Did Jesus Always Correct People?
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. (Philippians 4:5)
I’ve had this nagging question in my mind recently. I’ve always thought it’s Biblical to be both courteous and reasonable to others, but I wondered whether these ideas were truly Biblical? I recently heard someone argue that Jesus was gentle with sinners, that he wouldn’t have corrected every single wrong thing a person said or did all the time. In other words, he was reasonable. It’s not that they were arguing that he would water down the truth… but rather, that he was gentle and took his time with people. This made sense to me knowing how Jesus befriended the ‘big sinners’ of society (Luke 7:34). They seemed to love him! The Bible clearly says that Jesus is gentle (Matthew 11:29)… but is it really true that he might have let some wrong ideas or actions pass without correcting them? I mean, isn’t Jesus ‘Truth’ in-the-flesh (John 14:6)? Isn’t he the one who called some of the Jewish teachers ‘blind fools’ (Matthew 23:17)?! He could be blunt when he needed to be. So, how do we account for this? How did Jesus know when to be strong, and when to be gentle?
Here are two things that come to mind:
- Love always motivated him.
Jesus is Love-in-the-flesh (1 John 4:8-10). He deeply loved his disciples (John 15:12-13) and he said that people would recognise his followers by the way they loved one another (John 13:35). He taught his followers to love others as much as they cared for themselves (Matthew 22:39) and modelled this by willingly dying on a cross (John 10:11; 15:13; 19:10-11). Clearly, Jesus was not just a person of love, he is Love (together with the Father and the Spirit; see John 5:20, 15:9-10; 2 Timothy 1:7). We easily believe that Jesus was motivated by love when he healed someone or fed the crowds, but not when he was angry or blunt. But the truth is Jesus never stopped loving even when he was strong on something. For example, at the end of his stinging rebuke of the religious leaders in Matthew 23, he finishes by grieving over the state of Israel and her leaders, because he longed to protect them (Matthew 23:37). We can never separate love from Jesus… in fact, he defines it.
- Different illnesses require different medicine.
Jesus is a masterful doctor. He knows that all of us have been infected by sin (Romans 3:23; 5:19), but that sin creates different illnesses. For some, like the prodigal Son, their sin leads to the illness of outright rejecting God (Luke 15:12-13). For others, their sin leads to the illness of spiritual blindness, harshness and hypocrisy (Luke 15:1-2, 28-30). Each illness needs to be treated differently. As a loving doctor, he is not content to leave us in our illnesses even if we don’t like the treatment! When someone is filled with harshness and hypocrisy because they’re blind to their own neediness for healing, Jesus might try to wake them up with a rebuke. When someone actually knows and acknowledges that they are ill, that’s half the work done for Jesus (Mark 2:17). From there he can lead them to wholeness in the gentleness that comes from his love (Matthew 11:28-30).
So… how did Jesus know when to be strong and when to be gentle? In part, I think it’s because he was motivated by love and this meant he wanted to heal us from sin. Sin manifests itself in different ways, so in his love he provides different treatments. So, what about our original question. Is it really true that Jesus might have let some wrong ideas or actions pass without correcting them? I think so. I don’t believe Jesus was simply concerned about sin-afflicted sinners having a perfect theology. The demons have great theology (James 2:19), the Pharisees had good theology (Matthew 23:2-3), but we all know how Jesus viewed them. Of course, Jesus wants us to know truth (John 8:31), but the ultimate truth is that the Son sets you free (John 8:36), not constant correction. We must be wise about when we choose to correct someone. We must ask God to lead us in love, and when love requires us to reprove or correct a fellow believer (1 Corinthians 5:5), that we do it ‘in a spirit of gentleness’ (Galatians 6:1).
So, are you reasonable? Are you gentle with others? How much more gentle and considerate should we be knowing that we ourselves have been afflicted by sin? Don’t get me wrong. Let’s not sacrifice the gospel or truth in the name of ‘tolerance’. But… let’s not throw out wisdom, love or gentleness either. May the Holy Spirit lead you and me as we seek to walk in the same love that motivated Jesus. And may our reasonableness be known to all (Philippians 4:5)!
Grace and peace,