Most lessons, articles, or sermons with the title of “Show, Don’t Tell” are about the importance of living out what we believe. I’m a firm believer that we must be sure to tell people about Jesus, though, even as our lives reflect the behavior that He taught us, so I would probably say “Tell and Show”. However, that’s not the topic of this article.
Here’s a place in the Bible that talks about showing others the truth. It’s a verse that might not make it into the usual “Show, Don’t Tell” lessons, though.
He must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong.
Titus 1:9 NLT
The world around us today (and me, especially as a parent) have gotten pretty good at telling people that they are wrong. You’ve probably noticed that.
Often, this takes the baser forms of “debate”: insults, shouting, marginalization, ad hominem attacks, and just insisting that the other person is wrong. More thoughtful respondents may reply with logical arguments, explaining how facts – those that can be agreed upon – lead to a different conclusion. Still, even those rational postings fall victim to having their premises (the original facts) or their logic attacked. Sometimes, these counter-points are valid; other times, they are just common logical fallacies.
When I read the verse above, though, I don’t see a potential elder – the subject of this verse – just making anonymous postings (even with well thought-out discussions) on the Internet, telling people that they are wrong. Yes, it’s OK to have conversations on the web, and many people manage to keep them polite and useful. Still, that doesn’t feel like the tone of this verse to me, and even if it’s not, I know that the believers in first-century Crete didn’t have Wi-Fi.
So, let me suggest how we might teach and correct1 people these days, whether those who have never heard important truths, those who are trying to follow Jesus and may have drifted from the path, or those who are spreading things that are not true (on topics that are absolutely critical for people to get right). To be clear, some of the thoughts below are my own, and are not necessarily weighted with the force of Biblical authority (including the verse above). Take a look and see what you think, though.
First, what if we got to know people like this? This would ideally be done in-person (like Jesus did), but there’s also merit to communicating remotely (like the letter of Paul, referenced above). However you might meet with someone else, learn where the person came from, how they look at the world, and what beliefs they hold to. Get to know what this person believes to be true. Perhaps most importantly, make sure that the other person knows that you love them in a selfless, agape manner, because your Lord, Jesus Christ, loved you first.
Then, I imagine sitting down together (physically or virtually), to talk through what you and the other person believe to be true. Where one of you lacks knowledge, there’s an opportunity for the other to teach – not as a lecture, but just explaining something in terms that the student can understand. (Maybe these roles go both ways, as you learn from each other.) The verse above relates teaching with encouragement, which is certainly a loving thing to provide to others.
Finally, if there are beliefs that the other person holds that are incorrect, and also important to their well-being (including their salvation, which we might call their “present and eternal well-being”), then there is an opportunity to show them where they are wrong. In a healthy relationship, there are no “points” to be gained by mentioning a significant concern that affects the other person, and no one loses when this is done.
When trust has been established in a relationship, and fidelity has proven that there is no condemnation in correction (only the love that wants the best for the other person), then the delivery of uncomfortable truths can be accepted a lot better. And, by understanding truths that you both agree on, there is a shared foundation to build upon, as greater truths are investigated and confirmed.
It can be tough to tell friends that something they believe to be true is not. However, when you are guiding a friend back to a better path, you are showing true love to them.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
- Note that some other translations use the word “refute”, instead of “show those…where they are wrong”. “Refute” sounds to me like defending against false teachers, while the latter seems more like correcting individual disciples when they get off-track. Hopefully, you will find that the following suggestions are applicable to both situations, but don’t take my ideas as gospel: study your Bible to see what it says for yourself. ↩