Contending for the faith requires the diligent practice of discernment. In Hebrews 5:13-14 we find, “For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” The “milk” and “meat” of these two passages are metaphors which refer to spiritual growth; limiting ourselves to a spiritual infant’s diet and program inhibits our spiritual development. However, those who exercise their senses by studying the Word of God will grow in discernment, no longer remaining “children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive…” (Eph 4:14).
Earnestly contending for the faith requires that we willingly receive correction. Correction, however, is not a “psychologically correct” endeavor today, either in the world or in the church. It is regarded as a threat to one’s positive self-image by many who promote the humanistic theology of self-esteem. It’s incredible how such a worldly mindset has impacted those who should be separate from the world and whose thinking is to reflect the mind of Christ. Even a cursory search of the Bible reveals example after example of correction which would be viewed today as potentially destructive of one’s psychological well-being! Was Peter’s “self-esteem” psychologically damaged, and both his self-image and ministerial image irreparably harmed by Paul’s public correction? Was Peter’s ministry written off by most of the early church because Paul was not sensitive (or biblical––supposedly not heeding Matthew 18) enough to meet privately with Peter? Isn’t that the way many in the church see things today? And what about the ego trauma felt by the publicly corrected Barnabas (Gal 2:13), Alexander (2 Tm 4:14-15), Phygellus and Hermogenes (2 Tm 1:15), Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Tm 2:17-18), Demas (2 Tm 4:10), Diotrephes (3 Jn 1:9-10), and others?
Correction is foundational to the life of every Christian. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he counseled his young disciple concerning the value of using the Scriptures for correction (as well as for reproof!), “That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tm 3:17). Correction must begin at home; that is, there must be a willingness on the part of an individual not only to be corrected by another, but a desire to correct oneself. The admonition to “examine yoursel[f], whether ye be in the faith” (2 Cor 13:5) is not a public survey; it requires checking ourselves out and then doing what’s necessary to make things right before the Lord. Without a willingness to consider the possibility of a “beam” in one’s own eye, hypocrisy will take the reins in any correction of another.
Earnestly contending for the faith requires playing by the rules. While some go out of their way to avoid giving scriptural correction, others turn it into a big stick, swinging it at whoever seems to disagree with their views. The Scriptures tell us (in the context of heavenly rewards) that those who compete for a prize will disqualify themselves unless their conduct accords with the rules of the event (2 Tm 2:5). This should also be applied to the way we go about contending for the faith, especially in regard to correcting one another. The first and foremost rule is love. Biblical correction is an act of love. Period. If one doesn’t have a person’s best interest at heart, love is not involved. If love isn’t the motivating factor in correcting one another, the approach isn’t biblical.
The manner in which we correct one another is an important part of “the rules” of contending for the faith. “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Tm 2:24-25). Yet a stern rebuke is also biblical; the Scriptures abound with examples of such reproofs and rebukes when the situation required it. But they are a far cry from correction accompanied by sarcasm, put-downs, attacks on personal character, and anything else that puffs up the corrector rather than ministering to the one being corrected. It’s ironic that the prevailing humor (TV, comic strips, etc) of this “self-esteem”-conscious, ego-sensitive generation is sarcasm, especially the put-down. Making someone else feel inferior has become the “in” way to boost one’s own self-esteem.