“It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:5, N.K.J.V.)
“…Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.” (Proverbs 9:8, N.K.J.V.)
“…a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” (Proverbs 13:1, N.K.J.V.)
These three verses show us what the Bible teaches about responding to a godly, accurate, wise rebuke. You should see the rebuke as something good and helpful, something that can lead you to become a better person. The person doing the rebuking has done you a favor. The worst thing he/she could have done to you was leave you unchallenged in your erroneous ways.
Unfortunately, this is definitely not how most of us respond to such a rebuke. To quote the Ecclesiastes verse, we’d rather “hear the song of fools” than be told, “What you’re doing is wrong.” Rather than love the one who rebukes us — as the Proverbs 9:8 verse instructs — our natural tendency is to hate the person, become the “scoffer” described in Proverbs 13:1, and continue on in our wrong behavior. As Amos 5:10 says:
They hate the one who rebukes in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks uprightly. (N.K.J.V.)
Over the past 20+ years there have been some times when God has burdened me to play the role of the rebuker. I’ll mention three such times. Once, it involved me preaching a certain sermon to a church I was pastoring that was going down the wrong road on a particular issue. Another time it involved me confronting a church member about the fact that she was living out of wedlock with a man. Another time it involved me taking on the local high school football coaches about some egregious problems in the program.
And how did each of these episodes end? Not very well for me. Episode #1: After I preached the sermon, several church members left and many of the ones who stayed mourned over the departed ones so much that I could no longer carry on an effective ministry there and had to resign. Episode #2: The member that I rebuked for living out of wedlock quit the church and didn’t come back until I had left the church. Episode #3: The coaches implemented many of the changes I suggested and bettered the program, but they despised me and took out their anger on my oldest son, who had been a two-way starter on varsity as a sophomore but hardly touched the field his senior year.
I offer these illustrations as evidence that I know what I’m talking about when I say that people don’t typically respond well to rebuke, even if it’s godly rebuke. Rather than love you for what you’ve said, more often than not they’ll hate you. The ironic (and sad) part is that they will still hate you even if they eventually make the necessary changes you suggested in your rebuke.
So, Christian, in light of this, perhaps you are thinking, “Then why on earth would I ever rebuke someone? I don’t want to be hated.” Well, for one thing, if you are serious about being the “salt” and “light” that Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:13-14, you have a God-given responsibility to speak truth into peoples’ lives, and oftentimes that truth will of necessity involve some sort of rebuke. You say you want to be like Jesus? Fine. Do you think it was Him complimenting the Jewish religious leaders and Roman political leaders that got Him nailed to a cross? No, it was Him rebuking them.
And then, for another thing, there really is a small percentage of people who will appreciate your rebuke for the help it is and will appreciate you for caring enough to offer it. Fortunately, I’ve had a few of these experiences as well. I haven’t had as many of them as the bad ones, but I’ve had enough to keep me encouraged that a godly rebuke offered in the way God leads you to offer it can sometimes produce ideal results. Again, it’s the exception to the rule, but it does happen.
And, with that said, I’ll now close out this post by citing two more passages that deal with rebuking. At first glance, these two passages seem to contradict each other, but it isn’t all that hard to figure out the explanation. The first passage is Proverbs 9:7, which says:
“He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, and he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself.” (N.K.J.V.)
The second passage is Proverbs 24:25, which says:
“But those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.” (N.K.J.V.)
After reading these two verses, you might be thinking, “Which is it, God? Does the one who rebukes a wicked man harm himself and bring shame to himself? Or does he have delight and have a good blessing come upon him?” The answer is, Yes.
As we learned previously from Proverbs 13:1, a scoffer (wicked person) will not take kindly to being rebuked. Such a person will hate the rebuker and criticize him/her for offering the rebuke. That will bring shame and harm to the rebuker, which is exactly what Proverbs 9:7 predicts. But that isn’t the end of the matter. It isn’t the end because even though the wicked person won’t appreciate or bless the rebuker, God will.
You see, it’s God, not the scoffer, who grants the delight and the good blessing upon the rebuker. He does this because He truly appreciates those who have the courage and the wisdom to do the unpleasant job. Sometimes this reward will be poured out on earth, but most of the time it will have to wait until the afterlife. Never doubt, though, that the reward will be granted somehow, somewhere, someday. And that should be incentive enough for you, Christian, to play the role of rebuker whenever God burdens you to do it.