When Christians Fail to be Rebuked Scripturally

Timothy is instructed by Paul in 1 Tim. 5.20: “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” Paul’s instruction certainly implies that rebuke would at times be necessary among God’s people. Gentle encouragement and reproof are often effective tools for guiding wayward brethren back to the light, but there are moments and situations that demand the sharp goad of rebuke. Often God’s people bring this upon ourselves when we refuse to repent following more nuanced forms of correction. When the horse or mule refuses to heed the calls of “Gee” and “Haw”, the farmer is left only the sharp crack of the whip. Rebuke, like the crack of a whip, gets our attention and forces us to open our eyes and make needful changes.    

I am thankful there are still brothers and sisters in Christ who love us enough to bring to light our sin and beg us to repent in a way that is both loving and emotional yet forceful and blunt. Peter employed this form of sharp correction with Simon in Acts 8.20-23. Simon’s request to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit was distasteful and woefully off-course, and Peter’s explosive reaction was appropriate. Peter’s rebuke was properly answered by Simon with sorrow, begging for prayers, and immediate repentance. There are situations which absolutely demand that rebuke be utilized among God’s people today. What is troubling to me is that our response to rebuke is often anything but scriptural.

When we respond to rebuke with apathy, dismissal, anger, and/or demands for apologies, we abandon the scriptural pattern and cling instead to our allegiance with the world. Worldly, foolish scoffers are defined in scripture as those who refuse to be rebuked. “A wise son hears his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” (Prov. 13.1). It is a scoffer that responds to rebuke with hate (Prov. 9.7-8) rather than gratitude and love. When we react in this way to rebuke, we shout of our lack of love for brethren and our steadfast desire to run headlong into the ditch.

Even the exiled Jews of Nehemiah’s day would look upon many Christians with shame. In Nehemiah 5.1 “there arose a great outcry” against certain wealthy Jews were lending money to their poorer brethren and exacting interest from them (something the Law clearly and repeatedly forbade: Exodus 22.25; Lev. 25.36-37; Deut. 23.19-20). These men went so far as to sell their fellow Jews into slavery on account of their debts! Nehemiah learns of this and is enraged, taking counsel with himself and then approaching these Jews concerning this issue. He goes so far as to call “ a great assembly against them” (v.7) and his words on that occasion were harsh to say the least: “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” (v.8a)

Their primary reaction to Nehemiah’s vehement rebuke should be ours: Silence. “They were silent and could not find a word to say.” (v.8b). No defense, no explanation, no deflection or rage. No one called for Nehemiah to apologize or recant his words. HE WAS RIGHT and they knew it. Job responded similarly to the LORD’s rebuke in Job 40.4-5: “I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” We often respond poorly to rebuke out of shame and fear of a loss of position or status. When we remember that “the greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt. 23.11) we enable ourselves to be corrected by loving brethren and return to a right place before the LORD.

Nehemiah goes on to tell these Jews how they could make things right by abandoning the practice of charging interest to their brethren and giving back what they had taken by way of unrighteous greed. The next reaction of these wealthy Jews should be the standard response of all godly people to being rebuked: “We will do as you say.” (v.12). These people went on and “did as they had promised” (v.13). Job similarly followed up his silent response to the LORD with repentant action: “therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42.6). The rubber of our repentant words must meet with the road of repentant action. Otherwise, we have only layered our unrighteousness with dishonesty and falsehood.

Brethren, rebuke is neither easy nor enjoyable. Surgery is likewise neither easy nor enjoyable. How sad it is that we will subject ourselves to medical procedures in order to correct ailments of our physical bodies, but we adamantly refuse to accept spiritual procedures which leads to the correction of our eternal souls!!!

When godly men and women demonstrate the courage and love necessary to rebuke us, let’s make sure we respond to rebuke scripturally. They are seeking to help us “be sound in the faith” (Titus 1.13) and for that we must be grateful.