Friday, September 3, 2010

The Ministry of Rebuke: Giving, Receiving, and Inviting

In Tuesday's post, I introduced a second necessary component of true Christian fellowship by taking a glimpse at the ministry of the Apostle Paul (here's the first). We looked fairly closely at Romans 15:14-16 and a bit more cursorily at Acts 20:17-38, and discovered that Paul considered the ministry of admonition, or confrontation of sin, to be a vital one in the lives of believers and in the health of the church. I want to consider this matter again today, and build on the thought from Tuesday's post. (I originally thought I'd wrap up the thought today, but I decided to take one more post.)

Having seen the value and worth with which the Apostle esteems the ministry of rebuke, I want to both underscore that lesson from other Scriptures and then apply it to our lives. As an outline, we'll look at (1) the necessity of giving rebuke, (2) the necessity of receiving rebuke, and (3) the benefit of even desiring and inviting rebuke. On Tuesday, we'll look finally at (4) the reason - or motivation - for rebuke.

Giving Rebuke

When it comes to lovingly coming along side our brothers and making them aware of some sin that we've perceived in them, many Christians are timid and hesitant. Some of us just don't want to come off arrogantly, like we've got everything together when there really is a plank in our own eye. Some fear that it won't come off to the person as loving, and we think they'll take it the wrong way. So we rationalize not saying anything and call it love "covering" a multitude of sins. Others are simply afraid of the person's response, fearing that they will be hostile, and that the confrontation of sin might result in damage to the friendship. But the Scriptures tell us that we must be faithful in our ministry to our brothers and sisters by giving rebuke.
  • Proverbs 27:5-6 – Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of the enemy.
  • Proverbs 28:23 – He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue.
So open rebuke is better than concealed love. The wise man says that friends afflict with faithful wounds, and enemies deceive with flattery and kisses. You are an enemy to your brother if you fail to wound him faithfully. And the sage also says that when all is said and done you will find more favor than if you only sweep things under the rug, and give your brother a false assurance in their sin.

Paul tells us in 2 Timothy
3:16 that we are given Scripture for this very purpose: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." And he follows that up with the charge to Timothy to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction" (2Tim 4:2).

To the Ephesians, Paul commands them not to participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather to expose them (Eph 5:11). Similarly, in 1 Timothy 5:20, he commands Timothy concerning those who continue in sin, "
rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning." The exposing of sin not only seeks to restore the sinner, but also serves as a help to others who are tempted to sin.

As we've seen even above and especially last time, Paul was no stranger to this ministry of rebuke, but considered it profitable for the sake of his brothers and for the sake of the Gospel. Neither was he a stranger to public rebuke, as he reported in Galatians 2:11-14: "
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, 'If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?'"

This really is a striking passage of Scripture. I mean, Paul's not going after small potatoes here. This is the Apostle Peter we're talking about. And not just overzealous, quick-to-speak, foot-in-mouth Peter that we got used to during Jesus' earthly ministry. This is post-Pentecost Peter (indeed, over 15 years later!), after the amazing sermons recorded in Acts, the miracles of healing, the boldness before the Sanhedrin, and the abundant fruitfulness of his ministry.

And neither is Paul going after an enemy. This is his dear friend and brother in the Lord! This is someone he has deep affection for and loves as a brother. And yet he feels no hesitation about rebuking him sharply (I opposed him to his face) and publicly (in the presence of all), accusing him of perverting the Gospel. That is no small charge!

But this is not Paul being overly sensitive to sin and overly harsh with his fellow believers. This is love stretching to very uncomfortable and unpleasant actions to serve the one in concern. If anything, this interaction should teach us that as Christians, we have a responsibility -- even a stewardship -- to confront and correct our brother when we see him sinning, and thus cutting himself off from the blessings of God that flow from obedience.

Receiving Rebuke

And yet we are also commanded to receive rebuke well. As I mentioned above, one of the reasons it is so difficult to be faithful in giving needed rebuke is that those on the receiving end receive it so poorly. This should not be us. We should not by our attitudes put stumbling blocks in the way of our own correction. We want to be corrected when we are wrong, and so we must seek to remove any bad attitudes that would hinder a brother confronting us with our sin in love. Consider what the Scriptures say about those who receive rebuke well.
  • Proverbs 9:8b – Reprove a wise man and he will love you.
  • Proverbs 10:17 He is on the path of life who heeds instruction, but he who ignores reproof goes astray.
  • Proverbs 12:1 – Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.
  • Proverbs 13:10 Through insolence comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who receive counsel.
  • Proverbs 15:31-32 – He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. He who neglects discipline despises himself, but he who listens to reproof acquires understanding.
  • Proverbs 17:10 A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.
If you love discipline, listen to reproof, and receive counsel and rebuke, you are wise, love knowledge, are on the path of life, have wisdom, and acquire understanding.

If you refuse to receive rebuke, you will go astray, know nothing but strife, effectively despise your own self, and are a stupid fool. Strong language from Solomon, and from God. And yet, there it is: clear, inescapable, and gracious revelation from our God.

Desiring and Inviting Rebuke

In fact, Scripture takes it further than receiving rebuke well. We see godly men going out of their way to invite rebuke and correction if they should go astray.
  • Psalm 141:5 – Let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me; It is oil upon the head; Do not let my head refuse it. Commenting on this verse, Spurgeon wrote: "As oil refreshes and perfumes, so does reproof when fitly taken sweeten and renew the heart."
  • Psalm 94:12-14 – Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Yahweh, And whom You teach out of Your law; That You may grant him relief from the days of adversity, Until a pit is dug for the wicked. For Yahweh will not abandon His people, Nor will He forsake His inheritance.
The smite of the righteous reproof is kind, says David. It is an anointing of oil. It refreshes and perfumes. It sweetens and renews. "Let the righteous do so to me," he says. He invites the reproof of wise men. And again the psalmist pronounces blessing upon the one whom the Lord chastens, or disciplines. These men desired and even invited godly discipline upon their lives.

And so we’ve seen (1) the need to responsibly and lovingly give rebuke when it will benefit our brothers and sisters; (2) the need to humbly and wisely receive rebuke ourselves; and (3) the need to even pursue correction and rebuke from our brothers and sisters, as they may see sin in our lives that we don’t clearly see.

But what is the end of this all this rebuke? All this admonishing that Scripture is calling the body of Christ to do… what’s the purpose? What’s the end goal here?

I'll answer that question next Tuesday.

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