Happy Are Those Whom God Corrects
“Happy is the able-bodied man whom you correct, O Jah, and whom you teach out of your own law.”—Ps. 94:12.
1, 2. How should we feel about godly correction?
WHEN was the last time you, in word or in deed, fell short of God’s righteous ways and standards? Likely you do not have to think back very far, perhaps just a few hours or days, for all of us sin, failing to reflect properly God’s glory.—1 Ki. 8:46; 1 John 1:8-10.
2 We can be happy that in his love Jehovah desires and is able to correct us. “The One correcting the nations, can he not reprove, even the One teaching men knowledge? Happy is the able-bodied man whom you correct, O Jah.” If we ‘let ourselves be corrected’ by Jehovah, we will be happy, for we will be in harmony with him.—Ps. 94:10, 12.
3. What subjects rightly come under consideration?
3 Christians can trust the Bible’s assurance, “Whom Jehovah loves he disciplines.” (Heb. 12:6) We are pleased, therefore, to present a Bible-based consideration of matters related to reproof, repentance and disfellowshiping. Two articles in this series are in this issue of The Watchtower, and the remaining three will be published in the following issue. These five articles should help all to obtain a clear understanding of the Scriptural principles involved, and “to be readjusted, to be comforted, to think in agreement, to live peaceably.”—2 Cor. 13:11.
4, 5. How does Jehovah God provide correction for us?
4 God often corrects us in such a gentle and mild way that we may not even recognize it as correction. Perhaps we read something in his Word that leads us away from an undesirable course or corrects our thinking. At other times correction from God may be more pointed and even somewhat painful. Yet he knows the degree and the method of correction that are best for us. (Jer. 30:11) How fine it is when we willingly accept his correction, for God provides discipline out of love as a father does for a dear son! It is also much wiser for us to accept any limited or restrained correction that Jehovah God gives us than for us to be punished to the point of extermination.—Jer. 10:24; Heb. 12:5.
5 Sometimes God offers correction through humans. He sent prophets and judges to the nation of Israel. But he can provide wise correction even on an individual basis. One of Job’s false “comforters” had to acknowledge that Job had “corrected many.” (Job 4:3; 16:2) What a blessing it must have been to receive wise correction from Job, a man outstanding in godly devotion! We can ask ourselves, though, ‘Am I open to helpful correction of this sort, correction from a human but which is based on God’s perfect wisdom?’
CORRECTING ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE
6. On what basis might we receive correction from a brother?
6 Jesus laid the basis for our expecting to receive, and to give, loving correction. In words that cover cases of serious personal offense, but that in principle can be applied in many situations, Jesus said: “If your brother does wrong, correct him; if he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3, The New American Bible) Also, the apostle Paul wrote that a “servant of the Lord” should be “patiently and gently correcting” others.—2 Tim. 2:24, 25, NAB.
7. What should occur in the case of gross sin?
7 The shepherds, or appointed overseers, in the congregation are interested in each Christian individually, and also in protecting the flock as a whole. (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:2, 3) Hence, when someone falls into gross sin, the matter should come to their attention. The sinner himself ought to “call the older men of the congregation to him.” Or, any other Christian who learns of the grave sin should, out of concern for the wrongdoer and for the cleanness of the congregation, alert the elders. (Lev. 5:1) These elders, then, may be able to aid the person who has fallen into error, turning him back and thus ‘saving his soul from death.’—Jas. 5:14, 16, 19, 20.
8. How should we view our brothers’ minor errors?
8 There are failings or errors of a less grave nature concerning which mature Christians might be in a position to offer Bible-based correction and help. Of course, we should guard against being overcritical of another’s minor faults, for God urges us to be long-suffering and to put up with one another. (Col. 3:12, 13) We should have ‘lowliness of mind, considering that the others are superior to us, keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just our own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.’ (Phil. 2:3, 4) God assures us that “it is beauty on [our] part to pass over transgression.”—Prov. 19:11.
9, 10. What could be done if a brother seemed to be taking a false step?
9 Still, there may be some occasion when we see that a Christian associate is taking a false step or is heading into danger because of a bad pattern. For instance, in our close association with a brother we may note that he is inclined to heavy drinking. He does not appear to be a drunkard, but clearly is ‘given to a lot of wine.’ (1 Tim. 3:8) So some helpful correction could be offered. But by whom?
10 Paul wrote to the Galatian Christians: “Even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.” (Gal. 6:1) A Christian with spiritual qualifications might kindly and tactfully provide correction in various ways. For example, he could say something in general conversation so that it would not even give the appearance of deliberate counsel. (Prov. 15:23) Or, he might privately offer words of admonition. Yet—and this is vital—his effort should not be motivated by a critical spirit, but should spring from loving concern.—1 Cor. 13:4, 5.
11. How could brothers and sisters in Philippi have helped with a problem some had there?
11 There are other situations, too, in which Christian brothers and sisters can help. Paul wrote this about a problem in Philippi:
“Euodia I exhort and Syntyche I exhort to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, I request you too, genuine yokefellow, keep assisting these women who have striven side by side with me in the good news.” (Phil. 4:2, 3)
There apparently was a problem or significant difference between these two anointed Christian women. Surely the apostle was not urging the Philippians to take sides over the difference. That would polarize the congregation, producing faction, jealousy and strife. (1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:2-9) That is a serious danger that must be avoided. Yet, without busybodying as to the women’s grievances or views, the brothers and sisters, like the “genuine yokefellow” in Philippi, could offer corrective encouragement toward Christian unity, being forgiving and working together in love. (Matt. 5:23-25; Eph. 4:1-6, 31, 32; Titus 2:3-5) If you are given such well-motivated correction by a fellow worshiper, you should look upon it as an expression of kindness.—Ps. 141:5.
ACTING WITH FIRMNESS
12, 13. What sort of more serious error might exist in a congregation?
12 On occasion there may be a Christian who pursues a course that is out of harmony with God’s directions and does not change despite help even from the elders. This is not a case of someone who merely has a personality difference with another. Nor is it just that an individual has yet to grow up to Christian maturity and so reflects in various ways his need for continued growth. Paul acknowledged that there would be immature Christians who should be helped with patience, love and a desire to see them progress. (Rom. 14:1; 15:1; 1 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 3:15, 16) But, aside from such, there may be someone who chooses to pursue a course that, while it does not yet amount to grave sin, is clearly in conflict with God’s counsel.
13 It should not be shocking that there occasionally might be some Christians of this sort. The Bible says: “Now in a large house there are vessels not only of gold and silver but also of wood and earthenware, and some for an honorable purpose but others for a purpose lacking honor.” (2 Tim. 2:20, 21) The congregation was compared to a house in which there might be some individuals who were like dishonorable vessels, whose ways or influence were unwholesome. Timothy and other faithful Christians were warned to ‘keep clear’ of such dishonorable vessels.—Compare Romans 16:17.
14, 15. What problem arose in the congregation at Thessalonica, and how might Christians react to such a problem?
14 In line with such an understanding and application of Paul’s words, we note that there was a case of this sort in ancient Thessalonica. The congregation as a whole was counseled that some, who evidently were healthy and able, would not work. These few wanted to live off others, contrary to God’s counsel about laziness. So Paul wrote: “Now we are giving you orders, brothers, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to withdraw from every brother walking disorderly and not according to the tradition you received from us.”—2 Thess. 3:6; Prov. 20:4; 24:30; Eccl. 5:12, 18; 10:18.
15 Yes, there may be someone who has “not let himself be corrected by mere words,” including Scriptural counsel from the elders to the congregation, and he persists in going contrary to God’s principles. Christians, then, may feel obliged to “withdraw” from him, as Paul advised.—Prov. 10:17; 29:19.
“KEEP THIS ONE MARKED”
16. Paul offered what counsel to the Thessalonians?
16 Continuing in the counsel to the Thessalonians about the lazy, disorderly ones, Paul wrote: “If anyone is not obedient to our word through this letter, keep this one marked, stop associating with him, that he may become ashamed. And yet do not be considering him as an enemy, but continue admonishing him as a brother.” (2 Thess. 3:14, 15) Hence, Christians can ‘mark’ someone who persists in disregarding God’s principles.
17. (a) Why is care needed in applying that counsel? (b) What did Jesus say in this regard?
17 We need, however, to exercise great care in applying this divine counsel. In our imperfection, we might tend to make personal judgments based on individual likes or dislikes, such as about styles of dress or grooming. But if a sister’s clothing, for example, is not immodest, indecent, or shocking to the brothers in general, we should recognize that she simply has a different taste or preference. (Gen. 37:3, 4; John 19:23; 1 Tim. 2:9, 10) We have not been made judges of our brothers and sisters on inconsequential matters of opinion, taste or variations of conscience. (Rom. 14:4, 10-12) Or, even if someone is incorrect on what is really a minor point, we must recall Jesus’ advice:
“Stop judging that you may not be judged; for with what judgment you are judging, you will be judged; . . . Why, then, do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the rafter in your own eye?”—Matt. 7:1-3.
18. What should be done when someone is clearly violating God’s counsel?
18 However, what if there is someone who is significantly deviating from God’s principles, perhaps being grossly lazy or critical, a ‘profitless talker’ who is a constant ‘meddler with what does not concern him’? (2 Thess. 3:11) Or, the problem may be one of scheming to take material advantage of others, indulging in entertainment that clearly is improper, or getting involved in questionable conduct that does not at this point merit judicial action.a The elders have tried to help him, but he persists and may be affecting others in the congregation or presenting a danger to others. The elders can discuss the matter and may assign one of their number to give a firm, direct Scriptural talk on the matter to the congregation. Without mentioning the “disorderly” one by name, the elders may thus be able ‘to shut the mouth of’ such an unruly one.—Titus 1:10-13.
19. How might others in the congregation react if the problem persists?
19 Should such a situation exist in a congregation, individual Christians might feel obliged to ‘mark’ the person.b Paul explains what this, in part, involves, saying: “Stop associating with him, that he may become ashamed.” (2 Thess. 3:14) That would mean your curtailing social involvement with the “marked” person. You should not announce or publicize your private decision, nor try to influence others. But you personally would avoid the company of the “marked” person, in keeping with the healthful counsel given by the congregation’s elders. You would not, though, reject him altogether, for he is still your brother, a fellow Christian for whom Christ died. Rather than allowing any seeds of “hate” to develop, you should “reprove” him. How? Well, in addition to being a good example yourself, your kindly but firmly obeying the direction “Stop associating with him” is one form of correction. But you can do more to help.—Lev. 19:17; Titus 2:7, 8.
20. If you have “marked” someone who is disorderly, what responsibility do you have?
20 You will still be around the “marked” Christian at congregational meetings and in the field service. Thus, you may have occasion to carry out your other obligation involved in ‘marking’ him: “Do not be considering him as an enemy, but continue admonishing him as a brother.” (2 Thess. 3:14, 15) If you did not fulfill your responsibility as to this aspect of God’s counsel, but treated the “marked” person as an enemy, your course might be as unloving as his.
21. What is the objective of this Biblical arrangement? (Num. 35:12; Deut. 19:11, 12)
21 It is to be hoped that the “marked” individual will become ashamed. He may realize that it is by Scriptural direction that you are avoiding his social company. This discipline may help him to “straighten up the hands that hang down and the enfeebled knees, . . . that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather that it may be healed.” In view of the vast numbers of loyal brothers associating with God’s congregation today, likely it will be seldom that Christians are obliged to ‘mark’ a disorderly brother. But when this does occur, perhaps correction, combined with continued admonishing, will ‘yield peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.’—Heb. 12:11-13.
MEETING WITH A COMMITTEE OF ELDERS
22, 23. How are cases of gross sin to be handled?
22 As we have noted (in paragraph 7), an individual who ‘has committed serious sins’ needs the attention of “the older men of the congregation.” (Jas. 5:14, 15) These men are in a good position to offer godly correction to a person who has been overreached and has fallen into grievous sin. They can provide the spiritual help that he needs.—Prov. 6:23.
23 Usually a committee of three elders is designated to handle a case of grave wrongdoing. They do not act as mere judges or ‘spiritual policemen.’ They are shepherds of the flock, and prove to be such when dealing with an individual wrongdoer. A shepherd of literal sheep does not display a spirit of vengeance, harshness or faultfinding. Nor should the elders. They are there to help, not to condemn. (Jude 23) Their goal is to turn the sinner back from his way, if that is possible.—Jas. 5:19, 20.
24. What do the elders attempt to do for the sinner?
24 Yet, in dealing with grievous sin, elders must ‘hold firmly to the faithful word,’ being “able both to exhort by the teaching that is healthful and to reprove those who contradict.” (Titus 1:9) So they should not hold back from straightforwardly showing the erring one from the Scriptures the wrongness of his course and why he needs to correct his way. They want him to repent and come to be at peace with God again.—1 Pet. 3:10-12.
25. What matters yet need to be studied?
25 How, though, should the elders reprove wrongdoers? What is godly repentance? How is it manifested? How should the elders deal with cases of gross sin where repentance is shown? Must the wrongdoer be reproved before the entire congregation? These matters are considered in the following article.
a An example involving dating when an individual is not scripturally free to remarry was discussed in “Questions from Readers” in The Watchtower of August 1, 1980.
b To ‘mark’ a person means to take special note of him. Contrast the favorable noting mentioned in Psalm 37:37; Philippians 3:17 and Hebrews 13:7.
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HOW ARE WE INVOLVED IN GODLY CORRECTION?
Sometimes God corrects us through the Bible or Bible study aids.
Or a Christian, especially an elder, might lovingly call a fault to our attention.
If some refuse to abandon a disorderly course, the elders might have to alert and warn the congregation about the course or trait.
We ought then to feel that we individually should ‘mark’ (2 Thess. 3:14, 15) any who are thus disorderly.
If we do so, we would avoid social association with such ones, BUT we also should fulfill our obligation to help and admonish such disorderly ones, for they are still our Christian brothers.
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If you saw a Christian associate heading into danger, would you offer kindly counsel?
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“Keep assisting” those who need corrective encouragement, counseled Paul