Let’s Season Rebuke With Tact

August 21, 2012

God has called His people to proclaim Truth. He certainly guides each of us in different ways of doing this, and some louder than others, but always it’s to be done in love. (Eph. 4:15) –Not only with the underlying motive of love, but in love. This means that even a sharp rebuke is to be done with a heart of sincere love, a heart of Christ-likeness. Indeed, rebukes are often necessary, but if we must rebuke, then compassion, humility, respect, and even gentleness must be in our hearts when we speak out. (1 Peter 3:8,16)

We are commanded to be prepared to give answers to those who ask us about our faith. (1 Peter 3:15) But God also often asks us to confront, to expose falsehoods and sin, and to speak up when not asked. (Eph. 5:11 & 6:19,20) While doing this, our words are to be salt and light to others (Col. 4:3-6) –that is, words that reveal Truth clearly, and though they may sting as salt does to a wound, words given to us by the Holy Spirit (Mark 13:11 // 1 Peter 4:11) that are full of cleansing and healing, and that make them thirsty for more. Are our words, attitudes, expressions, and tone exhibiting this?

It’s true that not everyone will respond to us as we’d like, and maybe they won’t even appreciate us or wish to hear more, but later, after they simmer down and think about what we confronted them about, they should have no legitimate reason to slander us for what we tried to do. (1 Peter 3:16) If they do have legitimate reason, then we are approaching them wrongly –maybe as a meddler. (4:15) We are called to strive for peace if at all possible. (3:11 // Heb. 12:14) If someone responds with contention to our message or our rebuke, we are not called to stick around and confront some more. Instead, we are called to warn a second time (Titus 3:10) and then leave (1 Cor. 7:15), dusting them from our efforts (Luke 9:5), at least until God gives further instructions.

“The Lord’s servant must not quarrel.” (2 Tim. 2:24) If someone is pressuring us to respond to them, sometimes we must respond. If they appear polarized, then a soft answer may do wonders; otherwise, to kill an unhealthy debate, it’s often best to not say a word. For if we do, we may display a contentious, fearful, angry, resentful, rebellious heart just as they have. We are commanded to be kind to everyone (same verse) and able to gently instruct without antagonism. (same verse & v. 25) Again, this does not mean we should not sometimes rebuke sharply and with authority (3:16 & 4:2 // 1 Cor. 4:21 // Titus 2:15), but it means we don’t engage in low or hostile insults. I say “low and hostile” because speaking out Truth boldly does often insult sinners; but we’re not to insult them deliberately.

Recently I was talking with two couples and I was asking them about their ministries. When they found out that I minister on the streets through witnessing, preaching, praying, and wearing signs, they told me about seeing an angry street-preacher in Ft. Worth the weekend before and how turned off they were by it. I agreed with them that it is truly a problem, as well as sad, because everyone who is proclaiming the Good News should be known for their joy, not their anger.

Can we get angry? Yes, for sin is evil and sinners are committing treason against the King. However, though there is a time and place to express anger, it’s really not to be expressed often. Let’s remember that “a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1), but that a gentle reply turns it away. (same verse) Most people respond to love and tenderness and seeing that someone has genuine concern for them to hear Truth. If they don’t respond to this, then we may be led to rebuke, but we are to give them time to repent. If they don’t, then we are to rebuke only once more. This is much different than continuing to confront an already offended and angry person. That is called quarreling, something we are not to engage in.

One more thing we should remember when we are confronting a sinner: That sinner, though it’s no excuse to sin, is likely in sin for reasons far beyond our knowledge. Some are being harassed by evil spirits, some by habits that are deeply imbedded in their psyches, some by fears and phobias and insecurities and depression. Most of us know that we certainly would be in their shoes if it’d not been for God’s grace in giving us a praying grandmother, loving parents, kind teachers, and food on the table. In view of this, we should strive to be tender-hearted and tactful when we share the Truth, even when it includes rebuke.

with love,

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