Among the instructions that Paul gave the young pastor Timothy are convince, correct, encourage with all patience and teaching (reprove, rebuke, exhort in KJV).
We love encouragement, and we like to be encouraged by pastors. Encouragement doesn’t ruffle feathers, and we like to see the smiles on faces when we encourage. But how much do we convince and correct?
Those two are more difficult because they assume the one being corrected is wrong and the one doing the correcting is right. The concept of being right is frowned upon thanks to post-modernism. But as believers we need to put cultural correctness aside and fulfill our biblical obligations to convince and correct.
What kind of doctor would I be if I chose not to tell you that you were sick because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings? Or what if I didn’t think there is absolute truth, so I just told you that everything was fine? I would be a bad doctor, but that is what we do when we keep the bad news from people. The word gospel means good news, and there is no good news without bad news. We need to convince people of the bad news (they are sinners separated from God) and correct their wrong thinking (they are not good enough to make it to heaven). Yes, encouragement is easier, but that only comes after they have repented.
The message of forgiveness, friendship with God, and heaven are all encouraging, but only in their right context. Talking about a lifeguard, floatation device, and CPR is not nearly as encouraging to a person on dry ground as it is to the person drowning at sea.
In the same way, telling an unsaved person about forgiveness means nothing until they are convinced they are sinners and in need of forgiveness. That’s not a cruel message because we are offering encouragement in the same breath: Jesus offers us the forgiveness that we need.
Most importantly, don’t miss the asterisk in Paul’s admonition: use patience. It’s not about winning arguments or being the best debater. If we do not show patience and love, then no matter how right we are, we are wrong. It’s not about us being right, it’s about Jesus being right. We can win the debate and lose the convert.