The Big Red Pen. You know the pen. It’s that one that was used on that paper you got back in high school that looked like your teacher stuck herself with a knife and bled all over your assignment. If you are like me, you wanted to crawl under your desk and cry. And even if you realize that the writing in red pen was also positive comments, it still felt like someone was yelling at you.
These days it feels a lot like people are all walking around with The Big Red Pen out. Now the pens are the internal and, more to the point, external editors who correct people, not just grammar or spelling (we all know those people too). No, these are the people telling everyone else how to live their lives. These are the people who offer advice that hasn’t been asked for. The (self-appointed) editors-in-chief who sit behind their desks, in their castles, behind their pulpits (*cough*) and look down the glasses on the tips of their noses at us and correct.
Here’s the thing. There are instances where the Big Red Pen is necessary.
If you are a member of a local church where you have taken an oath to submit to the authority of the church, you have handed over your Big Red Pen. Church discipline has a nasty connotation. It sounds icky. It can be, when done poorly. Sadly enough, I think we only hear about it when it’s been done poorly. But more often than not, a church that is serious about growth (real growth, not just in “butts in pews” numbers) and discipleship. This will be a serious endeavor through healthy, restorative discipline. If you take an oath – and that’s a big if, Bob – at a local church, you are handing over The Pen. Know this. Churches/pastor types, make this clear. The Church is there, in part, to help us mature. We give the leaders of the church our pen, submitting to the wisdom and authority.
Secondly, and this is even ickier, your spouse has a Big Red Pen. It is a Pen like no one else’s pen. It is the Pen to end all Pens. And you handed it over when you said I do. I know, I know. This is not a popular thought. Marriage is a pretty big deal to me, and, I am pretty sure, to God. He loves it so much that He uses it over and over as an example of how much He cares for His people – the ones He calls “His Bride.” Awwww!
So your spouse gets a special Pen that s/he can use and if you are submitting to each other in love and grace, you know how to wield that thing with relative ease. you do everything you can to learn how best to approach your spouse, how to love them well, how to read them like a book, when to talk, when to listen, when to shut it. I know that my husband and I are continually learning how to use The Big Red Pen well and that we both feel the beauty and unique privilege it is to speak into each other’s lives. An alternative to marriage for single people could be a parent or a mentor who has first hand knowledge and relationship with you.
Ask yourself, who has the Red Pen to my life? And who has given me a Red Pen to theirs?
It truly is a beautiful thing to see God’s family – through his church and through marriages – treating each other with respect and dignity, learning, understanding, and motivating each other to love well and to see their lives as acts of worship to our God and Savior. When the two biggest places a Big Red Pen are being used well – through churches and marriages – our community will function more smoothly. People will have a built-in checks and balances system that will serve to call out error, correct heresy, and redirect sinful behaviors.
It truly is a disastrous thing to see God’s family mutilating each other, bleeding, as it were, with our Big Red Pens all over each other’s lives. It is heartbreaking to see how so many who call themselves Christians seem to be more concerned about editing other people than about calling each other to humility and grace – and first by example. I’m appalled by public figures, self-proclaimed Editors of the World, who take great strides to cross out and redline entire groups of people in one fell swoop.
There is a marked difference (see what I did there?) between teaching and editing. There is also a huge difference between taking someone’s Red Pen and being given the pen freely and willingly. It is one thing to attend someone’s church, conference, listen to their podcast and willingly submit to their teaching. It is another thing to be berated publicly, often, and judged from a distance.
This is NOT the way of Jesus. He never called out sinners who were hurting and broken and outcast or publicly humiliated, scolded or reprimanded them. You know who He publicly chastised and raked over the coals? Religious leaders who thought they were better than everyone else. The so-called priests and Pharisees who were supposed to be tending and caring for God’s flock, but were instead beating them over and over about their wickedness, and sometimes physically doing so. We never see Jesus berating anyone who we know to have those “obvious” sins, a point that all four gospel accounts drive home often. They also make a point to show that Jesus scolded people to their faces, when challenged and discouraged by their lack of understanding and pompous foolishness. He wasn’t on a crusade. He wasn’t picketing or attacking others.
Jesus had a different agenda. He was there to save them. He was there to heal them. He was there to lovingly, unconditionally use a Red Pen all over himself, his blood poured out all across our pages, covering all our efforts in perfection. By his wounds, we are healed. No amount of my editing, on myself or on others, will enact the lasting, profound change that the work of the Gospel through the Spirit and the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Ever.
Put down your pens. Take up your crosses with humility. Humility is waiting for others to hand you their Big Red Pen because they know you -because they see your heart and know your mind. They have experienced gospel changing grace through you and they have begun to believe your message. This is the way of Jesus. Lord, help us to long for correction and maturity, but help us give and receive it with grace and kindness. All for your kingdom.