“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17
It is a joy to preach through the book of Acts! It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply. As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid. Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.
As we arrive in Acts 19 in our sermon series we find Paul arriving at Ephesus and evidently noticing a need to correct some incomplete teaching. Because we don’t have a full time-line of the events, it seems to be an interesting approach as Acts 19 opens with Paul finding some believers and the conversation that Luke finds worth writing down revolves around a simple question, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”. I’m guessing that I’m not alone, but I’ve never even thought of asking that question of a group of believers as I travel and meet new people! I believe there was either something about the fruit of their life, or perhaps knowledge of the incomplete teaching of Apollos, that led Paul to suspect that they had not been immersed into Jesus Christ. And so, Paul takes on this Act of CORRECT in order to bring some believers into a greater understanding of their belief in Jesus. We’re typically not good at the act of correct because we miss some important elements — and because they are missing the outcome is often worse than the beginning. Instead of letting our past failures keep us from the good work of correction, let’s look at some lessons we can learn from the example of Paul’s as we consider the need to be skilled in the Act of CORRECT.
- Concern: At the very heart of being effective in our attempts to correct is a need to have genuine concern! Too often, our attempts to correct are simply born out of a desire for everyone to agree with our opinion. Paul’s act of correction was designed to express his concern that the believers were not fully informed of, therefore not fully obedient to, the commands and promises of Jesus. When we approach the act of correct out of genuine concern for others, we always begin by examining and allowing God to purify our motives. Real concern will usually soften our approach to correcting honest mistakes and simple oversights. Sometimes our attitude in the act of correct makes our attempts appear to be more of an act of condemn. Correction is always more effective when it is obvious the one doing the correcting has great, and real, concern for the one being corrected. When God calls you to grow in the Act of CORRECT, recognize that God’s desire is that your interaction with people would be done from an attitude of Concern.
- Obedience: Also at the very heart of the Act of CORRECT is an unwavering act of Obedience! Correction by its nature is designed to bring someone, or something, into line with an existing standard. For the act of correct to work within a church family, it must always center around an obedience to God’s Word and a desire for the family to be brought up to the standards set by God. After hearing that the believers had not received the Holy Spirit, had not even heard of the Holy Spirit, Paul’s next question is interesting — “Then what baptism did you receive?”. There was an evident assumption because they had believed in Jesus that they had been baptized! Their intent was to respond to Jesus in obedience but they had only heard of John’s baptism of repentance. Paul’s act of correct calls them to a more accurate obedience to which they responded by being immersed in the name of Jesus Christ. Too often, we forget that it really is all about obeying Jesus and we make our attempts to correct people all about getting them to obey us! For our Act of CORRECT to be effective, we must always center the need to correct around a full Obedience to the Word of God.
- Repentance: The act of correct also calls for repentance — not only in the life of the one being corrected, but also in the life of the one correcting! Because we associate repentance so closely with a turn from evil, we often miss that it really is all about a change of direction or a change of mind in the way we think. The act of correct is simply calling on people to have a change of mind or direction in the way they respond to Jesus. A similar change of mind is often needed in the “corrector” so that the correcting is really being done out of concern and obedience to God. Sometimes we do the right things with the wrong motives and God needs to apply the act of correct to us in order to bring about repentance. In Acts 19 some Jews were evidently known for driving out evil spirits and when they saw the effectiveness of the name of Jesus in doing so, they thought they would join the bandwagon. Unfortunately for them, an evil spirit could see them as pretenders and instead of coming out of the man it possessed it attacked and beat seven of the Jews at once. It was this revealing by God of the imposters that brought many believers into the open with their acts of repentance and confession. God uses many things to get our attention with the desire that we would recognize anything false within us and turn to Him in repentance. When we are growing in the Act of CORRECT, we also grow in the act of Repentance as we change our way and our mind to be more like Jesus and call others to do the same.
- Rejection: We like it when the act of CORRECT brings about repentance in people — even in us! Unfortunately, there are times when the response is one of Rejection rather than repentance. While it is not nearly as pleasant to talk about, it is important to understand that even when correcting is done out of genuine concern and complete obedience to God’s Word, the will of mankind still has the option to reject the correction. Throughout the book of Acts we see the Apostles and early Christians preaching, teaching, and correcting yet not everyone who hears responds in a positive way. Most of the time it seems like the magnitude of the acts of acceptance and genuine repentance is met with a corresponding and magnified force of rejection. I include this point because we must realize the rejection is not really of us, but of the one who sends us. Fortunately, the rejection of our work of correction is not always the end of the story. We must continue on, trusting that God will continue to work with the seeds we are planting. The Act of CORRECT lived out in our life not only finds acceptance at times, but will often find strong Rejection that we must not take personally.
- Excuses: Sometimes instead of outright rejection, the act of CORRECT is met with Excuses. While there were many who repented of the evil they had clung to, there was another group in Ephesus that made excuses for why they couldn’t accept correction. If you look at them in Acts 19, you will probably notice they are actually quite common excuses we use to hold on to things we shouldn’t — “It will cost us time, money, and/or business.” . . . “It disrupts our normal routine of life.” . . . “What about our reputation?” . . . “That’s not the way we do things here.”. Do any of those sound familiar? It has been said that an excuse is just the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie! We want our excuses to sound right, but really we know they’re not. When God calls us to be involved in someone’s life through the act of correct, we must be willing to put aside our excuses and be obedient. When we are on the other side and God is using someone to correct us, it is imperative that we knock the lie out of the excuses we use and accept the correction God wishes to bring. To honor God in the Act of CORRECT, we must call out, and be done with, Excuses wherever they are found.
- Change: At the heart of the Act of CORRECT is a call to change! We must never forget that God’s desire for all of us is that we are changed — transformed into the image of Jesus Christ through the power of His blood and the help of His Spirit. Very few of us like change. We resist the act of correct because we don’t want to admit we’re wrong, but also because we don’t want to move out of our comfort zones. Before we try to correct the actions or attitudes of someone, we must thoroughly examine if the desired correction will bring about change that results in a more Christ-like person or if the correction is designed to make a more “me-like” person. Jesus says that unless we change and become like little children we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. I’m pretty sure that means we all need to take the idea of change seriously. It is within this act of Change that it is important to apply the teachings of Jesus and fully remove the plank from our own eye before we try to remove the speck from our brother’s eye. For God to use us in the Act of CORRECT we must allow Him to always be involved in the Change that must take place.
- Truth: Another vital element to the Act of CORRECT is the act of Truth! It is the act of truth that has the power to dispel excuses and overcome rejection. When we hold fast to the Word of God as being truth and use it as the sole basis for the act of correct, we are able to set aside the pettiness, favoritism, and partiality that far too often creep into our attempts to correct others. It is when we value truth that we are willing to accept correction in our own life. As one who was headed in a very wrong direction when confronted with the truth of Jesus, Paul would speak and write boldly about the need for the truth of Jesus to be foundational in life. In talking with people who claimed to be following God yet were in great need of correction, Jesus stated, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” As we are involved in correcting and being corrected, we must never forget that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! When we spend the time needed to fully engage in the act of CORRECT, we must do so while standing on the foundation of Truth.
So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of CORRECT? Do you fully approach people with a genuine Concern? Are your efforts and motives completely in Obedience to God? Do you keep true Repentance in mind as a desired outcome? Do you recognize your role as a servant and ambassador of Jesus so that you’re better prepared should people Reject Him? Do you constantly put aside Excuses and pray that God will help you to see through them? Are you one who seeks Godly Change in your life, as well as in the lives of others? Will you be committed to God’s Truth being the foundation for all correction? I pray that the act of CORRECT expressed through your life will boldly show the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!