Correct Ways to Correct: Addressing Sin in the Church

From The Cripplegate, with permission.

Some believe he was the greatest tennis player of all time. He finished as the world’s top-seeded player four years in a row and spent a total of 170 weeks in that top spot. He won Wimbledon three times and the US Open four times, and finished his career with 77 singles titles and 78 doubles titles, which remains the highest men’s combined total of the Open Era.

But most of us probably don’t remember him for those stats.

We know him for his harsh words fired mercilessly at umpires in fits of outrage and unbridled temper tantrums. Who else could I be referring to other than John McEnroe?

McEnroe became notorious for questioning umpires with vociferous protestations and unrelenting verbal abuse, which garnered him thousands of dollars in fines.

His favorite phrase, which is now part of English vernacular, was: “You cannot be serious!”

In response to his behavior a rule was created that if a player exceeded $7,500 in fines in a season, he would be suspended for 21 days.

That trap was sprung at the Swedish Open in 1984.

A linesman called a serve as long, and McEnroe approached the chair umpire, Leif Nilsson, glared at him with his trademark scowl, and asked:

Are all Swedish umpires as good as you?…No mistakes so far in this match, right? You haven’t overruled anything. No mistakes whatsoever! Answer my question! The question, jerk!

The stoic Nilsson replied with a deadpan, “Second serve please.”

Nilsson had already issued McEnroe a warning in the second game of the match for firing a ball in anger at a spectator, so this second outburst cost him a point penalty. He stormed over to the sideline and smashed several glasses of ice water with a backhand drenching a spectator in the front row who just happened to be… the King of Sweden.

McEnroe got a $2,100 fine for his efforts, which exceeded the fine cap and thus resulted in an immediate 21-day suspension.

It should be noted that it is not against the rules of tennis to challenge a linesman’s call, but there are correct ways to address the umpire and there are rules about smacking glasses of water at the King of Sweden.

Three aspects of the correct way to correct people in the church…

1. The need for correction

1 Timothy 5:1-2, ”Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.”

There are two commands here: do not rebuke – literally do not batter with blows – but rather encourage.

Timothy’s response to sin in the church could either be incorrect (rebuking) or correct (encouraging), but there is no option to ignore the sin.

Although the log must be removed from your own eye first….the speck in your brother’s eye must still be removed (Luke 6:42).

But you might be asking: Why do Christians need to address sin, why can’t we just ignore it, like normal people do? It’s no wonder people say we are judgmental—we keep noticing each other’s sin and pointing it out to each other. Why?

2. The goal of correction

If the goal of correcting a person was just to point out their sin or to make the person feel bad, then it wouldn’t matter how we addressed the issue, as long as we did address it.

When a tennis player’s serve is out of bounds the linesman yells “Out!” He doesn’t say, “Hey brother may I have a quiet word with you in private? Let’s open in prayer. Now I just wanted to point out that the ball was an inch shy of the line…” No, he just shouts “Out!” in front of everyone—the umpire, the crowd, the opponent. Why? Because the goal is simply to make everyone aware that the ball was out.

But here Paul tells Timothy how to correctly point out sin (encourage) because pointing out the sin isn’t the goal…the goal is to restore the sinner.

Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. …

The goal is to put the person back to where they were before – to help them to be right with God and in fellowship with God’s people.

So how do we do this?

3. The method of correction

The method of your correction needs to reflect your love and respect for the person you are correcting. Paul describes believers as family – fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters.

If your dad’s hearing is going and you notice he’s talking a bit too loudly in a restaurant, you don’t yell “Hey old man quit your yelling, you’re a disgrace, keep it down!”

No, you lean over and gently say, “Hey Dad, you’re talking a bit loudly.”

In the church we love each other, we respect each other. And we sin against each other, but we are all on the same team.

If you notice a teammate is always getting close to the line and committing a foot fault, you pull them aside and say “Hey buddy, take a step back before you serve so you don’t cross that line, or you are going to lose a point.”

When it’s the opponent, you just yell “Hey ump, that was a foot fault!” Because you want them to lose the point.

As believers we aren’t opponents, we are on the same team, we are family, so being corrected needs to be done sensitively and gently.

Sometimes we may need to be firmer: 1 Thess 5:14 ”And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle [unruly NASB].” And sometimes correction is not even necessary— 1 Pet 4:8, ”Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

McEnroe’s autobiography was titled: You cannot be serious!

That outburst of his, correcting the umpire, is what, by his own admission, characterized his whole career.

Christians are not to be characterized by their outbursts against sin. Rather we are to be characterized by love.

That is the correct way to correct.

Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.

Clint Archer bio

Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.

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