Living the Christian life isn’t easy. Along with our turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-39), loving our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48), not judging (Matthew 7:1-6), forgiving those who have sinned against us (Luke 11:4), showing mercy (Luke 6:36), and being kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32), we Christians are also called to openly rebuke sin. How’s that for a complex series of variables to coordinate?
For one thing, we are called to openly rebuke sin in the lives of lost people. For example, Ephesians 5:11 commands us to expose the unfruitful works of darkness, and Titus 1:10-13 tells us to rebuke false teachers sharply. Even in the Old Testament, in Ezekiel 3:18-19, God says to the prophet Ezekiel, “If you say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ but don’t actually warn him in an effort to save his life, I will require his blood at your hand.” John the Baptist rebuking Herod is a powerful example of a saved person rebuking a lost person’s behavior (Matthew 14:1-12; Luke 3:19).
For another thing, we are called to openly rebuke sin in the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. For example, in Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus explains the process for practicing church discipline upon the church member who has sinned against another church member. Likewise, in Galatians 2:11-21 Paul recounts how he publicly rebuked Peter face to face in Antioch when Peter’s actions were in the wrong. Even pastors aren’t to be spared public rebuke if it is warranted. 1 Timothy chapter 5 is a chapter that deals with the local church, and verse 20 of that chapter says concerning elders (pastors), “Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.”
Of course, the ground upon which all rebuking should be done is the Bible. As 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Any rebuking (reproving, correcting) that we Christians attempt to do should always be Biblically based. Even when we are dealing with lost people, we must not shy away from citing scripture concerning their sins.
Sadly, some Christians are far too quick to rebuke people, while others want nothing to do with ever rebuking anybody. Neither extreme is correct. What we must somehow find is a God-approved balance in which we rebuke others only at His bidding, in His way, and in His timing. Make no mistake about it, this is a difficult balance to find. With so much sin and error not only in the world but also in the church, it can seem as if there is a possible rebuke to be offered in every situation. That’s why we must spend quality time in prayer, asking God to show us which battles He wants us to fight.
We would also do well to remember that rebuking (done correctly) is actually an act of love. That’s why Proverbs 27:5 says that open rebuke is better than hidden love, and why Proverbs 27:6 calls the wounds of rebuke a friend inflicts “faithful.” But how can an open rebuke be considered an act of love? It’s because the goal of the rebuke is to get the sinner to turn from the sin and turn to God’s will, which is always better for the person. On the subject of a Christian rebuking a fellow Christian, James 5:19-20 says that if the rebuking Christian can get the rebuked Christian to turn from his sins, the rebuked Christian’s life will be saved from death. Additionally, Jesus said that the fellowship between the one doing the rebuking and the one taking it can then be restored (Matthew 18:15).
At the end of the day, we Christians simply aren’t afforded the luxury of remaining silent or “going along to get along” as sin and evil steamroll unchecked. As Isaiah 5:20 describes the situation: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (N.K.J.V.). If nobody else in this world calls evil “evil,” Christians should. If nobody else in this world calls darkness “darkness,” Christians should. If nobody else in this world calls bitter “bitter,” Christians should. Again, it is a fundamental part of living the Christian life. Granted, it’s not a part that produces popularity and worldly applause, but it will produce a, “Well done, good and faithful servant” when the Christian gets to heaven. And that, after all, is what we are supposed to be striving for anyway.