Pastors, Be Surgeons—Not Butchers
by Jon Kelly

March 30, 2021

Pastoral Ministry

Pastors, Be Surgeons—Not Butchers

By Jon Kelly

March 30, 2021

The words of the wicked are like a murderous ambush, but the words of the godly saves lives.” – Proverbs 12:6

We live in a time when the truth is so vital and needed. Many are questioning news sources, governments, and even the church of Jesus. If there was ever a time for prophetic voices to speak into the issues of our times, it is today. I believe that there is no group more equipped to speak to the issues of today than those who are Christ-followers; those who are led by the Spirit to speak the very words of God from his Holy Word. Yet there is a problem, we also have a need to speak hard truth to one another and to receive hard truth graciously from one another. Issues in politics, alignment with societal and social agendas, America’s racial heritage, along with the church’s former and current complicity in many of these things has shaped an environment where hard truth and realities must be discussed among believers in order for repentance, forgiveness, true reconciliation, and unity to play out where need be. Knowing the necessity of speaking biblical truth, along with the sensitivity of the rawness and pain of our context and history, our approach to truth-telling must be highly considered and thought through. 

This past week, a pastor on our staff lovingly brought to my attention an unhealthy habit that I do in particular situations. I had never noticed it but felt so blessed by the Lord’s kindness in pointing this out to me. It was an answer to my prayer that morning. My fellow co-laborer and friend in the Lord’s ministry was gracious and gentle in his approach to sharing some sharp and hard truth with me. Are we not blessed for such friends? There is no growth, accountability, or opportunity to repent without truth being presented to us. His gentleness when speaking truth to me brings up a much-needed truth to consider: How we communicate truth is just as vital as the truth that we communicate. 

If there are any words of wisdom that I can give from my personal experiences of failure, as you seek to communicate hard truth to those in Christ or those who do not know Christ, it is this: “Be surgeons, not butchers”. Both butchers and surgeons use sharp knives and objects to cut, yet they both cut with different goals in mind. The butcher cuts with no regard for preserving life. There is no gentleness or concern for the object being cut. Life is not the desired outcome of the butcher’s blade. Surgeons cut with great care and gentleness because their goal is to heal and not kill. Surgeons cut as is necessary for what is helpful to preserves life. The surgeon’s cuts may hurt and there may be months of recovery for the individual experiencing the surgery, but people are willing to lay on the operating table and be cut because they know that the surgeon wants to see them healed. No one desires to lay down on a butcher’s table. 

Speak as the Salt of the Earth

Jesus called us the “salt” of the world (Matt.5:13). Salt is a preservative. You place it on things that are decaying in order to preserve life. This is why things with a longer shelf life at the grocery store tend to be higher in sodium. Paul says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Col.4:6). Paul isn’t trying to silence our voice in speaking the truth. He is giving us helpful insight into how we should communicate truth and telling us to examine our heart and motive behind what we communicate. I sense that outside of our stubbornness and pride when confronted with the truth, one of the main reasons that we struggle to communicate with one another is because we often communicate to each other as Butchers and not Surgeons. Have you been a butcher lately when confronting others with truth? Here are a few helpful verses to consider:

  • Proverbs 10:11-12 – “The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain; the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions. Hatred stirs up quarrels, but love makes up for all offenses.” 
  • Proverbs 11:9 – “With their words, the godless destroy their friends, but knowledge will rescue the righteous.”
  • Proverbs 12:6 – “The words of the wicked are like a murderous ambush, but the words of the godly saves lives.”

Examine Your Approach

Have you noticed the contrast between a butcher’s approach as compared to a surgeon’s approach in these verses? As you meditate on these verses, here are a few questions to consider before confronting someone with the truth of God’s Word:

  1. Have I prayed and sought for my heart to be refreshed in Christ so that my words are “Spirit-filled” and “Spirit-led”?
  2. Am I speaking from a “root of bitterness…which defiles many…”? (Hebrews 12:15). 
  3. Do I truly desire this person to repent or do I only desire to be right? Does my words, tone, and approach reflect a loving desire to see them led to repentance?
  4. Do I need to respond to this or speak on this? If so, what is my goal and aim in communicating to them? Have I prayerfully considered the best means to communicate this truth and the right time to do so?
  5. Am I willing to receive constructive criticism and humbly willing to listen to hard truth when spoken to me?

In a time when the truth of God’s Word is so desperately needed, let us boldly speak the truth to one another in love (Eph.4:15), and let us also not forget the sobering words of our Savior found in Matthew 12:36, “I tell you, on the day of judgement people will give account for every careless word they speak.”

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