Most people don’t like being told they are wrong. Most people don’t want to receive a rebuke. Offer reproof to the average person, and that person will think you are being “mean”.
Thankfully, not everyone is average. Some people want to have their errors pointed out, so they can correct them. There is a particular sort of person who wants to receive reproof:
Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. (Proverbs 9:8)
Holy Scripture is clear. If you love receiving reproof, then you are wise. If you hate receiving reproof, then you are not wise. Simple as that.
Tell a man that he is wrong, or tell a woman she is wrong, and there are at least five potential responses you can expect. Two of these options take the path of wisdom, while three of these options go down the path of folly, destroying relationships.
Option #1: Respond with Gratitude — Repenting
Since a wise person loves to receive correction, the automatic response should always be gratitude. You carefully listen to the reproof, and you honestly consider whether you could improve in that particular way. You are thankful that the other person gave you an opportunity to become more like Christ. With joy and repentance, you immediately seek to change your ways. This is a good, holy, Christian response to correction.
Option #2: Respond with Gratitude — Respectfully Disagreeing
Even in cases where correction is unneeded, the wise person still has gratitude when receiving reproof. When someone brings up a perceived problem, that gives you an opportunity to provide a reasonable explanation, thereby clearing up any misunderstanding. If people were not willing to share their concerns, then you would have no way to offer a proper response. With patient and respectful discussion, you gently disagree with the person who offers you reproof. This, too, is a good Christian response to correction.
Option #3: Respond with Anger — Arguing
Anger is frequently a symptom of wounded pride. A person responds in anger, thinking that the reproof is undeserved. Or perhaps more frequently, a person responds in anger because the correction *is* deserved. The person is simply not willing to repent. Instead of responding with wise gratitude, the person responds with foolish anger. — Anger is destructive, and it frequently destroys relationships.
Option #4: Respond with Silence — Stewing
Have you ever seen a child pouting quietly in the corner, after getting in trouble? The kid’s face is red with anger. There is no repentance, and there is no arguing. The rebellious child is stewing. Immature adults often respond in a similar way. They are not willing to repent, and they are not willing to gently discuss the disagreement. So they just bottle up their emotions inside, like a pressure cooker. Eventually the pressure has to be relieved, either by repentance, discussion, an angry argument, or by leaving. — Stewing is just a silent form of anger. It is destructive, and it frequently destroys relationships.
Option #5: Respond with Silence — Leaving
Some people are so offended by reproof, that they are willing to destroy relationships in response to it. Tell a man that he is wrong, or tell a woman she is wrong, and the person cuts ties. There are people who leave marriages, leave friendships, and leave churches, merely because they are unwilling to receive correction. — Leaving is obviously destructive to relationships.
Holy Scripture has a lot to say about people who do not want to receive correction. For example:
He that refuses correction despises his own soul,
but he that hears reproof gets understanding.
He who loves instruction loves knowledge,
but he that hates reproof is brutish.
St. John Chrysostom says that Christians are supposed to correct one another’s faults, and to reprove one another. Consider this excerpt from his 18th homily on the book of Ephesians:
It is for this that you have speech, it is for this you have a mouth and a tongue, that you may correct your neighbor.. . . There is no evidence of friendship so true as never to overlook the sins of our brethren. Did you see them at enmity? Reconcile them. Did you see them guilty of covetousness? Check them. Did you see them wronged? Stand up in their defense. It is not on them, it is on yourself you are conferring the chief benefit. It is for this we are friends, that we may be of use one to another.
St. John reminds us that a wise Christian will respond to correction with thankfulness, recognizing the benefits:
Wherefore, I entreat you, be ye never backward to reprove, nor displeased at being reproved. For as long indeed as anything is carried on in the dark, it is carried on with greater security; but when it has many to witness what is done, it is brought to light. By all means then let us do all we can to chase away the deadness which is in our brethren, to scatter the darkness, and to attract to us the Sun of righteousness. For if there be many shining lights, the path of virtue will be easy to themselves, and they which are in darkness will be more easily detected, while the light is held forth and puts the darkness to flight. Whereas if it be the reverse, there is fear lest as the thick mist of darkness and of sin overpowers the light, and dispels its transparency, those shining lights themselves should be extinguished. Let us be then disposed to benefit one another, that one and all, we may offer up praise and glory to the God of lovingkindness, by the grace and lovingkindness of the only begotten Son with whom to the Father, together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, strength, honor now and forever and forever. Amen.
—St. John Chrysostom, Ephesians – homily 18
We are all sinners. Therefore, we can all expect to receive correction. From time to time, people will confront us with our sins. In response, we can respond either with wisdom, or with foolishness. We can either preserve relationships, or destroy them.
If we respond with wisdom, then we will respond with gratitude. We will be thankful for the correction we receive. We will immediately and joyfully repent. Or we will respectfully and patiently discuss any reasons for disagreement.
If we respond with foolishness, then we with respond with either anger or silence. We will argue disrespectfully, we will silently stew on our grievances, or we will cut off the relationship. Each of these options is the result of pride, and each of these options is a guaranteed method for damaging relationships.
Wisdom or folly? Which response will we choose?