“I can’t believe this!”
I can feel the steam rise up inside me, that empowering energy that comes from righteous indignation. My fingers fly across the keyboard, boy I’m really letting them have it! Or I open my mouth and out comes the rich, pointed rant they really deserve! Mmm it feels good, doesn’t it!
I’ve set someone straight on my corner of the planet. Maybe I used some well-placed sarcasm, a bon mot that both roundly humiliated my target and enlightened the audience surrounding us both. Everyone laughs, everyone nods their heads, go me.
Or, maybe I took the noble route, I unfurled my scriptural and scholarly citations, I made sure every point of error was addressed.
Or, maybe I tried a little of both, some humor, some well-placed logic, a few proof-texts or other facts.
Maybe all this only took place inside my mind.
But it happened.
And the one thing I didn’t do was invite the other to speak. This was no time for listening. They stated an untruth, and it was on me to correct them, so the truth would prevail, so that others would know the truth and not be taken in by lies.
Is that how Paul’s redressing of Peter seemed?
Afterall, isn’t that how Paul instructed the church in such passages as “for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest also may stand in fear,” (1 Timothy 5:20, NRSV) and “That testimony is true. For this reason rebuke them sharply, so that they may become sound in the faith.” (Titus 1:13, NRSV)?
In fact, Paul himself, in his letters, seemed to correct, reprimand, and even discipline others. What about the time Paul urged the church in Corinth to “hand over to Satan” one of their members because of his sexual wrongdoing? Paul handed two others over to Satan for preaching blasphemy. We’re not sure what “handing over to Satan” means, but it sounds severe. Still, shouldn’t we be following Paul’s example, rooting out sexual sin, blasphemy, heresy, and other wrongs with just as keen a zeal for the purity of the faith, and of the church?
Even when we turn to the Gospels, we see the Lord Jesus known for His beatitudes, for turning the other cheek, for loving His enemies, for His tender treatment of Judas, for explaining that God loves and blesses the whole world … Even Jesus used strong and uncompromising language with the Pharisees, and tore through the temple in righteous and holy wrath.
The bulk of Paul’s teaching was not about redressing wrongs and rebuking sinners. Instead, Paul talked about the vital necessity of protecting unity, building community, and caring for each other with such love, brothers and sisters in the Lord would rather absorb the cost for another than stand on their own rights.
Paul, as much as he may be known for rebuking and contending, also championed protection of the unity God Himself had given the church. In just a few samples of Paul’s letters to believers we find:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.Ephesians 4:1-4 (NRSV)
- Paul outlined what made the church one, a very simple list found in Ephesians 4:1-6, and implored believers to protect and nourish the unity already given by God.
- Paul exhorted believers to be mindful about their varying levels of maturity, and tenderness of conscience, in such places as Romans 14:1-15:5, ending that particular passage by writing “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus.”
- Paul urged believers to carefully consider what is best, in honor of God and in strengthening and building up the family of God, writing, “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” 1 Corinthians 10:23-33
- Paul cautioned believers to think carefully about what the other person needs, in 1 Thessalonians 5:14. Often, a rebuke will only crush and harm, making matters worse.
- In nearly every one of his letters, Paul spoke of the supremacy of love. For instance,
- Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth that without love, nothing else is worth anything.
- Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi that wisdom is found in the growth of God’s love within us.
- In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul devoted several chapters to this theme, saying, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”
- Paul admonished those who would stand for the truth to make sure their motivation was love, writing, “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15
- Finally, Paul enjoined only those who were spiritual to take on the work of correcting a brother or sister, in his instructions found in Galatians 5:16-6:5, urging them to “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.“
Core principles for correcting one another include:
- Making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit
- Seeking to live in in harmony with each other
- Being willing to make the other person’s good the most important objective
- Understanding what the other person needs
- Being motivated by love for God, love for the brothers and sisters, love for the church, and love for the individual, all flowing from God’s love filling the heart
- Couching the correcting truth in terms of love
- Restoring the one being corrected in a spirit of gentleness
And that’s just a short list! I’m sure it would be easy to make it much longer, if I really dug into what the New Testament teaches on this topic.
Can I really pull that off?
Especially in the moment, when I feel the heat rising?
Is it possible, that’s actually what Paul was doing when he confronted Peter?
(tomorrow: understanding when to confront)
[Saints Peter and Paul | Anonymous: Unknown author (Roman School) [Public domain]