This morning I went for my third dental appointment to sort out a root canal. I have had root canals before, but never one that has required multiple appointments. I am not sure as to what is standard procedure, but I have been pleased with the level of care and professionalism displayed by my dentist. I also appreciate the opportunity to make some connections between my root canal and a matter that has been before us for some time as a church—the matter of biblical change as revealed in Ephesians 4:17–24.
As I lay on my back with mouth numb and gaping open, I was provided with a wonderful opportunity to make some connections between what the dentist was doing to me and what God does to us, as He conforms us to the image of His Son; particularly how He does this through fellow church members.
The church is called to speak the truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:15a). Literally, we are to be “truthing in love.” As we do so, the church matures ever closer towards Christlikeness (vv. 15b–16). This is every church member’s concern. And therefore it is to be every church member’s commitment. Each of us is to be both equipped and willing to come alongside our fellow church members to help in our quest for change. Some of what is involved in this was helpfully illustrated before me as I had my root canal.
First, as mentioned, the root canal did not happen quickly. In fact, even after three visits I still have one final appointment for the “crowning” day!
The problem with my tooth was not a surface problem, and therefore its cure was neither superficial nor quick. Likewise, this is so for many of our spiritual problems. Multiple appointments and much attention are often required if we will either get the spiritual help that we need, or if we will effectively help another.
A common idea in churches is that generally no more than two or three counselling sessions are necessary to help people in the church. No doubt this is true for many lesser problems. Yet this is hardly the case for many, many of the problems faced by Christians. Rather, for many, a whole lot more time is required. We must not be in a hurry for change. Several appointments may be necessary to effect biblical change.
Second, and related to the first, the problem with my truth was deeply rooted and required lots of probing and drilling.
Even though at times my jaw began to cramp because my mouth was kept open for so long, yet I appreciated my dentist’s commitment to thoroughly sort out the problem. Much digging was necessary to get the old root out. He did not want infection to set in and to plague me later on. Better to be thorough now than to be superficial and possibly create future problems. So it is with biblical change and the counselling it demands. The heart issues behind our sinful behaviours and attitudes require probing. For if we do not unearth the real cause of our anger, or of our sexual sin, or of our arrogance, or of our bitterness, etc., then if a change does occur, most likely the poison in the system will surface again—and perhaps even more harmfully. This is why biblical counselling towards change takes time. Learn to probe. Ask questions. Seek to find out the heart of the problem by probing the heart. And if you are the one who needs help, don’t be impatient. Trust your brother or sister as they do the hard and sometimes painful work of drilling below the surface.
My dentist, on all three visits, injected my root with an antibiotic to stave off any possible infection. He knows that the finished tooth may look well, but he also knows that something sinister could take place down deep. If we want to experience biblical change, and if we want those we love to change, then the spiritual antibiotic of God’s Word is necessary. God’s Word must be hidden in the heart so that sin not be committed against God (Psalm 119:11). For example, though we are grateful when our brother moves from bitterness to forgiveness, we need to take heed lest he fall (see 1 Corinthians 10:12). And so we need to point him to Scriptures that will help him to have a long-term change in his attitude towards being treated unjustly. As he memorises and meditates on truth—such as, “Repay no one evil for evil…. Do not avenge yourselves… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17, 19, 21)—then his heart is protected from the infection of self-justifying bitterness.
Third, my dentist did not rely on his own observations; he was guided by a more revealing source.
On three occasions today, the dentist took x-rays of the particular tooth he was working on. I noticed that he put this on his work top and occasionally swivelled his chair to have a look at it and then return to work on me. He was obviously making sure that he was staying the course; he was making sure that he was following the plan. It is as if he was guided by a blueprint of the tooth and he was carefully sticking to it. And I am grateful. After all, I would hate to have a root canal where one was not needed! Likewise, when we are called upon to help a fellow Christian to experience biblical change then we want to be careful that we are paying attention to God’s x-ray of our brother’s heart. We want to make sure that our treatment of them is in accord with Scripture. We will often need to swivel our minds to God’s Word to make sure that we apply truth and that we apply it at the correct point. For instance, consider a Christian marriage that is under strain by the obvious evidence of a harsh and disrespectful wife. On the surface the answer is clear – ‘wives submit to your own husbands….respect your husband’ (Eph 5:22, 33). However as you probe both husband and wife, and as you swivel to examine the larger x-ray of Ephesians 5:22–33 you may discover that the husband’s sinful failure to biblically love his wife is at the root of his wife’s sin. In other words, we must pay close attention to both what is happening before us as well as what may be happening under the surface. Only God’s Word will reveal this.
These are merely three lessons about biblical change that my dentist illustrated before me. (Perhaps our resident dentist can write a larger treatise on “truth from teeth”!) But I hope that these will serve to stimulate our thinking about how biblical change takes place in our own lives as well as what is required to help one another. May God bless our church with such a passion for Christlikeness that we will make and keep appointments with one another to lovingly and wisely drill down deep and experience biblical change.