People who love each other correct each other. We have to learn how to give correction gently, and how to take it graciously. Because really loving your neighbor means correcting him or her sometimes.
In fraternal correction, there’s always a correct-or and a correct-ee. In the gospel passage, the Lord Jesus lays out the steps for the correct-or to follow.
First, take it up in private. If that does not work–if the correctee refuses to listen–then include two or three other people in the conversation–people who know the situation and who will back up the criticism.
The second step hopefully will demonstrate the correctness of the original correction to the correctee. ‘I told you in private that you need to work on this or that problem, but you blew me off. Will you listen to these two friends of ours? They agree with me.’
Now, ideally you never wind up at Step Two. Ideally, the correctee listens the first time.
But no one should ever initiate Step One without being prepared to go to Step Two, if need be. I should never presume to correct anyone without asking myself whether at least two or three other people would back up what I have to say. If not, then I shouldn’t say anything in the first place. I don’t have the right to force my personal quibbles on anyone.
Enough for the correct-or. What about the point-of-view of the correctee? Giving good and helpful correction requires great love and humility. Taking correction well requires even more.
Let’s each ask ourselves: What makes me good, in God’s eyes?
Does it impress God that I learned how to use a set of clippers, so I can cut my own hair? Does the Lord have some kind of special reward lined up for me for my impeccable grammar? In high school, I knocked-down buzzer-beating, game-winning jumpshots not just once, but like four times. Does that make me a worthwhile human being?
The more we push the question, the more absurd our pretenses appear. Almighty God laid the foundations of heaven and earth. He knit each of us together, from nothing. He makes the sun rise and set. Our little monuments to ourselves do not impress Him.
The one thing that impresses God is: His Christ. The sacrifice of the only-begotten Son impresses the heavenly Father. The self-offering of the innocent Lamb pleases heaven.
Whatever justice, whatever righteousness, whatever holiness we have, Christ gives it to us, as a free, un-merited gift. Left to our own devices, we have nothing.
If I remember this; if I remember that whatever righteousness I have comes from Christ, then I can listen to someone who loves me enough to tell me when I have done wrong. I won’t get defensive. Instead, I will realize: here is a chance to respond better to the gifts that God has given me.
After all, all goodness and virtue comes from God. The Father loves me in Christ whether I can spell well, or hit a good backhand, or give good speeches at dinner parties. None of these things matter to God, in and of themselves. Rather, Jesus Christ gives me the bedrock of who I am. And He gives it to me for free, even if I can’t do anything right.
So if someone tries to help me become better, I can face the truth about my own shortcomings. And try to work on them.
The truth is: we can all do better.
Hopefully some true friend will offer some good suggestions. And hopefully each of us will trust God enough to listen.