Luke 7:1-10 (AD 28)
Doctrinal correctness can mean the difference between heaven and hell, life and death, being with God or being without God. And yet it is often, also, not the biggest problem. The same priorities that must often drive us to emphasise correct doctrine, will sometimes mean we must ignore (at least in the moment) certain errors.
Notice the reasoning given by “some elders of the Jews” (v.4) as to why Jesus should want to go and help out the centurion with the sick servant: “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue” (v.4-5).
Wait…what?! He DESERVES it?? Of course he didn’t deserve it. There were countless more needy people in Israel and even among the Romans themselves. The centurion, even with his good works and being an Israelophile, was employed by and served a murderous and idolatrous, city state.
Jesus could have pointed out that no-one deserves anything or he could have reminded the people about the nature of the Roman Empire (fear of which is part of what drove the Pharisees to get Jesus killed). But he didn’t do that. He didn’t give the doctrinal or moral correction. Instead, “So Jesus went with him” (v.6) – in direct response to a doctrinally way-off-the-mark statement.
Jesus affirmed and commended a Gentile who worked for the Roman Empire
Jesus demonstrated that his physical touch was unnecessary for him to provide healing
Jesus demonstrated that although the Jews had been God’s chosen people, God wanted a relationship with ALL people
Jesus showed the importance of faith over ritual and family line
Everything Jesus did was first for the glory of God. So we too must think, “What can I say here that will most glorify God? What can I do that will be most helpful in getting that person closer to God?”. That will never involve affirming an anti-gospel statement or belief, but it MIGHT involve shelving a conversation about doctrine for a future time. Even in this incident with the centurion, Jesus mentioned the primacy of faith, which made nonsense of the centurion ‘deserving’ something. But he did so carefully, and not belligerently.
So if you are quick to correct doctrinal error, be careful – Jesus is not your model. He didn’t live like that, because many times a correction was not the most helpful course. We can’t know people’s attitudes in a flawless way like Jesus did, but if someone is struggling with discouragement, for example, and say that they feel abandoned by God, it’s not going to help them to be told that they are speaking ill of God. Tell them instead how much God loves them and wants them to feel safe in Him.
Or if someone tells you about when they shared the gospel with a friend today, and you thought of a better way of saying it, maybe keep that to yourself and, in the moment, tell them how grateful you are to God that they’re telling people about Jesus. Be affirming about the growth and work of God you see in people’s lives, and resist focusing always on what could be better.
Ask God if you’re not sure, whether a correction is really needed.
And if in doubt, don’t. You can always come back to it later if it’s necessary.
Footnote: Verse 1 – “When Jesus had finished saying all this…” etc. refers to the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount.