The response that we make to a rebuke reveals a great deal about us. It is quite easy to respond to someone who says encouraging or complimentary words to us. We are generally happy to receive such comments. However, when someone rebukes us we can feel affronted and very upset about what they say. So how should we respond to a rebuke?
Let us consider initially what a rebuke is. A rebuke is given when someone confronts us about something we have said or done. It can be given either out of love or malice.
The natural response to receiving a rebuke is to resent it. We say to ourselves: “what right have they to say anything about my behaviour.” The reason we respond in such a hostile way is because of pride. With pride in our hearts we resist anyone saying to us that we are wrong about something. A person may think their own ways are right (Prov. 21:2a) sums up the problem. Pride puts me at the centre of the universe. Pride is at the heart of all sin. It is so destructive because it dethrones God and enthrones me.
However, the way of wisdom is completely different. The wise person wants to learn so that they can live a more godly life. Accordingly we read in Proverbs that The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listens to advice (Prov. 12:15). Further, where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice. (Prov. 13:10). And again, A rebuke impresses a discerning person more than a hundred lashes a fool. (Prov. 17:10). The fool just sticks with his own way and resents anyone who tells him otherwise. On the other hand the wise person is pleased to receive a rebuke because through it he is able to live a more godly life.
At this point we need to be careful to make clear that receiving a rebuke is not the same as embracing everything contained in a rebuke. What we have to do is sift the content of the rebuke so as to assess whether or not it is applicable to our situation. In this assessment it is also reasonable to consider the source of the rebuke and the manner in which it is given . So David could say: Let a righteous man strike me – that is a kindness; let him rebuke me – that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it (Ps. 141:5). A rebuke from a righteous man is likely to be full of beneficial content and I am wise to embrace it. We must, also, be strong enough to realise that sometimes our enemies have helpful things to say which can benefit us as well.
The worst thing we can do when given a rebuke is “fly-off-the-handle” or bear a grudge because the person giving the rebuke was so rude as to correct us. If you do this you potentially cut yourself off from a means of grace into your life. This is because it is unlikely that that person will come again to rebuke you. Thereby you could miss a means by which your life could be made to be more like Christ.
What are the attitudes that help us to respond helpfully to a rebuke.
- Think about sin. I am a sinner. I am one who has failed to live up to God’s standards. My behaviour has been offensive to our great loving God. So rather than thinking about our achievements we are always thinking about His mercies. We remember it is because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed (Lam. 3:22a). I am far from perfect so I should expect rebukes.
- Think about the cross. I am accepted by God on account of what Christ has done. I am not accepted on the basis of my achievements. If I believe my acceptance with God is based on what I have done I am always prone to self-justification. Faith in Christ frees me from all this. I rest in Christ not myself.
- Think about godliness. If I long to have a life that is pleasing to God I will consider it to be a great thing to have someone rebuke me. Through that I may receive something that will help me to have a life conformed to the likeness of his Son (Rom. 8:29b).
The person who has much of sin, the cross and godliness in their minds will receive a rebuke well and make good use of it.
Let us then consider some pointers as to how to receive a rebuke well:
- Thank the person giving the rebuke, for taking the trouble to speak to you about the issue.
- Consider what they have said. (You may want to get someone else’s opinion about what has been spoken about). If you accept what has been said, then take action to alter your behaviour. If you reject what is said then you have lost nothing. You have, no doubt, benefited from having considered your ways.
- Never say in response to the rebuke: “I only have to answer to the Lord”. This is super-spiritual nonsense. We do have to answer to the LORD, but we also have to answer to one another; that is what living in a Christian community means.
We need also to remember when someone rebukes us it is very likely it has cost them something. They have considered a matter and concluded that they need to approach you about it. They love you so much they are willing to speak to you about something. Do you despise their love so much as to respond sharply to their rebuke?
In living for Christ as churches we should expect that rebukes will be a part of our community life. The only teaching our Lord gave about the local church involved giving a rebuke: If your brother or sister sins go and point out their fault (Matt 18:15). We should, in particular, expect those who watch for our souls, elders in the church, to rebuke us. Paul tells the Thessalonians to respect those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you (1 Thess 5:12b).
So how godly are you? One of the best ways of testing how godly we are is in how we respond to a rebuke. The godly receive and assess a rebuke while the fool rejects. The words of Solomon Those who disregard discipline despise themselves but the one who heeds correction gains understanding (Prov. 15:32) puts all this in perspective. Oh that we would all be good rebuke receivers and Feltham Evangelical Church would be much blessed thereby.
Taken from Feltham Evangelical Church newsletter of June 2012