May 24, 2014
One of the most beautiful promises of Scripture is Zephaniah 3.17: “Yahweh your God is in your midst; the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you with His love; He will rejoice over you with singing.”
This is the portrait of a loving Father, and it is something that we need to internalize – not only as Church leaders, but as congregational members.
If we ask the question: “How often is there something in my life that God could be correcting?” – the answer would have to be, “Always.” Even the strongest believers in this life are en route, are taking a journey in spiritual growth, and are immature in a host of areas.
The shepherds of the flock have a special calling to be aware of the needs of the sheep. And that awareness involves discerning where the flock needs correction and growth.
But while that is true, we must remember this: God does not correct everything at once. If He did, we would melt with fervent heat, and have no time to enjoy life with Him.
God is in our midst, and He delights in us; He makes quiet time for us; He even sings in celebration over us.
That doesn’t mean that He ignores our sins and weaknesses, or that they do not matter.
But it does mean that He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103.14).
If you are a loving and wise parent, you should be able to understand this. If you look at your child, you can see many things that need work. There are sins and immaturities that you have your eye on.
And yet, even though you give verbal correction and even the occasional spanking, you do not spend every waking hour on correcting those sins and immaturities. Because you know that life does not look like that, and love does not look like that.
Occasionally Christians look at other Christians and wonder why the church leadership doesn’t do something. “So-and-so is at fault here and here and here; why aren’t the elders dealing with it?”
Aside from the fact that elders are almost always dealing with things far more than the congregation is aware – pastoral care is an iceberg that is more submerged than visible – there is more to it than that.
Wise shepherds know that not every battle can be fought at once; and they also know that not every battle needs to be fought the same way.
There are some faults that you will never cajole out of your child, or spank out of him, for that matter. And the truth is that if your home is one filled with godly love, chances are you won’t need to. While there will indeed be overt corrections to the point of tears for some things, it is almost certain that you as a parent will not explicitly discipline your child in many areas where he needs growth.
Part of the reason for that is simply that you are not God, and no matter how wise you are, your child’s heart is also an iceberg – there is at least as much submerged as there is visible. There is some stuff that you need to leave to God.
But there is another dimension to this: Even if you were omniscient, you would not and should not be correcting your child every waking hour. Life does not look like that, and love does not look like that.
God says that He delights in His children, that He rejoices over them and sings over them. He enjoys them.
That is part of what love looks like – and an important one, at that. Kingdom life is intended to be joyful life – as Paul puts it, the kingdom of God is peace, righteousness and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14.17).
The truth is that God trains us and sanctifies us, and the whole of kingdom life accomplishes that task. It is not only by way of reproofs and “spankings,” but also by way of festivities and dancing, that God the Father transforms us to bear the image of His Son more faithfully.
There come times in the lives of elders when they must speak hard words into the lives of their flock. We are not to shrink from that, because “faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27.6).
But we also must not allow ourselves to become obsessed with correction. One of the greatest things that the Father does for His children is rejoice with them, and as shepherds who echo His heart and seek to embody the kingdom among the flock, we must take up that happy task with gusto.
When we do, we demonstrate again that Christ came to give life, and that most abundantly (John 10.10).
[Note: This article was previously published on the now-defunct Biblical Horizons blog.]