Picture credit to lifeplusreality.worpress.com
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” Hebrews 12: 11-13
I’ve changed topics today but I couldn’t help it. I just wanted to think about correction. Because sometimes, it’s hard to take correction. Sometimes, some of us take it even harder than others. There are some of us who want all our correction “candy coated,” you know, kind and gentle and sweet, without pain, I guess. There are some of us who are just not going to listen no matter what, because we’ve been so hurt in the past, we just block it out, because we take it as an affront, and offense to who we are a person. There are those of us who hear but then shrug it off because we just don’t take it seriously; our thoughts are elsewhere. And sometimes, maybe sometimes, we listen and take it to heart and let it change us.
On the other hand, there are those who feel someone needs correction. There are the outright abusive correctors who attack the person and their character, beating people down with their words. There are those who are so gentle in correction, that they affirm the character they want to correct. There are those who are direct and to the point on the issue at hand. And there are those who can correct, like Samuel with David, indirectly but it takes it home directly in a receptive heart. How are we supposed to correct? Are we supposed to correct? Can we just let people continue on a path that hurts them in their spiritual walk and life walk? What was Jesus’ correction like? I wanted to think about that, especially if You, Lord, are to be my example.
As I read it, and you can read and see it too, I’m sure, Jesus was direct and to the unmistakeable point, even in his parables. I just looked through the book of Matthew alone to see how he responded to people. And the first place I came to was Matthew 3 where Jesus is approaching John at the Jordan to be baptised by him. And John would have stopped him. Why? “I need to be baptized of you, and do you come to me?” Jesus didn’t say, “Oh, that’s a good idea. Sure. I’ll do that.” He answered, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” And John consented. Well, that’s not so rough for correction, is it? But maybe that’s like Jesus telling John, “Remember, you don’t get to decide what righteousness is. God does. And don’t forget who I am. If I say it’s righteous, it’s righteous. Just do it so we are one in righteousness, you, me, and God before all the people. Is that what You were implying, Lord. Because right after the baptism, “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” If John saw that, I think he stood corrected in his prior thinking. No matter what, I am to listen to this guy!”
You even corrected Satan as You resisted him in the wilderness, always correcting him according to the word of God, and that is how You resisted him, despite Your weakened state. Again, God blessed You and affirmed Your approach at obedience, which included the correction of others. “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.” (Matthew 4)
You didn’t run to John the Baptist when he was imprisoned. You didn’t rescue him. The only encouraging words that You sent were the accounts of what was happening, which John should have known agreed with Scripture and prophecy. Maybe those things should have reminded John of that day at the Jordan? He was a mature believer, right? After all, he was a prophet with special insights. Why didn’t You go to him? Was he being corrected, given a time to learn that “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not see,” (Hebrews 11:1) even when you know you are going to be beheaded? That’s a hard lesson, isn’t it? But isn’t it also the lesson we need to learn? Will avoiding losing our head get us there? What if, sometimes, losing our head is what it takes to learn faith like that?
When Jesus began his ministry, what was his first message? “I love you guys. Mwuah.”? No. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4) That’s like saying, “Change now because God is here and actively bringing things to a close. You can’t stay the way you are. Prepare for Him or miss Him.
He did not conjole or persuade. He commanded and promised God’s will to be fulfilled in the lives of those who obeyed. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)
His goal was not to heal people of their sickness and oppressions and seizures and paralysis. His goal was to restore their relationship with God, to direct them to repentance. The miracles enforced who He was. If He had the power to heal like this, then surely He had the power to forgive sin as well. But miracles were not the focus, ever. They were only proof that Jesus was given the power of God to forgive and restore us and be the propitiation for our sin, the problem.
And so You taught. You taught the Beatitudes, the life and spirit character that leads to joy in the Lord and relationship with Him. But You also taught that if one refuses restoration, refuses to live in God’s blessings, there are severe consequences.
He set tough standards. “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22) “But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the grounds of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:32) “But I say to you, ‘Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.” (Matthew 5:34-35) “But I say to you, ‘Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…” (Matthew 5:39) “But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…’” (Matthew 5:44) “You therefore must be perfect [complete in character], as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) This is what He set for us to measure up to.
For every encouragement Jesus gave, He also gave warnings. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, but beware, no one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve god and money.” (Paraphrased from Matthew 6: 19-24)
He was direct and to the point. If you were wrong, you were wrong and he was not afraid or amiss to point it out. “Judge not that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1) Then You go into more detail in case we say, “Oh, I don’t understand what you really mean by judging.” I mean, when you say, “”Oh, let me take the speck out of your eye, friend,’ when there is a giant log in your own eye that you won’t take care of!’” And it’s not just that You relate a parable or a helpful visual aid. You call a hypocrite a hypocrite! You imply that people are acting like dogs to their vomit, or like pigs having no regard for precious things, or that they are acting like vipers, poisonous snakes.
Correction can not always be gentle. Sin is serious, deep stuff. If left unchanged, if left intact, it will lead to death. How gentle should one be? So gentle, one is not nudged to face oneself? So gentle, one is not urged to step off the fence in one direction or another? Should I be so gentle that someone else would be eternally lost because their sin was not made much of? Was Jesus that gentle with me? If so, why did and does my sin bring me to tears? If so gentle, why would a prostitute change her life? If so gentle, why would any Pharisee be converted? If so gentle, why was Paul knocked off his donkey, blinded, and left to dwell on it for a predetermined time by God?
If the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few, why are we looking for an easy, effortless way to God? ((Matthew 7:14) Correction is serious stuff, face it. Accept it. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 7:19) Don’t be one of those. Be corrected. Your are recognized by your fruit or lack of fruit. Be corrected before you have to be thrown out! Be corrected before Jesus has to say to you, “I never knew you; depart form me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23) Why was I lawless, because I refused to be corrected by God. How? Maybe I refused to accept correction from my parents or my spouse or my friend or my co-worker or my boss or my pastor or my teacher or my discipler or whoever God sent to correct me. Maybe I refused to be corrected by His word. I read it. I agreed with it. But that’s it. I was on par with the demons who believe and take a step farther and tremble at what they know. But I didn’t let Your word correct my life and behavior and thoughts and ways. I didn’t apply it. I didn’t live it. I didn’t absorb it and let it flow out.
Come on, don’t be ignorant. “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand…and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:26,27) Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush with our sin. You expect us to be corrected. You expect us to be more than astonished at your teaching.
When the Roman centurion asked for healing for his servant and told You that You didn’t need to come to heal him, all you needed to do was to speak the words and Your authority would take care of it. You were blunt with Your statement, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” (Matthew 8:10) Tell me that the Jews, especially the leaders, being told that a Roman’s faith, a Gentile’s faith was greater than theirs, didn’t offend the hearers that day!! Yes, sometimes the truth hurts but to withhold the truth is to allow us to live a dangerous lie. Jesus loves us too much to let us live that lie to our own destruction.
Sometimes, Your correction came in the form of making us eat our words. “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” “Really?” you think. “Ok, then, come with me and sleep on the rocks because I don’t really have a home that I stay in all the time.” What did that man do? Did he stay? Or did he go back home to his bed in a house? Was he for real or not? “Lord, I want to follow You, but first I need to take care of my inheritance.” “If you really want to follow me, don’t worry about your inheritance from your dad; you have a greater inheritance to follow.” Did he cling to his father’s inheritance or God’s? Did Jesus leave them to think that “vice” was tolerable to God? Was that thinking ok? Was it permissable? (Matthew 8:19-22)
When the disciples, those closest to You, were in the boat and the storm arose, and they woke you saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” Did You answer them gently? “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Would that sting? Should that sting? Should that stop me in my tracks and make me think about my choice, about my belief, about my God? (Matthew 8:24-27)
When the paralytic was forgiven and the scribes whispered, “This man is blaspheming,” You knew their thoughts. Did You handle gently, so as not to offend? “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” was Your correction. Tell me that didn’t sting. (Matthew 9) Continue and see Jesus at Matthew’s house with the other tax collectors and “notorious” sinners. And when the Pharisees question why Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus answers, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Did You just tell the teachers to go learn like a student? Tell me that did not offend them. But why would You do that? Because if they don’t learn, if they don’t accept correction, they will be lost and they won’t ever know God for real.
Jesus likened the people, right to their faces, to fickle children who couldn’t make up their minds. (Matthew 11) He denounced Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum for not repenting. It was not gentle, but direct and honest and a warning. (Matthew 11) In Matthew 12 when You say to the Pharisees, “Have you not read…”, that was like saying, “You act as though you don’t know and understand this from the Scripture.”
Do you think the parables were sweet stories? The Jews understood the point that Jesus was making. They heard what they wanted to hear and didn’t hear what they chose not to hear, but they knew when the parable was pointing out correction they needed, only, instead of allowing correction, they took offense. The disciples said to Jesus one day, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (Matthew 15:12) But it’s not just the Pharisees who can take offense. What about the disciples like Peter, when Jesus says, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”(Matthew 14:31) You can’t let it go. Jesus said, “Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” But You weren’t easier on Your disciples. Peter asked, “Explain the parable to us.” And You said, “Are you also still without understanding?” That was not a pat on the back!
Don’t think that being a disciple excludes us from correction. “O you of little faith; why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread?…” (Matthew 16) Oh, and THEN they understood. Maybe sometimes, a lot of the time, we need to be woken up out of our stupour, out of our rest.
One day, Peter confesses Jesus as the the Christ, the Son of the living God. Wow! Does he get a pat on the back! But, I imagine, maybe days later, Peter takes Jesus aside to rebuke Him for telling of His coming death. Were You gentle with Peter? “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16) Whoa! I wonder which Peter thought about more in that moment, the pat on the back or this reprimand? Which stuck more? I wonder if he was offended? I wonder if he was hurt? I wonder if he was more likely to have meditated and rehearsed his pat on the back, than this reprimand now? I wonder if he just wanted to erase it from his mind, or if he was willing to think about it and meditate on it?
You know, sometimes Jesus doesn’t speak correction at the moment, like when Peter said at the transfiguration, “Lord, it is good that we are here…” You had more important things to focus on other than Peter’s stupidity in that moment. But God, He took care of it by His very voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17) It’s not good that Peter was there. It was good that Jesus was there. That’s the point. Because Jesus was there, Peter could be, or else Peter would be dead. Falling on your face and being terrified, though, is that gentle correction?
“Why did Moses allow divorce?” asked the Pharisees. “Because of YOUR hardness of heart,” answered Jesus. Ouch! “I obey all the commandments,” said the rich young man. “Great, show it. Live it. Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matthew 19) You overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons in the temple and said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21) Gentle?
You aren’t a push-over. “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Why? Because they weren’t seeking the truth anyways, just an argument. If they wouldn’t admit the truth about John the Baptist, why would they admit the truth about You? “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” (Matthew 21) No, instead, when they heard your correction and percieved it was directed at them, they dug in their heals more deeply and stubbornly and sought to arrest him, but in some way that wouldn’t offend the people. Instead of being corrected, they plotted how to entangle You. (Matthew 22) Maybe we don’t do that. Maybe we just justify and justify and justify our own actions. But isn’t that just-as-bad?
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…blind guides…blind fools!…blind men!…hypocrites!…blind guides…hypocrites!…blind Pharisee!…hypocrites!…You serpents, you brood of vipers.” Gentle or direct? Honest or not? Urgent or passive?
When the disciples corrected the woman for pouring her alabaster flask of expensive ointment on You, Jesus, You corrected them. “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.” (Matthew 26) Well, that was an unexpected pat on the back for the woman, but not so for the disciples. They stood corrected, in front of a woman on top of that!
Jesus, You knew who would betray You. You sat at dinner with him and said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” You were saying, “Don’t be fooled. I know what You are doing. I know who You are.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, ‘Is it I, Rabbi?’ He said to him, ‘You have said so.’” Did You baby him? Were You gentle? “”The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Does that seem awful? Does it make me want to follow the same path or avoid it?
“I will not fall away, Lord! I will be faithful to the end! They may not be, but I will!” That’s the kind of thing Peter said. But Jesus didn’t pat him on the back for his encouraging thoughts. “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” (Matthew 26) “No way! Not me!” answered Peter. But what happened? Yes, way. It was him.
“Can’t you even watch and pray with me for one hour?!” (Matthew 26) That’s not so gentle, but it wasn’t so harsh as to keep the disciples awake, was it? Funny how we can be so insensitive to correction.
“I would kill for You!” and the disciple pulls out his sword when they come for Jesus. “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword…” The crowds of guards and religious leaders have come to take him away, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching; and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Yeah, they were in the wrong and were being corrected, but they wouldn’t accept the correction.
Caiaphas and the council were corrected but wouldn’t have it. Judas hung himself because he never accepted correction. Pilate wouldn’t accept correction, he valued the favor of the people and Caesar more. The soldiers woudn’t be corrected. But here’s the beauty and glory of Christ. Jesus, who did no wrong, suffered our correction for us, the ones who didn’t want to be corrected, the ones who didn’t deserve Jesus to stand in for us, and yet that’s exactly what You did. For every time You corrected me and I refused to accept it, You bore the price on the cross. It was the only way to win back to God an ungrateful, hard-necked, stubborn people, who don’t want to accept correction, but who need it desperately.
Maybe, in our heart we want to argue, “Oh, no. That’s only for Jesus to correct like that. After all, He says, “Be wise as serpents, but gentle as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) But that’s not the kind of gentle this word means. I mean, I owned doves, the small, white ring-necked doves like you see Noah holding in pictures. They have no defense. They really can’t fight. Is that what this is? No! The word used for gentle implies unmixed and pure, like a mind or life that is free from evil, free from guilt, innocent and simple according to God. It takes correction to be able to get there because none of us are naturally there at the start. Paul said, “For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, [BUT] I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” (Romans 16:19) We won’t learn this without correction. What does God want in me? “…[T]hat you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:15)
I don’t like correction. It hurts. But, I need correction desperately. If left to my own, I would feed my own lusts. That’s just the way we are. Lord, I wan to learn to value correction immensely, no matter how much it hurts my ego. Maybe, if I learn to be corrected, my ego would shrink and I’d be better off anyway. I want to be like Paul who held Your word so fast, so tightly that he felt he could be proud in the day You return. I want to be like Paul who isn’t afraid of being poured out like a drink offering for others. I want to be glad and rejoice when I am corrected because it allows me to become more like You and less like the old me. I want to be trained by correction to be more like You, even if that correction is painful. Wake me up out of my stupor, whatever it takes, so that I may be changed into Your image.