A friend of mine recently commented on an exchange she had witnessed between two acquaintances. One had pointed out politely, lovingly, and quietly, an error in the behavior of the other. What my friend commented on was the response of the second person to having been corrected: she had listened carefully and then thanked the first for pointing out what she had overlooked.
Why did my friend comment on this? Probably because it is so rare. It seems that we humans are so very insecure that we erect any number of barriers to being shown as wrong in anything—even when we are wrong and we know we are wrong. It hurts to have an error pointed out, no matter how merited or polite or loving the correction. Typically, what happens in an interchange like the one mentioned is the corrected party becomes angry and defensive. The usual answer to criticism is denial that there is a problem, or a counterattack aimed at the other person.
That is, of course, if the issue ever gets that far. Sadly, many have become so wary of being the target of the anger of another that we either swallow our observation of some error or we share it...with other people. We point out flaws about someone behind their back, which helps no one. This tendency is even more prevalent when the error is an offense against us personally. It is so much easier to hold a grudge than to confront one who has hurt us, whether real or imagined.
Christ instructed His followers how to deal with a brother who has sinned against us. “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15).
We may have read or heard this passage many times. It is likely that we put ourselves in the place of the person who has been sinned against. Today, let's think about how we might react—how we do react—when we are the person who has sinned against someone else, or even when we are simply a person whose fault is being pointed out.
We have a precedent for how humankind reacts in these instances. In the very first book of the Bible, we read the sordid story of what happened when fault was pointed out to Cain. You will remember that Cain had presented an offering to the Lord, as had his brother, Abel. For some reason, Cain's offering was rejected. We aren't told why. We aren't told that he offered the wrong thing, or offered at the wrong time. Commentators often suppose that the problem may have been Cain's attitude, which seems a reasonable supposition. When we first see Cain, he is angry. “So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him” (Genesis 4:6-8).
Here, it wasn't even Abel who pointed out the error—it was God Himself. And Cain's response was not to apologize, to repent, or to ask what he should have done differently. Instead, he was jealous and angry that Abel was accepted and he was not...and he killed Abel.
So, what about you and me? When we are approached by someone who points out an error in our ways, whether the error is sin or simply accidental offense, how do we handle it? What does our response say about the God we serve? Are we gracious? Are we quick to apologize? Do we listen even if we think the other person is wrong? Do we give the matter prayerful attention in case we might be mistaken or blind to that particular flaw in ourselves?
As Christians, we are to strive for perfection. We won't attain it in this lifetime—no one is perfect. We must remember that in order to correct faults, flaws, and sins, we must be aware of them. We never know when God is using our brother to bring us closer to His perfect example. As Christ said, if we listen, then we have restored a relationship with our brother. That alone ought to give us motivation to hear our brother out.
Let's not be like Cain—defensive and angry. When flaws are pointed out to us, let's respect the courage it took that brother or sister to come to us. Let us listen, apologize as necessary, thank them for coming to us, and give the matter our attention and prayer. In this way, we build and strengthen relationships not just between brethren, but between ourselves and God.
For more information on building healthy relationships and habits, read the Bible study aid Making Life Work.