Nobody likes to be corrected. Yet, correction is often like bad tasting medicine; it doesn’t make you feel good in the moment, but it can help you to become better in the days to come. Solomon put it like this, “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:5 NIV). The song of fools is figurative for being serenaded with flattery. So, in other words, both correction and compliments are good, but when it comes to developing your inner life and character, correction has more value.
The value of correction
When I was just starting out in ministry, one of my mentors took me out to lunch and said, “Jeremy, I hear you talk a lot about God, but I don’t have a sense of God about you. I hear God from your lips, but I don’t see much of God in your life. I see a man who really struggles with pride.”
He went on to give me a number of examples. That was quite the rebuke, but I walked away from that lunch, and I prayed about it; I talked with my wife Lindsay about it, and I saw that he was absolutely right. God used that rebuke to teach me and develop more humility within me. However, the development didn’t come through receiving compliments; it came through receiving correction. Compliments are often fleeing, but the impact of correction can last a lifetime. Would you rather be serenaded with flattery or saved by rebuke? Would you rather verbally have a meaningless pat on the back or a meaningful slap in the face? It’s easy to miss the value of correction if you’re not making character growth a priority. Now, when it comes to correction, it’s not enough for people to see the value of correction; it’s important to learn the process of correction.
How do you receive correction well?
Here are three things that can help.
1) Be quick to hear. How many times has someone brought something to you, and before he or she is even finished, you’re thinking about how they’re wrong and how to defend yourself, or you’re thinking, “Who are they to talk to me like this? Don’t they know what kind of day I’ve had?” Hear them out first.
2) Believe the gospel. The gospel keeps people from the extremes of defense and despair. The more you trust in Jesus’ righteousness for you before God, the less you’re going to feel a need to defend your own righteousness before men. Because of the life and death of Jesus in a Christian’s place, he or she doesn’t have to deny sin or be in despair about it either. The gospel enables someone to stand corrected without being spiritually crushed.
3) Build off the good. There will surely be times when someone comes to you with something that is untrue or unfair, and it’s meant more to harm than to help. What do you do when that happens? Focus on your own sanctification rather than on his or her sinfulness. Recognize that God is using this to refine you in some way. Also, you can tell the person, “I honestly don’t see this in my life, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. I’m going to take what you brought to me seriously and keep an eye on what you said.” You’re going to build off the good.
How do you give correction well?
Here are five quick things to keep in mind.
1) Start with yourself. Jesus instructed Christians to look for the potential log in their own eyes before addressing the speck in someone else’s. Have you taken a hard look at your own eating habits, parenting skills or attitude before you address theirs? Until you can see yourself, apart from God’s grace, doing the same exact thing, you’re not ready to go to the person. Also, consider why you’re going to them. Is it to build them up or to blow off steam?
2) Face your fears. A lot people do not correct others when needed because they say, “I’m just going to love them instead.” Yet, like any good parent, love gives what a person needs, not always what he or she wants. It’s often fear of losing a person’s approval that keeps someone from addressing an issue.
3) Take the right approach. Sometimes, the right approach is simply waiting until it happens again. Don’t be so quick on the rebuke trigger. Allow for mistakes, but always address patterns. If possible, correct someone privately and compliment him publically. The right approach is usually the hardest approach. It’s easier to send a text or an email than to pick up the phone or talk face-to-face.
4) Ask questions first. Don’t make judgments before you ask questions. Ask the person to explain some things first. Get the facts. Play the detective before you play the judge.
5) Make it constructive. For example, don’t say, “I just don’t think you’re a very loving person.” That’s destructive, not constructive, because you haven’t given him a specific example to build on. Also, most people don’t need the shotgun; they just need the squirt gun. In other words, a little word of correction will go a long way. You don’t have to be too harsh about it or go on and on about it.
How are Christians called to give correction? They are to love their neighbor as themselves. Correct others the way you would want to be corrected. In the pursuit of character growth, remember the value of correction and learn the process of correction.
Jeremy McKeen is the lead pastor of Truth Point Church. Jeremy received his B.A. in communications and philosophy from Florida Southern College and his MDiv from Knox Theological Seminary.