Matthew Henry once said, “The three qualifications of a good surgeon are requisite in a reprover: He should have an eagle’s eye, a lion’s heart, and a lady’s hand; in short, he should be endued with wisdom, courage, and meekness.
This great Puritan had struck upon a wonderful metaphor. Reproof—the means by which a Nathan reaches into the soul of one trapped in sin to bring the ministry of reconciliation—is a lot like surgery. Both require care, wisdom, and precision, as well as a delicate and determined hand. (121)
Now, if and when you go in for spiritual surgery…
- Don’t assume you see everything with perfect clarity
- Don’t just cut blindly.
- Ask questions, don’t assume motives and make accusations.
- Like every good surgeon, do some good diagnostics and testing.
Harvey gives us some good diagnostic questions on pages 124-126 (emphasis mine):
- Have I prayed for God’s wisdom and acknowledged my need for his help in serving my spouse?
o In prayer we are reminded of our surgical limitations—we can operate, but we cannot heal; we can speak, but we cannot convict concerning sin. Only God can do that (John 16:8).
- Are my observations based upon patterns of behavior or merely a single incident?
- Am I content to address one area of concern, even if I’m aware of several?
o The kids still need to be fed and the bills paid while we struggle through our brokenness. It can be discouragingly hard to focus on more than one area of growth at a time. A good surgeon keeps that in mind.
- Am I committed to making incisions no larger than absolutely necessary?
- Am I prepared to humbly offer an observation rather than an assumption or conclusion?
o You and I will never have perfect insight into our spouse’s heart. … Thus, the most helpful surgery is often exploratory. Similarly, the most helpful reproof frequently comes in the form of open (not leading) questions, because questions create the dialogue that invites more penetrating observations.
- Is my goal to promote God’s truth or my preference?
Let's milk this surgery metaphor for all it's worth. Good surgeons don’t stop after the initial incision. They don't leave the patient open and bleeding on the table. They carry the procedure all the way through to completion, stitch you up when they're done, visit you in post-op, and have you come back in for follow-up!
A second kind of courage is also necessary for the spiritual surgeon. If the first kind is like the boldness needed to begin surgery—running a scalpel across sterilized flesh to open the first incision—the second kind of courage keeps you at work for as long as it takes to finish, and then keeps you caring and engaged through the recovery period as well. This is the courage that commits to staying involved in personal ministry well after we begin to speak.
I think we could learn a lesson or two.So often, couples can treat confrontation like a hand grenade—pop the pin, let it fly, and run for cover. But biblical reproof is not some kind of commando raid. It’s careful, committed, surgical care for the soul. A good surgeon is committed not only to the operation, but to post-operative care as well. Why does this require courage? Because God’s purpose for reproof is not to achieve a hassle-free marriage but to inspire repentance unto godliness. And repentance and change, friends, simply takes time. When sinners say “I do,” we must be committed to the entire process of helping each other grow in godliness through life. (127)