Sunday, March 24, 2013

Right and Wrong Examples of Correcting Someone Over You

If someone above you in authority, your boss in other words, makes an error of some kind, maybe doing something that causes harm to yourself or to others or even to himself, and you want to correct him, is that lawful? Is correction always from the top down or can it sometimes be from the bottom up? And if it is lawful in God's sight, what is the right way to do it?

There are examples in the Bible of both the right way and the wrong way to correct someone who has authority over you.

First the wrong way. You should not discuss the correction with others. Here is an example:

"Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman. So they said, 'Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?' And the Lord heard it" (Numbers 12:1-2). "So the anger of the Lord was aroused against them, and He departed" (Numbers 12:9).

Notice, this was not a case of Miriam or Aaron respectfully going to Moses in private and saying, "Should you marry an Ethiopian woman?". Moses might have had an explanation that would have satisfied them, or at least there could be an honest discussion about what God's will was in the matter, and Moses could always take the matter to God. Not that Moses had to explain to them, but he could have. And if Moses was really at fault or in error, he might have accepted the correction. But instead, they were talking with each other ABOUT Moses, probably behind his back. Notice verse 2: "Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?" The word "us" indicates they were discussing this between themselves. And the fact that they referred to "Moses" in the third person indicates they were not speaking TO Moses but ABOUT him behind his back. In effect, by talking about it between themselves, each was encouraging the other person to have an attitude of disrespect towards the office and the authority Moses was given from God. That is why God said that they were speaking "against" Moses (verses 1 and 8). They were complaining and undermining Moses's authority by talking to each other about it. By talking with each other about his faults, they were weakening the great respect they should have had for Moses and the office God had given Moses, and they were undermining his authority over them, whether they realized it or not.

But does this mean we can never offer correction to someone who has authority over us?

Here is another example in the Bible of someone correcting someone above them in authority:

Naaman, commander of the Syrian army, went to Elisha to be healed of leprosy. You can read the whole story in 2 Kings 5:1-19. But notice these verses: "Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, 'Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.' But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, 'Indeed, I said to myself, "He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy." Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?' So he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, 'My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, "Wash, and be clean"?' So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean" (2 Kings 5:9-14).

Notice what happened. Naaman planned NOT to do what Elisha said because he was angry. But Naaman's servants went to him and encouraged him to do what Elisha said. This was correction from the "bottom up" if you want to call it that, not from the top down. But it worked! It had a good effect. Naaman listened to his servants, even though he was their boss, took their advice, and washed in the Jordan. And God healed him. God backed up this process of Naaman's servants giving him advice to do the right thing, and God blessed this with good fruit - Naaman was miraculously healed. The results show that this was a good thing that Naaman's servants did.

Consider this also. If God did not want us to learn a lesson from this passage, that those under authority can give loving correction to someone over them in authority, God did not have to include this incident in the Bible for us to learn from, for the examples in the Bible are for our learning (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11). God could have inspired the writer of 2 Kings to simply omit the part about Naaman being angry and his servants correcting him. Just omit verses 11 through 13, and the passage would read like this: "And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, 'Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.' So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean." The account would be just as true if the details of Naaman's servants correcting him were left out, and God could have left them out. The Bible doesn't give every detail of every event. God chooses what details to tell us and what not to tell us. And if the action of Naaman's servant's was a bad example, God could have left that out. But He didn't. He included that detail and showed the good result from it because this teaches us the RIGHT way to correct someone over us.

First of all, notice the respect and the love the servants had for their "boss". They called him "my father". They offered advice for his good out of their concern for his welfare. Second, it was advice or counsel. They were not trying to force their will on Naaman, but simply encouraging him to do the right thing and offering advice, which Naaman could heed or not heed as he chose. They were not speaking against him behind his back, criticizing him in conversation with each other, complaining, plotting, encouraging disrespect among themselves, and undermining his authority. In fact, there is no indication they talked about it among themselves at all. Perhaps each of several individual servants spoke to Naaman privately without the others around. That may be implied by the term "MY father", not "OUR father".

So if your boss does something wrong or makes a serious error, and you want to show God you respect top-down authority, but you feel you should offer correction to your boss, don't criticize him behind his back in conversation with other people. Go to him very respectfully in private. Offer him your advice on the matter (assuming he is willing to listen to advice). Don't be forceful or contentious about it. If he heeds you, fine, and if not, you have done your part and it is his responsibility. He may have an explanation that will make it clear that he is right and you were mistaken. And especially in the Church of God, if a pastor over you or the leader of a fellowship commits some error, do not undermine his authority by discussing his "fault" with other members of the Church also under his authority.

Am I saying that you have to correct? No. You can overlook the matter, especially if it is not serious. You can certainly pray, and should pray, that God will help the person to make right decisions in the future. You can, and should, pray that God will give you wisdom to know how to handle it, whether you should offer corrective advice or not. Everyone isn't like Naaman. Some men do not appreciate correction, especially from someone under their authority (Proverbs 9:7-9). Every situation is different.

But if you do offer corrective advice to someone who has authority over you, do it in private and do it respectfully, in love. And then submit to the boss's decision, unless he would require you to sin against God. In that case, you would have to obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29).

No comments: