Oh, those fateful words…If you had only…
“If you had only told me that in a kinder, gentler way, I could have accepted it, and you might have had the opportunity to really make a positive difference in my life. But the way you said it just made me feel bad.”
“If you had only picked a better time to share this with me, it might have been really helpful, but right now, it just feels like you’re condemning me.”
“If you had only chosen happy thoughts, focused on the positive, said more good things, people might actually have wanted to listen to you…But no one wants to hear these things that you have to say.”
If you had only done something differently, something better, the outcome would have been successful.
I hope that you have never faced these words from another person. I hope that you have never faced these words, especially, from another person who claimed to be a believer. I hope that you have never faced the accusation that your inadequacy in sharing God’s word has caused it to be unsuccessful in someone’s life. And I hope that you never will!
But the reality is that, in this world, there are many who claim to follow Jesus, but do not want to hear the truth. And, if we are faithful to Jesus, we are called and prompted and, ultimately, irresistibly pressed to share the truth. And that will, at some point, certainly and unavoidably and unfortunately, bring conflict.
When we share the truth of the Lord with another person, especially the truth of the Lord regarding some correction or admonishment, we are taking a step of faith, because we don’t know how it’s going to be received. It is a step of faith because we decide to share, no matter how it is received, out of a desire to please God that overrides our desire to please people, and out of the certain hope that if it is God’s good word, then it is good for the person we are sharing it with!
For me, speaking in correction is preceded by some pretty serious, and sometimes lengthy, soul-searching. I only proceed in speaking correction after quite a bit of thought and prayer about whether this is something that I should do.
I have to consider whether I am sharing correction with someone else on something that I, myself, am guilty of doing…This would be hypocrisy, and is completely unacceptable. I have to be sure I have addressed the beam in my own eye before I can be prepared to speak to someone else about the speck in theirs.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?(Matthew 7:3, KJV)
I have to consider whether I am sharing correction with someone else out of a great concern that they are on a wrong path, and a great desire for them to be restored to a right path. Is there a true faith issue here, or is there just a surface-level disagreement, something that I simply don’t like or don’t prefer? Do I truly believe that what I am sharing can encourage them from a wrong path to a right path, rather than just criticizing them for where they are? Have I prayed for them, desiring greatly for them to be my brother-or-sister-in-Christ for all eternity, desiring greatly for their eyes to be opened and their hearts entirely devoted to the Lord our God?
Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.(James 5:20, KJV)
I have to actually arrive at a point where I become uncomfortable not speaking, where the prospect of sharing this truth with them continues to return to mind, in quiet moments, and will not depart. Only then do I know that the urge to say something is not of my own thinking, but of the Lord’s requirement.
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!(1 Corinthians 9:16, KJV)
Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.(Jeremiah 20:9, KJV)
And, according to the Lord’s will, a great deal of my speaking correction has been met with absolute rejection…Sometimes I’ve been quietly ignored…Sometimes I’ve been angrily refused…One time I was entirely cut off as a friend, and accused of being possessed of the devil.
It has often made me feel like a failure, like a very unprofitable servant…And so, it has made me search my heart, and search God’s word, all the more diligently. And for this, what can I possibly be, but grateful?
Because I am not the first person to walk this path, and what else should I expect?
It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?(Matthew 10:25, KJV)
Jesus spoke correction to quite a few people. He, unlike me, spoke correction perfectly, to all people, at all times, in all circumstances. And yet, though His correction was entirely perfect, a great deal of it was met with absolute rejection, sometimes quietly ignored, sometimes angrily refused, and ultimately entirely cut off, with a violence that I will never experience.
Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.(Mark 15:32 KJV)
As Jesus hung on the cross, condemned to death though innocent of any crime, those who despised His correction stood around and said, “If you had only…”
Having ignored all that Jesus taught, all that Jesus demonstrated, every word of power that He had shared, they claimed that, if He would only do this one thing, then they would certainly believe.
And I realized that the heart that says, “If you had only,” is a heart that is lost.
Because, before these unbelievers ever spoke these words, Jesus had already shared with us, for all generations to see, the truth about their claims…
Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.(Luke 16:27-31, KJV)
If only Lazarus could go to the brothers, then they would believe. Not so, said Jesus. If they will not accept what is given, neither will they be persuaded, no matter what they claim, even by so great a miracle as one being raised from the dead.
I am not able to give someone a miraculous demonstration; but I can be sure that, if they will not receive what is already given, they would not receive a miracle, even if I could perform it.
The men who called for Jesus to come down from the cross would see, very soon, that the very Man that they had gone to great effort to seal securely into a tomb, had risen. And yet, true to the words of Jesus, even though One was raised from the dead, they still would not believe, but rather purposely created a lie so that they could continue to deny the truth, because, as Jesus taught, if they will not believe Moses and the prophets, they will not believe even if Someone is raised from the dead.
And while I still find myself to be a very imperfect, inadequate, and unprofitable servant in the kingdom of the Most High God, yet I am comforted to know that when I share His word, when I offer His truth, when I speak correction and encouragement to His narrow path, according to His leading, and I receive the response, “If you had only,” the fault does not lie within my own heart. And I can be content to pray that the Lord have mercy on their souls…
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)…(Ephesians 2:4-5, KJV)