Saturday, February 6, 2010

Surgeon or Butcher?

A man named William Secker lived in the 17th century.  I know very little about him other than he was  a preacher of the gospel in London and he wrote a book titled "The Nonsuch Professor."  This book came into my hands a couple of years ago and I read it thoughtfully and with delight.  My copy has many marks and underlines throughout because it is filled with pithy lines worth quoting, like this one:

"That is a choice friend, who conceals our faults from the view of others, and yet discovers them to our own…Reprehension is not an act of butchery, but an act of surgery."

I have become more thankful over the years for the surgical friends in my own life.  Friends who wound me in faithfulness (Prov 27:6), that I might become more like Jesus.  I memorized Psalm 141:5 years ago as a reminder to myself to be says "let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness."  

Rebuke isn't easy to take...the temptation for me (maybe you're an exception to this) is to become defensive, attempt to justify myself, and self-righteously dig my heals even deeper into my own position.  Oh how I have cried for God's mercy...and He has been a generous Giver!  By His grace He has grown me in the ability to silence my tongue long enough to consider whether the person rebuking me has any validity (which at least in my life's experience, they very often do).  With God's grace upon grace, I end up thanking the friend who has loved me enough to approach me about whatever it is.  Just like God tells us in Hebrews 12:11 "No chastening seems joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."

But this morning, the question in my mind is how well am I doing at being a friend to others?  In Proverbs 19:11, God tells us: "The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression."  He has also told us in Proverbs 17:9 that "he who repeats a matter separates friends."  And in James 5:19-20 we read: "Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back,  let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins."

The quote by Secker combines those ideas. Not every offense requires surgery (there are many things that happen between people that can and should simply be overlooked).  But with the ones that do require attention, am I acting in love like a surgeon or am I more like a butcher? A surgeon will do what is required for the good of the patient...the patient's well being is the concern.  Whereas a butcher wields the weapons of a slaughter.  Slaughter tools can be seen here by way of analogy as a repeating of matters in a way that separates friends or a refusal to try to turn someone from their error or attacking someone who may indeed be wrong with an aim to destroy rather than restore.  Galatians 6:1a tells us "if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness."

Here's a caution: Hasty surgeons can resemble butchers who just love the thrill of cutting.  We've all heard the stories of organs being removed unnecessarily due to lack of proper investigation or the wrong limbs removed due to inaccurate information.  A good surgeon runs tests BEFORE surgery to make sure the surgery is required, and if so, what tools and plan are needed to have optimal health with minimal scarring.  What a helpful reminder to ask questions, investigate, and be a good listener.  Afterward, the surgeon runs more tests to make sure the tool applied did what was intended...if it hasn't, more repair work needs to be done.  The goal is restoration and life in Christ.  I really appreciated Doug Wilson's sentiment expressed in the movie "Collision"...the goal is not to win the argument, but to win the man.

Lord, make me a good and faithful friend (and parent).  Grant me discernment in knowing what attention and what kind of attention each relationship needs.  Does the offense of  a friend or child need a band-aid (cover it), a knife applied in love, or some other tool?  Please grant me Your love and grace to apply the right remedy.  And Lord, help my friends continue to be good friends to me.  I thank you for them!  They are truly gifts from Your hand.  Help me to not be overly critical of the tools they use in attempts to love me, but rather to be gracious knowing how difficult it is to bring correction correctly.  I pray this in the name of Jesus, for His glory and the joy of His people, amen.

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