My face fell as my pastor-husband gave me his honest feedback. I had been working on an article for close to a week, about a theological topic that I felt very passionate about as well as confident in my ability to teach. He corrected various aspects of the article and gently warned me about potentially biting off more than I could chew. I couldn’t blame him for speaking the truth—I had asked for his comments.
Deep down, however, I didn’t want to receive his correction; I wanted to be right.
Our Need for Correction
Why are we resistant to correction at times, especially in the arenas of biblical and theological truth? Unless we have prepared ourselves to receive it, it seems that correction is the enemy of our human pride and self-glory. But that’s exactly the issue—our pride blinds us to our faulty thinking and inability to know everything.
Only God knows and understands all things, and this is why he is omniscient. His Word is the revelation of his knowledge to us, insofar as he wishes to disclose it. He gives us everything we need to know in Scripture, which is why his Word is sufficient for us.
So our need for correction is rooted in the fact that we are not God; we do not know all things, nor do we have complete understanding. Yet God, out of his generosity and his kindness to equip believers, has given us his Word of truth and his church to correct us:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, emphasis mine)
We see a fantastic example of how to receive correction in Acts 18, by a Jewish man named Apollos. Let’s learn from his story:
Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:24-28, emphasis mine)
Here we have a well-spoken, well-versed Jew who is a passionate preacher about “the things concerning Jesus.” Yet, we can surmise that his teaching was somehow incomplete because of Priscilla and Aquila’s need to pull him aside and correct him.
The ESV Study Bible explains the situation this way:
Apollos knew only the baptism of John…Therefore Apollos’s knowledge of the Christian gospel must have been deficient in some ways, though he taught accurately the things concerning Jesus as far as he knew them. He certainly knew about Jesus’ life and teachings, but he may not have known about Jesus’ death and resurrection, or about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
The competent Apollos receives correction beautifully; what an example for us! He permits his brother and sister to take him aside privately and explain to him the full gospel of Jesus Christ, including the giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples at Pentecost. Rather than arguing with them, discounting their teaching, or responding in defensive pride, Apollos hears them out and, as a result, his ministry is greatly enriched.
There are a few practical lessons we can glean from Apollos’s story:
1. We should give and receive theological correction in love.
This entire account speaks encouragement to us. Why is this, when many situations involving correction are tense, dissolving into disagreement? Love is the key. Priscilla and Aquila speak in a gentle, truthful way; Apollos knows that their correction is rooted in love for Christ and concern for himself; and “the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him” in Achaia, out of love.
As God in Christ poured out his love by correcting the condition of our very souls while we were yet lost in sin, so we give and receive correction in his love and by his grace. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
2. We should use discernment about the best time to correct someone.
What’s striking in this account is the classy way by which Priscilla and Aquila correct Apollos. Scriptures says they “they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” The phrase “took him aside” means that they corrected him privately, not in front of the crowd who was gathered in the synagogue.
This, in itself, was a loving action on their part and teaches us that there are appropriate contexts in which to correct, as well as inappropriate contexts. If you need to confront another person in the near future, ask God to give you discernment about the most loving place and time to correct them.
3. We should be most concerned with God’s glory when we give and receive correction.
We can quickly lose sight of the point of correction. 2 Timothy 3:17 says that the point of correction by Scriptural truth is “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” At first glance, that might seem like it’s about us looking good and being good. But Jesus said the purpose of our good works is different than this:
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16, emphasis mine)
If we believe that correction is about us, we will be more likely to deliver it or receive it in pride; but if we believe that God’s glory is our highest good, then we will deliver it and receive it humbly, with his fame and splendor as our motivation. “[Keeping] a close watch on [ourselves] and on the teaching” (2 Timothy 4:16) will be our primary concern because the truth of the gospel of Christ is at stake, and we live in a world that so desperately needs to hear it taught and preached in full. As Timothy says,
Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
The Fruit of Correction
Because our Lord’s glory is at stake when we handle theological truths, the result of such teaching is weighty! The act of loving correction, therefore, bears kingdom-fruit and protects both ourselves and our hearers from false teaching.
When the full gospel is shared and preached, the result of this teaching is beyond what humans beings can produce on their own strength and wisdom. The result is the upbuilding of the church, the edification of the saints, and the wider spread of the gospel to more people and nations, by God’s power working effectively through the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation.
Take Apollos. “The brothers encouraged him” to travel to Achaia, and the fruit of his gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, theologically-accurate ministry there was evident. Scripture says,
When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:28)
We see three aspects of kingdom-fruit being borne through Apollos’s right handling of the truth—and all because the Lord, in his sovereignty, provided Priscilla and Aquila at the right time to correct him in love.
See Apollos helping the church to grasp the true gospel.
Apollos “greatly helped those who through grace had believed.” The fruit of his correction while in Ephesus enabled Apollos to preach accurately, clearly, and personally to the believers in Achaia, so that they were “helped” through the teaching. His persistence in theological truth, and his keeping close watch on it, resulted in more effective ministry among the believers there.
Paul says in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Growing and maturing in the faith is a result of the true, whole word of Christ being taught and preached. Like Apollos, we should be encouraged when we are theologically corrected because only the pure word of Christ can help the church grasp the gospel and urge them on to holy living, through the gospel being applied to daily life.
See Apollos standing up for the true gospel.
On a similar note, persisting in the truth and keeping watch on it means discerning and then pointing out false teaching. In Achaia, Apollos “powerfully refuted the Jews in public,” knowing, partly from his personal experience in Ephesus, that the men were believing untruths. The only way Apollos could have so powerfully refuted the Jews is by the pure word of Christ, which is sharper than a double-edged sword and discerns the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
The fruit of theological correction means being better equipped to discern falsities and then point them out in the power of the true word of God. Be encouraged that any correction you receive today means maturity in discernment and a Spirit-led ability to reason with people who will also need to be corrected in the future.
See Apollos using his Scriptural competency for the sake of the gospel.
We learned in Acts 18 that Apollos was “an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures”; yet we also learned that his competency didn’t necessarily lead to accuracy. This is why Priscilla and Aquila took him aside to explain the Way of the gospel more accurately. We see a marvelous change, though, when Apollos teaches in Achaia: His correction leads him to “[show] by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.” Apollos is enabled through God’s provision of correction to use his competency in Scripture for the sake of the true gospel!
It can be discouraging to be well-versed in Scripture, yet still to err. It cuts at our sinful pride to confess that we do not know everything and that we need correction, as a God-given gift to mature our faith and equip us for future ministry.
Ultimately, the reason we can be thankful for theological correction is that Christ’s glory is displayed more clearly as a result. Personally, when we know God better and more fully grasp the completed work of Christ in the gospel, we love him more deeply. And that love propels a lifetime of teaching and preaching that will save both ourselves and our hearers, to the glory of God.