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Rebuke Unapologetically

by Bob Russell


     Most preachers bend over backward not to hurt anyone’s feelings.  As soon as someone protests, “You offended me!” we scramble to apologize or explain our position more tactfully.  Since people are so easily offended today, we walk on eggshells around controversial, Biblical subjects…or avoid them altogether.

     The Bible does instruct us to preach the truth in love.  But the Bible also commands faithful preachers to “rebuke and encourage” (2 Timothy 4:2).  Sometimes the truth is offensive no matter how tactfully it is presented.  It has been said, “Love sounds like hate to those who hate the truth.”  A good coach knows when to build up and when to chastise.  So does a good preacher.

     Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy.  “Then the disciples came to him and asked, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?’” Jesus did not pander to the Pharisees with a self-effacing apology. Instead, “He replied, ‘Leave them; they are blind guides.  If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit’” (Matthew 15:12 & 14).

     All through Scripture, God’s faithful prophets had the courage to rebuke when necessary:

Samuel rebuked King Saul for his unlawful sacrifice (1Samuel 13:9-14).

Nathan rebuked King David for his adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:1-12).

Ezra rebuked the men of Judah for marrying idolatrous women (Ezra 10:9-12).

Jeremiah rebuked Israel for turning their back on God and worshipping idols (Jeremiah 2:9-22).

John the Baptist rebuked King Herod for living with his brother’s wife (Luke 3:19).

Stephen rebuked the Sanhedrin, the religious establishment, for resisting the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51-53).

Peter rebuked Simon the Sorcerer for trying to buy the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:20-23).

The Apostle Paul rebuked Elymas, the magician, for attempting to impede evangelism (Acts 13:8-11).

     None of those preachers later expressed regret for offending the sensibilities of those in rebellion.  They were confident they were speaking God’s truth. They knew those living in defiance of God’s Word sometimes need to be offended in hopes they would confront their sin and repent.

     The Apostle Paul taught one of his students to “...encourage and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15). Church leaders have the assignment to edify others, but we also have the authority from God to chastise when necessary.  Both are evidences of compassion because “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).  Love has character.  Love has the moral strength and backbone to stand for what is right.  If you love your child, you hate leukemia.  If you love people, you despise the evil one who seeks to destroy them, and you do your utmost to prevent it, even if it is risky.

     Romans 12:9 reads, “Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil and cling to what is good.”  To love someone is not to be naïve about the devastating consequences of evil or passively enable them to harm themselves and endanger others.  Parents who rebuke their teenagers for experimenting with drugs love the child much more than his peers who make drugs readily available.

     A friend of our family became a widower after three decades of a happy marriage.  Long before the grief cycle would normally be concluded, he became enamored with a woman little more than half his age who did not share his spiritual convictions.  Church friends shook their heads in disbelief, but no one mustered the courage to confront or rebuke him.

     Finally, his adult children staged an intervention and frankly said, “Dad, we love you and want what is best for you, but this woman is not right for you.  You’re not ready yet.  You’re hurting your Godly testimony!  Please back off this relationship and be patient.”

     This Godly man was offended at first and lashed out in anger.  But down deep, he knew his children loved him.  To his credit, his love for Christ and his devotion to his children prevailed, and he made the tough choice to go counter to his emotions and terminate the relationship.  Six months later, he saw the situation and the woman in an entirely different light.

     If a car is heading up an exit ramp the wrong way, the most loving thing you can do is blare on your horn.  When we see hazardous behavior in the lives of fellow believers, we need to love them enough to rebuke them in the most effective way possible.

     If the one rebuking has been overly harsh, there should be a humble apology.  But there should be no apology if truth spoken in love disturbs someone.  Often the real problem is not a lack of tact.  The real problem is a rebellious heart.  Solomon wrote, “Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise, and they will love you” (Proverbs 9:8).  A hard, rebellious heart responds to rebuke by lashing out at the messenger as King Herod did when confronted with his affair with his brother’s wife.  A soft, virtuous heart responds by repenting– as King David did when rebuked for his affair with Bathsheba…and that is the goal.

     “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).


      Bob Russell is retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.

One Response to “Rebuke Unapologetically”

  1. A. J. Istre says:

    Oh how this truth needs to be headed today! If our elders and preachers will do this Gof will be pleased and He will bless our church.

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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33