(This is part two of a three part series on The Ministry of Rebuke. Part one was yesterday.)
When to Rebuke
1. The more hurtful the action or error. If your friend keeps talking about Calvinism and Arminianism and thinks the last book of the Bible is Revelations, a corrective word at the right moment might be in order but a full-fledged rebuke is not. On the other hand, when someone’s sin is ruining a marriage, killing a church, grinding down your small group, or destroying their own soul, you had better get on the rebuking train. And fast.
2. The more potential there is for the issue to escalate into a bigger problem. For example, say you are over a friend’s house and you hear her snap rather inappropriately at her children. You could probably overlook the incident. But if your friend snapped at three other families’ children in the hallway at church, you better talk to her. There’s a real possibility this mole hill will becomes a mountain unless she does something to address her mistake.
3. The more the person is blind to it. Christians who make mistakes and feel terrible about it don’t need a rebuke. They need the Savior. But it’s a different story when your brother or sister doesn’t see the problem. Suppose you begin to notice that one of the couples in your small group never seems to get along. You sense coldness and hostility in their marriage. But they’ve been open with the group that they are seeing a biblical counselor for help. Probably no need to rebuke what they already see. But if they were blind to their problems, someone needs the courage to confront.
4. The more habitual the problem is. An errant swear word is bad, but depending on the situation may not require your rebuke. But where there’s a habit of letting the filth fly, reproof is in order. When Christians fall into sin they need a hand up. When they fall into the same sin in the same place day after day, they need a kick in the pants first.
5. The more you will be held account for your silence. We don’t all have to rebuke the President when we think he makes a mistake. We can in a free country, but unless we are his advisors, friends, or family it isn’t incumbent upon us to do so.
Likewise, we don’t have to rebuke every wayward Christian author, pastor, or church (that would be daunting). No one is responsible for speaking into everyone’s life on every issue (praise God for that). But for your children, your spouse, your close friends, your accountability partner, your flock, that church member who invited correction in his life–for these people our silence in the face of sin will not be golden.
6. The more the name of Christ is dishonored. We must distinguish between honest struggles that are part of the normal upward trajectory of the Christian and flagrant sins that embarrass the cause of Christ. Yes, every sin dishonors Christ. But some are more egregious, more public, more high-handed. These are especially harmful to our Christian witness and deserve a sterner rebuke.
7. The more the gospel is threatened. Young zealous Christians sometimes don’t get this one. Every theological error looks and smells exactly the same to them. But they are not all the same. Some matters are of first importance, which means others must be secondary or tertiary.
I read a book not too long ago about the controversy in the Dutch church a hundred years ago over presumptive regeneration. Things get pretty hot and heavy, with lots of invective flying back and forth. That’s overkill for that issue. But on the other hand, some people can watch justification go out the window and barely raise an eyebrow.
Tomorrow: How to Rebuke and How to Receive Rebuke