The Ministry of Rebuke (1)

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There are two kinds of Christians: those who like to rebuke and do it often and those who are scared to rebuke and never do it. The irony is both kinds of Christians are prone to sin. Those who enjoy giving a good rebuke are usually the least qualified to give one, while those who would rather do almost anything else are often the very people who would serve the body best with their correction.

We live in a strange day. With email, blogs, and social media, rebuking has never been easier. And yet in a culture of hurt feelings and thin skin, rebuking has never been more suspect.

So which is it? Do Christians rebuke too much or too little? Well, of course, that depends. Some Christians are limp noodles. Others are trigger happy. One-size advice does not fit all. We need wisdom.

At the risk of excessive enumeration, let me suggest a twenty point checklist in administering rebukes. The twenty points can be distributed under four headings: Why we rebuke. When to rebuke. How to rebuke. How to receive rebuke.

Remember, all four sections and all twenty points go together. Don’t isolate one section from another. If you do you’ll end up back at limp noodle or trigger happy.

Why We Rebuke

1. It is biblical. When Peter came to Antioch, Paul opposed him to his face because he stood condemned (Gal. 2:11). Bravo to Paul for dishing it out, and kudos to Peter for taking it to heart. “Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence, reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge” (Prov. 19:25).

We are supposed to correct one another (see Matthew 18). It’s strange that we get correction in school, correction from parents, correction from employers. Yet in the rest of life, in the stuff that matters most, people will rarely dare to tell us hard things. Every bit of Scripture is useful for reproof (2 Tim. 3:16). If we only use the Bible to tell people things they want to hear we’re wielding a single edged sword.

2. It is loving. “Those whom I love,” Jesus said, “I reprove and discipline” (Revelation 3:19). He didn’t say, “I love you so much, but I still have to rebuke you.” He said, “Because I love you, I will rebuke you.” The reason we don’t rebuke more often is not because we are so full of love, it is because we do not truly love. We like people to think well of us. We like our relationships to be easy. As one writer said: “the opposite of love is not correction, but indifference.”

And yet, if you rebuke or discipline, people will say you are not loving. Just count on it. We live in an age that is emotionally fragile, easily hurt, and quickly offended. People don’t make arguments, they emote feelings. They don’t respond to logic, they claim that you use your logic in a mean way. So don’t be surprised when people equate rebuking with reviling. If you dare to correct a friend, he may think you hateful, judgmental, and meddlesome. But Jesus said, “those whom I love, I reprove.”

3. It protects. Rebuke protects you from hurting others and from hurting yourself. It also protects the flock from false teachers and evil doers. One of the chief responsibilities of the elder or pastor is that he be able to rebuke (2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:9, 14; 2:15). A leader who never rebukes sin and never corrects false teaching is not protecting his flock. And he who refuses to protect refuses to love.

In Ezekiel, the leaders were likened to watchmen on the city walls. That’s what the elders are to be (Acts 20:26-31). If we see enemy doctrines or enemy sin in our midst, we must warn the city, lest we have blood on our hands. Correction is our calling.

4. It restores. The goal of a rebuke, like any kind of discipline, is always restoration. It’s not punitive, but palliative. A loving rebuke is not supposed to be like a gunshot, but like a flu shot. It may hurt, but the goal is to help you get healthy. “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).

Tomorrow: When to Rebuke

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