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.

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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)

Do We Have to Choose Between Nice and Right?

I often see little memes extolling the virtues of being nice rather than right. And I wonder why we set up such a false dichotomy. Why does it have to be either/or? Why can’t it be both/and?

Most of us want to be right. No one wants to be misinformed or hold opinions that are known to be wrong or foolish. But most of us have at least enough humility to realize that we might unwittingly be wrong sometimes.

But we all know people who, no matter what topic you bring up, have a better idea or a superior way of doing things than what you just expressed. And there are some who have to have everything their own way because of course that’s the only right way. They can make everyone else miserable over the way the toilet paper is put on the roll or the way the toothpaste tube is squeezed. We each have our little idiosyncrasies and preferences for how certain things are done, but we need to learn to compromise and to be less self-centered.

However, in some cases, being wrong can be deadly. The wrong wire cut on the bomb. The wrong medical procedure or medicine. The wrong path to a broken bridge. The wrong opinion about who Jesus is or how one can know Him.

Unfortunately, people can sometimes use truth like a steamroller or bullhorn or club. Arrogance does not make the gospel winsome or inviting; harshness can turn people off to the truth. “The wisdom that is from above,” James says, “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

There are scores, maybe hundreds of issues where Christians can give each other grace, where they don’t have to agree on every little factor. Unfortunately, we waste a lot of time arguing over those issues, hotly defending them, stirring up discord and strife. “One who sows discord among brothers” is in the list of things God hates in Proverbs 6:16-19. Paul lists among the works of the flesh “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions” (Galatians 5:19-26).

It’s okay to talk about them, if we can do so without heat. It helps sometimes to probe others’ minds as we think through an issue. But sometimes it’s best to let them go. Romans 14 says especially of “one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” Paul then gives some classic guidelines for handling some of those issues: don’t despise or judge the person with a different opinion (verse 3); .be fully convinced in your own mind (verse 5); do whatever you do as unto the Lord (verses 6-9); remember the other person is your brother (verse 10); remember we will all give an account to God (verses 10-12); don’t “put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother”—walk in love (verses 13-15, 21); “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (verse 19); do whatever you do in faith (verses 22-23).

There are biblical issues, however, where a line is drawn in the sand and crossing it leads to heresy. Jesus corrected people’s grave errors in theology all the time. The apostles had to deal firmly and sharply with errors in the early churches in the epistles. Paul says at least three times (2 Thess. 3:6, 2 Thess. 3:14-15, 1 Cor. 5:9-11) that there are spiritual issues worth separating over. Paul tells the Corinthains to deliver one unrepentant member in serious sin (incest), “to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5). The end he wanted was not the man’s destruction, but his eventual salvation. To avoid showing someone where their beliefs don’t line up with Scripture, to the point that their soul is in danger, is not the nice or loving thing to do.

Also, Jesus rebuked the disciples for being fearful and not having faith in a situation where fear would seem like a natural response: being in a boat in a storm at sea. Through Old and New Testaments, God is longsuffering and patient. But at times He had to deal firmly—sometimes seemingly harshly—when His people had long instruction and opportunity to do right but kept clinging to their own stubborn way.

The apostles could also seem harsh in their warnings against false teachers, but the truth in question was so vital, and error in its regard so eternally deadly, that strong warnings were needed.

Likewise, human authorities aren’t being kind by avoiding correction that might help one of their charges.

Sometimes Jesus shared truth that the other person did not receive, and He let him walk away, like the “rich young ruler.” He didn’t call him back, soften the message, or backtrack so the relationship could continue. When God brings a person to confront their dearest idol, it’s a crisis, and He wants them to see it for what it is and repent. Thankfully in His grace He’ll often bring a person to that point a number of times (I’ve always hoped that that man came back to the Lord at another time). Chris Anderson makes the point that in our day, there is a rush to get such a person to the “sinner’s prayer” and gloss over their heart issues: “How many such men have been led in a sinner’s prayer that salved their consciences but didn’t save their souls? How many have thus been unwittingly inoculated against the truth? How many have left churches lost and relieved rather than lost and sorrowful?” We need to allow time for godly sorrow to do its work toward repentance unto salvation.

So is it more important to be nice or to be right? It depends on the issue in question and the needs of the people involved. It’s best to be both if possible. The Bible speaks often of God’s kindness and admonishes us in many places to be kind. In interpersonal relationships, especially, we’re to “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Colossians 3: 12-13). When a right view is essential, we don’t need to convey or defend truth in an unnecessarily harsh, negative, gripy, or cynical way. But cutting corners on the truth in an effort to be nice is neither kind nor loving.

How we need God’s discernment and wisdom to know when to speak up, when to be silent, when to take a stand, when to let something go, when to rebuke or warn, when to cover someone’s foibles in love. How we need to soak our minds in Scripture to be guided His truth. How we need His discipline to deal with the logs in our own eyes before attempting to deal with the specks in others. How we need His love to look on others’ needs before our own. How we need His grace to speak the truth, yes, but in love.

(Revised from the archives)

(Sharing with Hearth and Home, Sunday Scripture Blessings, Selah,
Scripture and a Snapshot, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon,
Remember Me Monday, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragment,
Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement,
Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network,
Faith and Worship Christian Weekend)