For the Christian, Yahweh is the one true God (Jeremiah 10:10; John 17:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:9). He has also revealed Himself as the God of truth (Isaiah 65:16), with His word being the summation of all truth (Psalm 119:160). Accordingly, His Son is full of grace and truth (John 1:14) and is the embodiment of truth itself (John 14:6). The Christian is transformed by His Spirit – the Spirit of truth who leads believers into all truth (John 16:13). Against this backdrop, we see how vital it is for us to pursue truth and lovingly correct the errors which shape our own theology and that of others. But how do we do it?
Consider your own errors
None of us are infallible. We are finite beings. We do not have a perfect understanding of Scripture, so we must never come across as though we do. Nonetheless, the Bible is not an enigma. It is written in a way that we may understand it with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, diligent study, and the help of others. So before rushing to point out the misunderstanding of others, start by assessing your own comprehension. As you study Scripture, consider what the text plainly says. Study passages in their context and in light of cross-references where said topic is also mentioned. We must adopt “a Berean approach” to the Bible (Acts 17:11), examining the Scriptures to determine the truthfulness of what we hear, applying them to shape our doctrine. Correcting fellow believers starts with ensuring that we ourselves have adequate understanding.
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.Acts 17:11
Directly address the issue
All doctrine is important, but some issues are more pressing than others (see here). However, errors that threaten the truth of the Gospel or matters that are of “first importance”, must be addressed with directness, boldness, and clarity. Paul never shied away from this. When some Christians from a Jewish background were teaching the necessity of circumcision for salvation, he and Barnabas went to discuss the controversy with the apostles and elders at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-2; 6). This same issue drove Paul to write to the Galatians and dispel the lies of the false teachers. In such instances, silence is detrimental, but directly addressing the issue is loving and necessary.
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Be motivated by love
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into ChristEphesians 4:15
What is your motive? To appear knowledgeable (pride)? To win arguments? It is insufficient to speak truth without considering the motive. We must speak truth in love. Affection and love for others compel us to share truth with them. Complacency in correction can be detrimental to the development of individuals and the maturity of the church at large. Just as it is crucial that we have different leaders with different gifts in the church (Ephesians 4:11-14), we need believers who are willing to speak the truth in love for the growth and maturity of Christ’s body (Ephesians 4:13-16). Love and truth are inseparable (2 John 1-3). Thus, love drives our correction, softens its tone, and is moved by genuine care for the people we engage with.
Genuine agape love (selfless and sacrificial love) is patient by its very nature (1 Corinthians 13:4). Our brothers and sisters may be holding onto convictions that are close to their hearts. Whether shaped by independent study or influenced by the tradition and church background they’ve grown up in, these tend to be sensitive and strongly held viewpoints. Additionally, there may be others barriers to their understanding. Hence, patience is vital in our explaining, but also our kindness.
As we seek to correct others, we must check our own understanding. Our motivations in correction, must be love and we must do so patiently. Although tricky, correcting others in love is crucial. To neglect love is to neglect the truth. To abandon the truth is to neglect love. We cannot afford to do either.