Christian people are not only called to give constructive correction. We are also called to receive it. Just as our cowardice may prevent us from offering such correction, so our pride may prevent us from receiving it.
Encouraging words that build up and corrective words that steer away from sin and toward physical, emotional, and spiritual health are two essential sides of the same coin. When we honor both of these imperatives in our life together versus preferring one and rejecting the other, our community and friendship dynamics become more healthy and whole. But when we neglect either encouragement or correction in our life together, we invite unhealthy, distorted realities to rule.
True Christian community has a primary goal in mind—to present ourselves and one another to Jesus Christ as a lovely, sanctified Bride “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). While this verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians first applies to husbands and wives, it also applies to the Church—all friendship and community that claims to be centered around Jesus.
As Martin Luther once said, we are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. True faith will always be followed by growth in grace and virtue (Ephesians 2:8-10). That is to say, while Jesus invites us to come as we are, he does not want us to stay as we are. Life in Christ has both a safety and a trajectory.
The safety comes from knowing that Jesus, our faithful Savior, will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) and that no one will ever be able to snatch us from our heavenly Father’s fierce, loving grip (John 10:28-30). No matter how deep our regrets or how checkered our past, there will never cease to be a place of belonging for us in our Father’s house. We are to God as the young, disabled Mephibosheth was to King David—who for Jonathan’s sake would never cease to have a seat at his king’s table (2 Samuel 9:13). For Jesus’ sake, we likewise will never cease to have a seat at The King’s table.
In this context of safety, there is also a trajectory that Jesus has established for all of us—We, his beloved daughters and sons, shall become like him, for we will see him as he is (1 John 3:2). In the end, and for our everlasting good, he will settle for nothing less. And, he has given us each other to help one another along on the journey.
Jim Morrison, lead singer for The Doors, said this about friendship:
“Friends can help each other. A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself—and especially to feel. Or, not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at the moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to—letting a person be what he really is.”
On a positive note, Jim Morrison is highlighting the importance of accepting one another and resisting the urge to judge one another for every little thing.
On a less healthy note, however, Morrison’s philosophy can lead down some very tragic paths, as it ultimately did for him. Morrison, widely known for his self-destructive behavior, died alone in a bathtub at age twenty-seven. Who knows where his path would have led him had more people courageously and lovingly spoken up about his hedonistic lifestyle—the sexual hedonism, the drugs, the nights without sleep, the hard living—and if he had had the ears to hear the few people who did speak words of concern into his life.
On the one hand, if we come at each other with all truth and no grace, we will become insufferable, self-appointed moral police who constantly tear each other down and rarely build each other up.
But on the other hand, if we go the way of Jim Morrison and give all grace and no truth to each other, we will become codependent enablers, cowards who would rather another soul be wrecked by self-destructive foolishness than risk social awkwardness.
But when we grant each other the Spirit-led blend of grace and truth, of love and law, of “Come as you are” and “I love you too much to let you stay as you are,” we give one another the supreme gift of true friendship and community. Even more, we give each other a Spirit-filled, embodied experience of how Jesus would relate to us if he were with us in the flesh.
Scott Sauls is a pastor, author and blogger in Nashville, Tennessee.