Kevin DeYoung outlines 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).
DeYoung then details when to rebuke (rightly imply "not all of the time"):
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.
How to give a rebuke:
1. Know whom you are rebuking. Learn to distinguish among the different animals in the ecclesiastical barn. For starters, there are pigs–not worth your time. Save your pearls of wise rebuke for someone else. Then there are the sheep. Deal gently with them if you can. But as for the wolves, they need a firm whack with the rod. And when it comes to the top dogs, remember to show them extra respect. But when they mess up in front of everyone and keep on doing it, “rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Tim. 5:20).
If you can keep these animals in mind it will save you a lot of trouble. Don’t go whacking the junior high school student who breaks curfew the first time or the high schooler who isn’t sure the Bible can really be trusted. Use the staff and bring them back to the pen. Too often we blast the sheep and coddle the wolves, and waste all our time on the pigs. The one thing we may get right is to address the top dogs. We like to take people down. But we are no doubt quicker to speak than we are to listen.
2. Know who you are. Some people hate conflict. They probably need more of it. Others run into it. They need to chill. If you can’t wait for your next opportunity to rebuke, take a little Sabbath from being the Holy Spirit in everyone’s life. It’s like C.S. Lewis said, the hard saying of Jesus are only good for those who find them hard. Anyone who is eager to rebuke is not ready to do so.
3. Check your heart. Are you getting in his face so you can serve your notice of indignation, or are you going to serve their sanctification? Consider this wisdom: “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Prov. 17:27). And, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention” (Prov. 15:18). In other words, check yourself before you wreck yourself. Or as James puts it, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person by quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).
4. Check your eye. As in, is there a plank in it.
5. Don’t be loud if you can be soft. Galatians 6:1 says restore your brother gently. 2 Timothy 2:25 tells us to correct our opponents with gentleness. A gentle answer, Proverbs tells us, turns away wrath (15:1). It was always Paul’s desire to come in a spirit of gentleness; the rod was only a last resort (1 Cor. 4:21; cf. 2 Cor. 13:10). You see a pattern here? Try gentleness first. Don’t be the one whose rash words are like sword thrusts (Prov. 12:18).
Immature Christians only have one decibel level. Some don’t know how to whisper and some don’t know how to scream. The goal is to administer the rebuke as softly and gently as possible. In most situations, the trumpet blast should come only after you’ve tried the flute first. Don’t launch the nukes at the first sign of trouble. Try diplomacy, then sanctions, then warnings, then strategic targets, then air, then sea, then ground, then start consulting about the big red button. Don’t punch them in the gut if an arm around the shoulder will do the trick.
And finally, and probably more important, how to receive rebuke:
1. Consider the source. If you are any kind of public figure there will always be complaints. Ditto if you spend any time on the internet. So it’s imperative we know what to do with criticism. Ask yourself: is this rebuke coming from someone I trust and respect? Is it from someone I know and someone who knows me? Is this person someone to whom I am accountable–a spouse, an elder board, an employer? We can’t take every rebuke to heart. But ignoring every unflattering assessment is foolish too.
2. Consider the substance. Pray about the hard word spoken to you. Ask others what they think. Maybe this rebuke needs your blind eye and deaf ear. Jesus was rebuked by Peter, so not every correction hits the mark. If you take an honest, humble look at the rebuke and it doesn’t seem to fit. Don’t wear it. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4 “My conscience is clean.” That didn’t mean he was necessarily acquitted before God, but as far as he could tell, he had not sinned. So he moved on.
But sometimes we do screw up. Even the best of men are men at best. I doubt many of us are over-rebuked. Most of us, myself included, would probably do well to receive more specific correction. So consider the source, consider the substance, and be prepared to grow.
3. Consider the sin. We will never benefit from rebuke (and our friends will be scared to tell us the truth) if we are never open to the possibility that we might have sin that needs rebuking. There are few things more necessary in a child of God than being teachable. “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool” (Prov. 17:10). Or more to the point: “He who hates reproof is stupid” (Prov. 12:1).
4. Consider the Savior. Jesus sees all your sins right now. Why not see them for yourself? The way of godliness is the way of confession, cleansing, and change. One of the reasons we aren’t really changing, is because we aren’t really confessing. And we aren’t really confessing because we aren’t really seeing. And we aren’t really seeing because few of us love enough to give a rebuke and very few are humble enough to receive one.
But in the end, we have a lot to gain with rebuke–a restored brother, a conquered sin, a greater sense of the Savior’s love–and we’ve got nothing to lose but our pride.
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