Those who have made a study of such matters tell us that we tend to measure up to what certain peers expect of us. If those to whom we look as leaders or models indicate their high hopes for us, we strive to meet those goals. If they indicate a lack of trust in us, a feeling that we will fail, we may lose confidence in ourselves— and fail. I do not believe man is completely programmed by his environment, but it takes a lot of inner strength —built-in character available to those who look to God for the standard of integrity and righteousness (Prov. 11:3-6) —to buck the predictions of failure, and succeed in spite of the gloomy odds against us. Sinful man must be encouraged to believe that he is made in Gods image, and is capable of living to the glory of God.
The Hebrew writer recognized this principle, for throughout an epistle directed to backsliders, that necessitated many warnings of failure and of its dire results, he repeatedly encouraged. They were brethren with Christ, and in Him could be glorified (2:10-13). They were partakers of the heavenly calling (3:1). Gods oath and promise offered them strong consolation (6:17-20). And after a direful warning he reminded them of past successes (10:31-f) and says, But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
The back-slappers have stretched this principle to include insincere compliments—using us (and our pride) to accomplish their ends. They would palaver us into doing their bidding or buying their products. By the same reasoning some would rule out all negative teaching and correction —including that of the Apostle Paul, I suppose. Such maneuvering we abhor.
But elders, preachers, and parents (to name a few) may do a gross injustice to those who look to them for guidance, by failing to properly encourage. Must we always assume the very worst? Love thinketh no evil (1 Cor. 13:5-6), but tends to place the best possible interpretation on matters. It most assuredly rejoice not in iniquity. (Think that one over!) Lawlessness calls forth sadness, compassion, a desire to help, on the part of those who love.
Some much needed teaching re: the church, creedalism, fellowship, and many other subjects, has been ineffective and is rejected, because the teachers assumed a superior attitude and spoke or wrote as though they did not expect the message to be heeded. We do not advocate a Pollyanna, head-in-the-clouds attitude. Rather, suggest it is very realistic to expect that brethren in Christ really want to do what is right. True, many are cumbered with traditional concepts, and may have a somewhat sectarian view of the church. But this is rarely by choice. They have inherited such error, over a period of years, and the surgery must be done with TLC and consideration. It is a fair assumption that genuine saints desire to be rid of all human error.
So, think positively! Warn in hope! Let your speech be seasoned with salt! Fight sin because you love the sinner!
Robert F. Turner