"What? Today? Wait a minute..." he rushed over to the wall calendar. "Oh no! Oh no!" He hung up the phone and cautiously entered the living room. "I'm so sorry," he said, looking close to tears. At that moment, I knew that Steve's forgetfulness was not because he didn't care. He wanted to remember my birthday. But he couldn't even remember his.
It was to be a great lesson for us in learning to respond to potentially divisive issues as one. Steve often shares that story as we teach marriage classes to illustrate the importance of working together. Paul had some good advice for Timothy on that same topic. Timothy was a young guy whom Paul sent to pastor the Ephesus church. There were some bad teachings infiltrating the ranks. It was time to clean house.
Paul begins chapter five with these words: "Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters..."
There are two ideas worth noting here. First, Paul is contrasting rebuke with appeal. The Greek word translated rebuke was a strong word. It literally meant to strike with blows. Paul was using it figuratively here, pummeling with words rather than fists. Confrontation should never be done in that kind of spirit. Instead, Paul urged Timothy to appeal. The original Greek is the word parakaleo, the verb form of the word Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit (paraclete), which carries a sense of comforting and encouraging while guiding. Quite different than striking out, it is a coming alongside to help.
Second, Paul tells Timothy to think of his fellow believers as family: fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers. Your family remains your family, no matter what the issues. They are an extension of who you are. Their joy is yours, as well as their shame. So you do the right thing by them, even when it is not easy, often necessitating sacrificial love.
Steve uses a clever two-part diagram in our premarital/marital classes. The first part pictures two people with a problem between them. The issue is divisive, driving the two apart. The second is another option. Rather than the problem between them, the two stand together and aim their energies at the problem as one.
I think this concept is exactly what Paul was communicating to Timothy.
When correction is needed, it can be handled one of two ways. The first is to verbally chastise with a me versus them kind of mentality. The end result is insult and alienation, quite the opposite of what should be our intentions.
In the second option, we approach with humility and love. Rather than point an accusing finger, we come alongside and face the problem together. The presenting issue can now serve as an opportunity to develop unity within the family, rather than tear the church apart.
It's how Steve and I solved the birthday thing. We decided on a strategy that would put us on the same team rather than adverse sides. About a week before the birthdays, I casually mention the coming dates. "What do you want to do for our birthdays this year?" I ask. We make plans together. Win-win. It works for us.
Jesus prayed that his church would be one, and that our unity would show Christ in us to the world (John 17:21). How we deal with problems matters. When we appeal rather than rebuke, come alongside rather than point the accusing finger, we are moving toward that end.
"Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:1-2