4. Be quick.
Pray for their restoration, but don’t wait there too long on your knees. Hebrews encourages us to be quick and regular—“every day.” Don’t let manifestly sinful patterns fester. Perhaps, don’t even let the sun go down.
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12-13)
Providing a corrective word in loving humility is not only for words and actions that are dead wrong or borderline blasphemous, but when we become aware of some seeming trajectory of evil or falsity. The ideal is that we live in such honest and regular community—and speak without delay and receive it with gospel-conditioned thick skin—that mild, gentle words of rebuke and correction are commonplace, that sin is regularly nipped in the bud, rather than given time and encouragement to grow into the tall nasty weed it will become.
5. Be kind.
What makes a corrective word to be truly Christian is not only explicit reminders of gospel truths, but also a tone and demeanor that matches our Master. There is a place for gravity and severity in response to extreme callousness of heart, but most often, in the kind of regular correction we’re to be providing for each other, it is the gentle pattern of “the Lord’s servant” that outlines our course:
The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26)
In one sense, any righteous rebuke is a kindness. “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it” (Psalm 141:5). But it is all the more a gift when such a kindness is given kindly.
As much as vestiges of sin in us would make our hands harsh with fellow sinners, the Spirit works another pattern in us as we walk in light of the gospel. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).
6. Be clear and specific.
But your kindness may send the wrong message if it is not matched with clarity. When we’ve checked our log, sought sympathy, prayed for restoration, and have been quick and kind in addressing the sin, we now should be empowered not to tiptoe around what’s really caught our attention, but to be frank and direct.
Before approaching someone with a corrective word, get it clear in your own mind what you’re observing and how it may be harmful. You may even want to scratch a few key words or phrases or sentences on paper to make sure it’s objective enough to communicate and not too mired in your own subjective sense. Have specific examples ready. Pray for, and then take up, the apostle Paul’s love of clarity and “open statement of the truth” (2 Corinthians 4:2 is about transparency in speaking the gospel, but it relates as well to correcting our brother: “that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”
7. Follow up.
Finally, plan some way to follow up. If they receive it well, follow up with an email or call or text, and commend that evidence of grace in their life. If they don’t respond well, follow up with some further expression of love for them, perhaps a reminder that you have nothing to gain but their good, that you’re very happy to be wrong if the correction is pretty subjective, and that you’re praying for them as they consider your observation.
Providing regular, gracious words of correction can seem like such a small thing in community life. It’s so easy just to let little sins go and mind your own business. But the long-term effect of such active grace, administered in loving humility, can have eternal implications. “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
“Love constrains us to give the gift of loving correction.”