Correcting a fellow believer

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.” Matthew 18:15

Something you would know if you were good friends with me is that I like to engage in a bit of light-hearted teasing banter. I am quite good at coming up with witty put-downs, private in-jokes and deliberately taking something someone has said innocently the wrong way to comic effect. It’s all done in good humour, to people I know will take it the right way; they know I’m not being too serious, and I make fun of myself too.

So over the summer while working at camp I had a few specific targets among the staff would often found themselves on the receiving end of my banter. There was Heather who was quite small so I would regularly “mistake” her for a camper. There was Jen Jones, whose younger brother Matt was in my cabin one week. So to wind her up I gave him the ‘Better Jones’ award at the end of the week talent show, which provoked quite a good reaction from the campers. And then there was Cassie, who every time she opened her mouth set herself up for some sort of put-down. (I should point out that it wasn’t a one-way thing, they all gave me plenty of stick for various things too. Jen for example was a key person in keeping the Northern Irish Jewish Leprechaun Vampire nickname going, and Cassie kept calling me Peter Pan…)

So one morning as I was headed to a staff meeting I happened to be walking in with Jen. And was giving her some light hearted banter about something or other, I can’t remember what. When all of a sudden this random five year old boy (who must have been a day-camper as he was too young for the overnight part of camp we were involved in) bursts out of a nearby toilet, points at me, says “Stop being so mean to her,” runs and hugs Jen. (He then undermined his point somewhat by hugging me too.)

And the thing is, it made me think. Was I being too harsh? Was I crossing the line from friendly banter to mean words? So for the rest of the summer I toned it down a notch (there were only a couple of days of camp left anyway…) Because sometimes having a flaw pointed out by another can provide the conviction we need to make changes.

In the Bible Jesus tells us we should point out the faults of our fellow believers, in the hope that that will convict them so that they repent and return to living like Jesus wants. But He gives an important instruction. He says to “go privately”. We shouldn’t be looking to point out every fault, flaw and sin we know someone has committed in a public arena. We should talk to them privately, not looking to cause a big fuss, not trying to make them look bad in front of as large a crowd as possible, not judging or condemning them (for the Bible says it is up to God alone to judge people, not us), simply, lovingly pointing out that a certain aspect of their life isn’t matching up to God’s standards. When that wee boy told me to stop being so mean he did it when there was just me, him and Jen around. He wasn’t doing it to cause a scene.

We shouldn’t quietly sit by while people we care about repeatedly make the same sinful mistakes. We are instructed to try and win them back. Sometimes tough love is better than watching a friend slip away through compromise because you didn’t want to be the one to raise the issue with them. And on the flip side, if we are the person a friend comes to privately and points out a fault in our lives we should understand they aren’t doing it to show how much better they are than us, but because they love us and want to win us back. They want us to reach our God given potential and have seen we are drifting off course. We should take their loving criticism on board and try to make changes. We should use it to help get our lives in line with how God wants us to live.

We may not see the issue as something significant and may not consider whatever flaw they pointed out to be sinful. But we aren’t always the best judge of our own behaviour. Just because we think it is fine doesn’t mean it is. And even though it may not be sinful, the impression it gives to those around us is an important consideration. We need to be sensitive to the impression our actions give off. For example I’m not really a mean person (I hope anyway!), but by making my joking comments I was giving off that impression. And as the impression we want to leave people with is that we are living for Jesus that means sometimes not doing things that aren’t sinful, but also aren’t helpful in showing the love of Christ.

So be open to the correction of your fellow believers. Seek guidance from your friends as to areas of your life that they can see you aren’t living up to God’s standards (hint – there will be many!) But don’t just listen. Confess your sins to God, and then seek to make changes so that you will be more like Christ. And when you see someone you know who professes to be a Christian caught up in sin, seek a way to help them back to living for Christ. But do it privately out of the motive of love and a passion to see them reach the potential God has given them, or else don’t bother.

{Carissa – thanks for pointing stuff out to me recently, I needed it}

Learn more the author of this post:

Pete McM
The original founder of All4God, Pete is 26, lives in Northern Ireland, is a junior doctor, Ulster fan and is passionate about Jesus
  • Murdo MacDonald

    I went once to a public service which I thought to be in gaelic but on arrival discovered the service to be in english and there was no English bibles available.I sat down beside a fellow church elder expecting to share his bible.When the first singing started he put his elbow up between us depriving me of access to his bible.That was four years ago and his actions still haunt and hurt.He has never mentioned it since.We are both pensioners following Christ for many years

  • Murdo MacDonald

    I went once to a public service which I thought to be in gaelic but on arrival discovered the service to be in english and there was no English bibles available.I sat down beside a fellow church elder expecting to share his bible.When the first singing started he put his elbow up between us depriving me of access to his bible.That was four years ago and his actions still haunt and hurt.He has never mentioned it since.We are both pensioners following Christ for many years