts and everyone else takes one, and when you cut to the head of the line, people may perceive you as selfish and greedy. Since there are enough donuts for everyone, maybe you can wait in line and take just one, like everyone else.”
But what if George cut in line because he had to rush to an emergency appointment with his wife and daughter, and he took an extra donut to bring to each of them? Perhaps he still should have waited in line, or should have foregone the donuts entirely. But maybe the situation is more complex than his corrector realized. Before you correct someone, be sure you know the facts as much as possible, and be sure you are correcting with an attitude of love and service.
Are You a Corrector?
We have all met people who seem to feel it is their duty to correct everyone they meet. But are you or I one of those people? Those with the greatest personal guilt are often the ones who are most prone to finding fault with others, especially if they feel immune from criticism. Such hypercritical people deceive themselves in their self-righteousness, and the pits they dig for others will end up capturing them instead. “For without cause they have hidden their net for me in a pit, which they have dug without cause for my life. Let destruction come upon him unexpectedly, and let his net that he has hidden catch himself; into that very destruction let him fall” (Psalm 35:7–8).
There are some circumstances in which we have a clear responsibility to offer correction to those around us. Parents must not shirk that duty to their children. Teachers must be willing to guide their students. Ministers must be able to care for their flocks. However, even if we have been placed in a position where correction is clearly our responsibility, we should examine ourselves deeply before presuming to offer correction to others. No matter what our position, correction must be offered in love and humility, and after first examining our motives. Too often, correction is given in an attitude of condemnation, rather than as a prayerful and well-thought-out attempt to offer loving help. “Judge [condemn] not, that you be not judged [condemned]. For with what judgment [condemnation] you judge [condemn], you will be judged [condemned]; 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” (Matthew 7:1–5).
We must be careful to walk as did our Lord, before we can presume to correct others. If we want to be effective in correcting others, we must be diligent in correcting our own misconduct. That way, Christ can use us to correct others— not simply by our words of rebuke, but by our positive example. We should try to live up to Paul’s exhortation to be “sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you” (Titus 2:6–8).
As the Passover approaches, we must diligently examine ourselves in the matter of offering criticism and correction to others. We need to first practice what we preach and be sure it is our place and responsibility to instruct another in righteousness. When it is appropriate for us to give correction, it must always be in a way that will be beneficial to the recipient. “The mouth of the righteous is a well of life, but violence covers the mouth of the wicked. Hatred stirs up strife, but love [outgoing concern for the welfare of the one being corrected] covers all sins” (Proverbs 10:11–12).
How should we respond if we are certain, after much prayer and introspection, that we have been corrected incorrectly or unjustly? If correction is given to us unjustly, should we automatically reject it? No! We can often learn valuable lessons even from our enemies. It is hard to see ourselves as others see us. Even by understanding others’ misperceptions of us, we can learn and grow and become better understood by those who would criticize us.
Scripture explains that, even though the corrector may face God’s judgment for a wrong correction, we as the recipients of that correction can still benefit—if we take it in the right attitude. The Apostle Peter gave this important instruction: “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:18–25).
Jesus Christ was murdered by His enemies. Compared to that, our receiving an ill-motivated or inaccurate correction is a tiny matter. After all, Christ was not guilty of any sin. If you or I are wrongly corrected for a fault that is not ours, we can look to any number of our faults for which we have not received the deserved correction. And to whatever extent we have been subjected to an unjust correction, we can gain some degree of appreciation for what Christ Himself went through when He was unjustly persecuted. So, those who are given correction need to consider it carefully, even if it is not perfectly delivered.
Even if we do not have trusted Christian friends and counselors to help us see our own faults and failings, God has given us a powerful tool that we can use to correct ourselves. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
When we study the Bible, are we studying in order to feel “superior” to those around us, or to understand prophecy so as to “save our skin” from troubled times ahead? Or are we taking in God’s word so that it can help us become the people Christ wants us to be? The example of Job reminds us that, no matter how righteous we may consider ourselves, we will not be able to grow further until we learn to examine ourselves honestly, willing to accept correction. God has given us Scripture for that purpose.
Are we perhaps afraid to act on what we know, considering it too difficult? Consider this admonition by the Apostle James: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). If we know better, God holds us accountable for what we know. But He also assures us that He will never give us a trial more difficult than we can handle. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Even if a trial appears to be beyond our human ability to overcome, God has given Christians the Holy Spirit, the power on which we can draw to implement the needed corrections in our lives.
God gives us correction in this life so we can prepare ourselves to be born as full sons of God at the resurrection. It is vital that we learn to give correction responsibly, and accept it with humility, so that we may be ready for what He has in store for us. “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6–7).
—LCG Editorial Staff