“A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.”
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6.1)
When holding others accountable we also need humility. In this Galatians passage Paul says it this way: “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” We must never rebuke or try to correct others from a spirit of arrogance or superiority. Jesus warned against this kind of self-righteousness in the Sermon On the Mount.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-3)
These words of Jesus are often quoted, and nearly as often are misinterpreted. Jesus is not telling us not to judge; he is telling us not to judge wrongly. Note in the last verse of this Matthew passage that Jesus tells us what he wants us to do: First take the log that is blinding you out of your own eye, then you will be able to see clearly so that you can help your brother take the speck out of his eye.
The central point here is how you see the situation and how you see yourself. Do you see the situation clearly, or is your perspective distorted by your own sin and self-righteousness? Do you see and understand that you also are a sinner saved by grace? Do you recognize and acknowledge that you also are susceptible to disobedience?
All three of these passages — Proverbs 17, Galatians 6, Matthew 7 — emphasize that we must be humble and self-aware in order to effectively challenge another Christian. Before you challenge the sin in someone else’s life, examine yourself first.
Again, this does not say we should not challenge the sin in someone else’s life. This is not a declaration against judging; rather, it is a prohibition against judging wrongly. In particular, it is a warning against self-righteous judgment. If we do not see and acknowledge that we too are sinners, then we will not be effective at challenging and restoring our Christian friends who have chosen a path of disobedience.
Many Christians hesitate to hold people accountable, and they do so because they are aware of their own shortcomings. But no one is perfect and everyone knows it. Still, we need mutual accountability. But it's like there is an unconscious conspiracy going on, some kind of unspoken agreement: "I won't challenge your off-path attitude/behavior if you don't challenge mine." This mindset is very damaging to the Body of Christ.
Christian accountability requires wisdom, courage, and humility. We must not be too lenient, and we must not be too harsh. This requires that we walk in the Spirit. When we need to confront a Christian brother, the Holy Spirit humbles us, telling us that we are sinners saved by grace. The Spirit also empowers us with the boldness to engage the person with truth. This unique combination of humility and boldness is both rare and powerful, and it comes from the Spirit of God. It is the fruit of the Spirit.
When we are empowered by the Spirit as we challenge people who are off-path, we neither blow up nor clam up. We do not get angry and judgmental, nor do we get discouraged and defensive. We don’t attack, nor do we avoid. Instead, we engage with wisdom. We speak the truth in love, and we trust the Spirit of God to do his work.
“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4.15-16)