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Kind and Gentle Correction
Copyright © 2002, 2005 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

The Accusation

"What a church full of foolish people!"

"You are all a bunch of hypocrites and you are all going to Hell!"

"Every one of you is a liar! "

"You snakes in the grass! "

Haven't we all heard such severe statements hurled by apparently cold-hearted, unkind, Christians? Immediately we ask, "What kind of unfeeling, angry, individuals would bring such hurtful accusations and condemnations on God's people?"

Paul, the Apostle would. Actually, so did Jesus.

The Proof

Paul publicly confronted and indicted the entire church congregation at Galatia when he said, "You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you…?", and, "Are you so foolish?" (Galatians 3:1a, 3a). Even worse, Paul dares call an entire demographic group, everyone who lived on the island of Crete, "liars":

"One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith." (Titus 1:12,13)

Even after this "severe" public scolding in which Paul calls the men of Crete liars, evil beasts, lazy, and gluttons, he dares to tell us: "Therefore, I exhort you, be imitators of me." (1Corinthians 4:16).

Imitate you, Paul? You just mocked an entire island-nation. You just called them "beasts" and "lazy" and "gluttons." That is not only politically incorrect, but it is offensive. Those people are going to be very upset and will undoubtedly have hurt feelings. Is this not simply insensitive speech?

Before you get too upset with Paul, consider how Jesus delivered a blistering set of rebukes to those who came to listen to Him preach.

"You fools and blind men!…" (Matthew 23:17a)

"You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?" (Matthew 23:33)

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves." (Matthew 23:15)

And Paul said, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ." (1Corinthians 11:1)

The Dilemma

Surely any thoughtful Christian can see the dilemma. Is it possible for someone to call an entire church of people "foolish" or to label an entire class of people as "fools", "snakes", and "sons of hell" but still fulfill the Scriptural requirement to be "gentle" and "kind"? Were Paul and Jesus in fact kind and gentle in these instances?

"The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snares of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will." (2Timothy 2:24-26)

By modern Western standards of liberal Bible interpretation, the answer is, "no," Paul and Jesus were not "kind to all" nor correcting men "with gentleness." For by today’s politically correct spin on word meanings, all public insults and condemnations are by their very definition harsh, unkind, not gentle, and insensitive. Therefore, by liberal definition, they are always sinful behavior.

However, it is important to look to the Bible to define such subjective concepts as "kindness" and "gentleness." Why are these concepts subjective? Something is subjective when there is no explicit set of parameters by which any distant observer can flip open a reference book, look up a term or a phrase, such as "snake" and determine that in a given situation it was morally wrong for someone else to have used that term. There is no concrete and unchanging list of sinfully "unkind" words and phrases. The magnitude of gentleness involved is subjective--subject to interpretation by the speaker and the hearer.

For example, having sex with someone else’s wife is not subjective behavior. We can flip open the pages of Scripture and find a specific law that prohibits this activity. Therefore, it is always wrong and no one may claim, "my adultery was acceptable in my situation because the concept is subjective." In fact, defining adultery as a sin can be done quite objectively. There are pre-written standards that tell us when we have crossed the line into sin.

Kindness and gentleness are not so easily determined. Which words may a person utter that causes them to cross the line from kind to unkind speech? To a great extent these terms are subjective in nature. As we will see later, that does not really leave the door open to wholesale abuse for there are biblical principles and criteria to apply. For now, we can understand that there is no master list of unkind words or catalogue of actions which are classified as lacking gentleness.

Something that is subjective is judged to be good or bad, proper or improper, by each individual using his own understanding (subject to his own value system) as to whether he has met the biblical admonition. The one who has a bent toward, and a moral foundation of, political correctness may believe he can isolate for others every word that is unkind and every action that is not gentle, however, such a person will be at a total loss to prove his criteria from the Word. The fact that God did not impose a list of absolutes indicates that He has a Law of Grace to impose on these terms, the rule of Spirit and not the rule of law.

One who is politically correct or who is unconvinced that there is a Law of Grace may decry such a loose understanding of these terms. In fact, demanding that certain words or phrases be forbidden as unkind in all circumstances is not genuinely "politically correct" but rather legalistic. Legalism is inventing laws that are nowhere found in the Word and pretending that they are indeed the Scripture.

Often legalism is used to squelch disagreements instead of actually resolving them. For example, how very many times has an intelligent discussion by two people offering opposing points of view been abruptly ended when the person who ran out of support for his opinion declared, "That was an unkind thing to say! If you cannot talk civilly, I am leaving." Who gets to decide if a comment, a rebuke, an admonition, an accusation, or a confrontation was done in a kind and gentle manner? The recipient of the comment? The speaker? Using what criteria?

The Explanation

That "kindness" and "gentleness" are subjective is born out by the lack of laws by which to govern other people and their speech. However, that does not mean these terms are meaningless or without the teeth of principle. It does mean that we must search the Word to establish the overarching guidelines which each person must then use to judge and moderate his own behavior so that he may in fact guiltlessly claim his actions and his speech are "kind and gentle."

"Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol." (Proverbs 23:13,14)

Is it kind and gentle to strike a child (as in a traditional disciplinary spanking)? Overwhelmingly the world says, "No!" However, God’s Word is quite precise and unambiguous on the matter.

"He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently." (Proverbs 13:24)

So, if inflicting physical pain on your child is considered loving and gentle kindness, and if withholding the pain of the rod is considered hatred, what are the defining elements that make hitting your own child into an act of love? Once we understand this, we will have the first of the biblical criteria to determine if a comment is kind or unkind, gentle or not gentle.

Why is it necessary to strike the child with the rod and inflict such pain? To "rescue his soul from Sheol." Motive is the first of the criteria. It is a motive of love, to be certain. Even more, it is an act of correction. Correction and discipline denote that the child has done something wrong and required correction to "save him" from continuing on in the error of his ongoing behavior.

Biblical Criteria One: the speaker’s motive--kind and gentle speech must be for the correction and the salvation of another.

Speech must also demonstrate love. God is love. Christ was our example of love on Earth. He chastised the Pharisees and Scribes so that they might change their actions, minds, and hearts, and repent--for their benefit. He chastised them publicly so that the assembled Israelites might learn first hand that what they had been observing at the hands of the Pharisees could lead them astray--for their benefit.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:4-6)

Love, the very meaning of the word, is: those words, thoughts, or deeds that are intended to benefit someone else--for someone else’s ultimate good; seeking good for another even at the cost of pain or ill for myself.

Biblical Criteria Two: love--the speaker must be motivated by love; motivated to speak solely for the good that someone else can gain from what is said.

The Test

So far then, the test for biblical gentleness and kindness is: A confrontational comment is kind and gentle if the motive of the speaker is to lovingly save the sinner from the error of his way.

Is that the only criteria by which to determine if a spoken phrase is kind and gentle? No, there is at least one more criteria.

"Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for you are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger," Ephesians 4:24,25

It is never loving, gentle, or kind to speak falsely. One must speak the truth. Even if that truth is spoken in anger or in an angry tone. Caution is required, of course, because anger turns to sin very quickly, and it is often anger that can turn the tongue to lying. Lies are destructive, even if the speaker thinks he is just sparing someone’s feelings with a "white lie." Truth is mandatory; truth is love. Lies are hatred.

Biblical Criteria Three: truthfulness--the comment must be biblically and factually true.

By combining the three biblical criteria for ascertaining whether speech is gentle and kind, or, unkind and sinful, we obtain a self-test. This self-test for kind speech and gentle communication should be applied to all that one says, but most especially to statements intended to correct another person.

The Test for Kindness and Gentleness:

A comment is kind and gentle if the motive of the speaker is to save the sinner from the error of his way, if it is done thoughtfully with intent to be of constructive benefit to the hearer, and if what is said is biblically and factually true.

The Comparison

Therefore, those statements made by an individual who has the motivation of saving someone's soul, and who's verbal statements are factually and scripturally accurate, even if the statements are accusatory and confrontational, can be said to be "kind" and "gentle." Surely this must sound like an obvious contradiction in terms to some who have been schooled to believe that "kindness" and "gentleness" are perceived in the ears of the hearer instead of judged in the heart of the speaker.

Yet, consider the alternative. If you withheld your truthful and Scripturally accurate admonishment from someone in order to spare them hurt feelings, they may end up not repenting and ultimately burning in Hell for eternity. Assisting someone, by your silence, to enter and suffer eternity in Hell is not doing them a kindness. Nor is there anything gentle about being in Hell. Therefore, confronting them is in truth a kindness and is far more gentle than what awaits them if you keep your rebukes to yourself.

Consider the case of one who is already a Christian but who is in public sin (perhaps due to living in open promiscuity, or teaching a false doctrine). The church is commanded to call attention to their sin and openly put that person out of the church ("turning them over to Satan for the destruction of their flesh" is the way Paul stated it). Is this really kindness? Is public embarrassment and removing Christian fellowship genuinely the gentle thing to do? Was Paul kind and gentle when he rebuked Peter in the presence of all for his sin of hypocrisy (Galatians 2:14)?

Yes, it is both kind and gentle. Kind, because the pain inflicted now is nothing compared to the pain that will be infused into the church if sin is permitted to run along unchecked. Gentle, because the punishment that God may choose to impose on a person later may be much harsher and longer lasting than what the church can or will impose today.

The Standard

God's standards of "kind" and "gentle" have so very little in common with the liberal definitions that have invaded the church as of late that one should shudder to consider His view of us. He gave us so much meat and authority in the Word, and yet we are timid and feel powerless to confront, admonish, exhort, and rebuke those who stray from the Word or those who stop living according to the Word.

When did God say to the church, "Stop confronting one another with the Bible, right now?" Where is it written, "Withhold rebuke so that the one who does wrong will never come to their senses?"

No one is claiming that confrontation is pleasant. All discipline is difficult and feels terrible (Hebrews 12:11). But if you truly love someone you will confront them. You might call their beliefs or their behaviors foolish, as Paul and Jesus did. You might tell a teacher his false doctrine is making his students into "sons of Hell." You just might have to tell someone they are a liar. In doing so, you will be demonstrating your love for that person, from a pure heart, with biblical kindness, and with biblical gentleness.

The Conclusion

Kindness and gentleness are not defined by the ears of the hearer. Kindness and gentleness are defined by the Scriptures as the loving motives of the speaker and the truthfulness of the words spoken for the benefit of calling the sinner to repent, to save his soul from Sheol. What greater kindness can a man possibly speak?

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