Is It Wrong to Be Right?

One memorable time, as I was making teriyaki, I browned the strips of beef and added all the spices and ingredients called for. The last step was adding cornstarch to thicken the sauce.

However, I accidentally grabbed baking soda instead of cornstarch. My sauce erupted like a science fair volcano.

I poured out the sauce, rinsed out the pan, and added new ingredients to the beef. But enough baking soda had seeped into the meat that the whole dish was too tainted to eat. We drank water for hours trying to wash the taste out of our mouths.

What’s worse, the memory of that sauce was so strong that my husband couldn’t eat teriyaki any more. Even if everything came out right, teriyaki triggered the bad taste of the ruined version.

***

Recently I’ve see a lot of memes or quotes about how much better it is be to nice than to be right.

I think I know what some mean by this. Some people are passionate about every little thing; others insist that everything be done exactly their way. But there are issues in life not worth arguing over: which way the toilet paper goes on the roll, how to squeeze the toothpaste tube, etc. It’s better to overlook some things than to constantly fuss about them. The relationship is more important than one or the other being “right.”

But in some cases, being right is essential. The wrong ingredient can ruin dinner but make for a funny story later. But some wrongs are more painful. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can severely damage a relationship. Playing the wrong note will jar rather than please one’s listeners.

And sometimes being wrong can be deadly: the wrong medicine, the wrong diagnosis, the wrong step.

No amount of being nice can make up for being wrong in some instances.

Lately I have even seen this sentiment in regard to the Bible. True, many Christians take Judes’ admonition to contend for the faith to mean being contentious about everything. We’ve seen awful displays this last year of assigning wrong motives and vitriolic name-calling over issues where Christians should have been forbearing and given each other grace over differing opinions. Some wield truth like a club and forget the admonition that “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26). It’s God who grants repentance through His Word and His Spirit, not our hammering.

Notice that Paul doesn’t tell Timothy to be nice instead of being right. He tells him to teach, be patient, correct, yes, but with gentleness. Both epistles from Paul to Timothy are full of instructions about right doctrine and conduct.

In fact, almost every book of the Bible warns against false doctrine or shows examples of people following the wrong way.

Yes, there are issues in the Bible good people can differ over. But there are other issues where we can seriously go astray and lead others with us if we’re wrong. If we don’t know God as He truly is, we create a false god in our image.

I saw an article recently where someone spoke of not worrying about getting everything right in their Bible reading, but instead looking for meaning for one’s personal life.

But how can we find meaning if we’re off on what we think the Bible says? Jesus said “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24, emphasis mine).

Isaiah spoke of those “who swear by the name of the Lord and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right” (48:1).

True, the Pharisees spent a lot of time studying the scriptures and dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s just right. But for all their study, they missed the truth. Their error wasn’t in studying the Scripture but in adding to the word of God and teaching their own doctrines rather than His.

We do have to be careful not to fall into a merely academic approach to the Bible. But we don’t have to set up a false dichotomy between right study and meaning and application. Or between being nice versus being right. Paul urges Timothy to be an unashamed worker “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Sometimes the call for truth can be stern in the Bible. Sometimes you can’t warn people of danger in a quiet voice. When one of my sons was little and toddled toward a busy street, I didn’t say, “Honey, please come back. The street is too dangerous.” I yelled and ran and snatched him up just before he stepped onto the road. I probably scared him to death. I was pretty shaken, myself.

Paul told the Galatians, “If we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). Did Paul say that because he was opinionated and intolerant in his religious views? No, he knew the truth and he knew the danger of a false gospel.

May God give us grace to know Him for who He is, to know His Word, to continue to study it depending on the Holy Spirit for guidance, to grow in knowing Him, to know where to draw lines and where to show forbearance, to speak boldly and truthfully but as kindly as possible.

. (I often link up with some of these bloggers)

29 thoughts on “Is It Wrong to Be Right?

  1. It does seem a slippery slope when sharing beliefs. I’m usually wary of how I interpret vs the other person, and do not want to lead astray. Mostly, because I wonder if I have discerned the meaning clearly.

  2. Barbara, you have made several very good points. The last paragraph sums it all up and is gold! May we know Him, know His Word, and share the truth in love and kindness.

  3. I love when I read your post and anticipate things — for instance, in this one I was thinking, “Can’t you be nice AND right?” and then you led right into Paul’s words 🙂 The memory of the baking soda teriyaki will now stick with me too!

  4. I pray the words in your final paragraph nightly, Barbara. I ask God for the grace and wisdom to differentiate between true and false doctrine. It is sometimes hard to know which side is spouting false doctrine.

    I also had an incident like you described with a toddler running toward the street. I still shudder to think of what might have happened.

    • I shudder, too, Laurie, and thank God so much for His protection.

      Discerning between true and false doctrine is one of my motivations to keep studying the Bible and weighing what’s said against what God says (the main motivation being to get to know God better and grow in loving Him). Satan can appear as an angel of light, the Bible says, and many falsehoods contain a measure of truth. How we need God’s wisdom and grace.

  5. Well said! Some errors are deadly, and it is unloving and unkind to pretend otherwise. We are called to speak the truth in love. Jesus came in truth and grace.

  6. To ask God to give me insight and guidance “to know where to draw lines and where to show forbearance” in a way that shows His grace, mercy and wisdom! Oh, yes! There is a time to stand and a time to give way! Salient message for this season we are in!

  7. Well spoken, Barbara! I appreciate this warning, “And sometimes being wrong can be deadly: the wrong medicine, the wrong diagnosis, the wrong step. No amount of being nice can make up for being wrong in some instances.” And amen to your prayer, may it be Lord.

  8. Such a relevant question these days, Barbara. It reminds me of the way my daughter would react to my help with math when she was in elementary school. It was a source of conflict at times, but once, when I expressly made a point to speak in a low, quiet tone, she told me to stop yelling at her. It wasn’t that I was yelling, but that I was telling her something she didn’t want to hear. I agree that kindness is in short supply these days. But I also wonder if people react to the truth in negative ways because they simply don’t to hear it. Either way, I appreciate your encouragement to speak the truth boldly and with kindness, no matter what. (And I’m sorry that your baking soda incident ruined teriyaki for your husband!)

    • That’s a great point–sometimes people are oversensitive to truth because they don’t want to hear it. I pray for loved ones in that condition that God will open their eyes and understanding.

  9. You are so very right in what you say here in this blog. In fact, this seems to come up a lot these days so what you say is both very relevant and important. We can and must speak up at times …and still be kind at the same time. Thank you!

  10. Barbara, what a timely and truthful post. There are some issues that have eternal consequences in the lives of those we talk to but that never gives us permission to be unkind or argumentative. May God help us to speak the truth in love and be willing to forebear when that’s the right thing to do … and the wisdom to know the difference. I’m sharing your post.

  11. Barbara, there is so much wisdom in this post! I love how you used the mistake with the teriyaki to illustrate so many important points. I particularly liked the paragraph where you write about “not being able to warn people in a quiet voice” and wrote about your experience preventing your son from running out in traffic. I so enjoyed reading this well-written and wise piece. Thank you for sharing it with Hearth and Soul.

  12. Your teriyaki episode reminds me of a similar lemon chicken episode I had. I still don’t know what went wrong with it, but I know that everyone hated it and I’ve never made it again. 🙂

    I agree with you that being wrong can sometimes be fatal. Life can be fragile in many ways, leaving little room for error. Thankfully God doesn’t require that level of perfection from us in our relationship with him and each other; grace covers our imperfections. But I still long to be right (and yes, nice too) when possible.

    • Though God covers us with grace and we’ll never have everything down perfectly, I think there are spiritually fatal beliefs–or disbeliefs. If we don’t believe Jesus is the fully the Son of God and fully man, we’re not believing in the Jesus of the Bible. And if we’re believing in something other than the true Jesus, we can’t be saved. If we don’t believe the Bible is God’s Word, we won’t grow in Him and we’ll be prone to errors in other writings claiming to be spiritual.

  13. Barbara,

    Being right has been a struggle for me at times. I used to put being right over relationships on things that really didn’t matter. I many times have to ask myself, “Is being right more important than the damage it might cause to a relationship.” God often calls us to speak up for what is right and, other times to be silent. We do need discernment from God as to when to speak up and when to stay quiet.

    Kindness is key. I love your last paragraph. I have copied it and will use it in my prayers. It is so important to follow God’s lead. I know when I strike out on my own without His lead, it’s disastrous.

    This week I had to speak out on something. It was hard, and it stung, but I already see the benefits from it. It was long overdue. I had been hesitant to speak the truth for fear of rocking the relationship.

    But then on another occasion in the same week with a different person. I spoke when silence would have been better, and all I did was add to their mess. I failed to stop and ask what God thought. Although I spoke was factual, The timing was all off, and I see my words were centered on Me and my pain, not the other person. No wonder the person was ready to hang up.

    Great post and you gave me something to think about this week and remember God must lead us in our conversations, and we must always sprinkle them with kindness.

    Blessings,
    Maree

  14. This is such a thoughtful piece about a critical subject. I especially find it thought provoking in terms of how we present the message of God’s love and peace to others. So many don’t have any idea of the depth of his love and the perfect peace we can have in the Lord Jesus and yet there’s his wrath…Even his wrath must be spoken of in love. Thanks so much for this food for thought today, Barbara!

  15. I so agree with you. When in a situation of discussion, especially this last year, it is so easy to get caught up in being right. Many times discernment is key as I prayerfully seek God for a response. It’s difficult. Your last paragraph sums the issue up very well and certainly would serve us well as a prayer. Thank you for tackling this difficult subject!

  16. What a lovely post! The older I get, the more I am convinced that it’s more important to be in right relationship than to be “right”–and yet there are a few hills on which I am happy to die, so I appreciate your wise words. May God help us all to become more like Jesus in the way we interact with one another.

    Thanks so much for joining the Grace at Home party at Imparting Grace. I’m featuring you this week!

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  18. Pingback: June Reflections | Stray Thoughts

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