Giving and Receiving Reproof - Part Two
Scripture: Proverbs 9:7–8
Giving and Receiving Reproof-Parts One & TwoProverbs 9:7-8
Sunday, May 26, and Sunday, June 2, 2002
Pastor Randy Smith
It happened about 9 years ago when I was a new believer in the Lord. A godly man, younger than I, pulled me aside and said, "I need to show you something in the Word." I had a bad feeling where he was going with this one. In love he pointed out sin in my life. It killed me; my pride was crushed, because…he was 100% correct!
How did I respond? I followed the typical three-point plan of the flesh. First I began talking behind his back. I drummed up support for my wounded ego by presenting only part of the truth to others about the encounter. Then I convinced myself through crafty manipulation that I was a good guy. He had the problems! So I returned the favor. I pulled him aside one day and presented to him about 5 nit-picky faults in his life. Finally, I began to think; these Christians at this church are just a bunch of legalists!
Eventually over time, the Lord began to soften my heart through the reading of the Word and prayer. I came to realize the foolishness of my ways and the value of his reproof. As a matter of fact, I can't even think of that sin without remembering that encounter. It's almost as if he is still whispering that loving rebuke in my ear.
About 5 years ago I was asked to speak at a youth retreat in northern Wisconsin, ironically by this particular man. I took advantage of the opportunity to publicly apologize and confess the hardness of my heart to him and everyone present.
Looking back, I demonstrated a prideful, hard-heart, ignorance of biblical truth and the definition of true love. In a nutshell, my response to this man was simply a sign of my spiritual immaturity.
There is no doubt that we live in a world that bucks the process of biblical reproof. But as Christians we are not of this world. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we follow the teachings of heavenly book authored by God. This morning we'll examine what that inspired Book says about the subject of reproof.
1. BIBLICAL EVIDENCE
Before we examine the rationale and the procedure for reproof, we must decide whether or not reproving others is advocated in the Bible. We live in an isolated world where we are told to stay out of each other's business. We live in a church where many advocate overlooking sin in the name of love. But God's Word is our standard. It's the final word of authority. What do the Scriptures say about confronting others on their sin? I will allow you to judge for yourself as I stay solely in the book of Proverbs.
- Proverbs 9:7-8 He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, And he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself. Do not reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you, Reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
- Proverbs 10:17 He is on the path of life who heeds instruction, But he who forsakes reproof goes astray.
- Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, But he who hates reproof is stupid.
- Proverbs 15:12 A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, He will not go to the wise.
- Proverbs 15:31-32 He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof Will dwell among the wise. He who neglects discipline despises himself, But he who listens to reproof acquires understanding.
- Proverbs 25:12 Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold Is a wise reprover to a listening ear.
- Proverbs 27:5-6 Better is open rebuke Than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.
- Proverbs 28:23 He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor Than he who flatters with the tongue.
Let me summarize these eight verses. The book of Proverbs makes it clear that many people will not receive reproof. One of those individuals is the scoffer . The scoffer is a person who will not live according to wise and moral teachings. He would rather attack the truth than submit to it. He is confident his ways are right and seeks to convince others to pursue his lifestyle. He wants it his way and is critical toward those who promote biblical change. Naturally, his hard cynical heart is closed to advice. Proverbs says, "Do not reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you" (Pr. 9:8).
Then there's the fool . The fool hates rebuke simply because he sees no purpose for change. The fool would rather have someone flatter him than have a faithful friend deal with his faults. When rebuked, the fool's hard heart is never penetrated. Proverbs says, "A rebuke goes deeper into the one who has understanding than a hundred blows to the back of a fool" (Pr. 17:10)
And then there's the wise man . According to Proverbs, the wise man demonstrates his wisdom by delighting in reproof. He sees the value of reproof in his personal growth. He is conscious of his own failings and receives the correcting individual as a friend looking out for his best interests. His heart is teachable and soft. Proverbs say, "Reprove a wise man and he will love you" (Pr. 9:8).
2. BIBLICAL RATIONALE
You can see according to Proverbs that reproof is not only promoted, but also welcomed by individuals seeking to honor God. But you may ask why, why is reproof so valuable? Allow me, as we move to point #2, to provide you with six reasons why biblical reproof is found in a healthy church.
First, we are biblically commanded to reprove others! The Bible says we are to do it! Need I say more? A healthy church seeks to passionately follow God's commandments. Remember Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (Jn. 14:15). Reproof is a biblical commandment. Yes, it is never easy to confront another person. Yes, it is never easy to receive reproof. However, it is a biblical command, and as God's children we are called to be obedient to His commands!
I have heard so many excuses from those who want to just cut these verses out of their Bible. Oh, it will ruin our relationship. Oh, it's such an unkind thing to do. Listen beloved, that's not God speaking through you. We want God to be pleased with us, not man. We stand for God's Word. We stand for the truth! Joel Belz in World Magazine said, "(There is) a perverse assumption now dominant among evangelicals that feelings, attitudes and relationships are all more important than truth. Unity is a higher priority than orthodoxy. Division, even for truth's sake, becomes the most offensive of heresies." Confronting others is a biblical command! When I refuse to confront others in their sin, I am basically telling God that I am wiser than His word and my standard of goodness is better than His. So we reprove because our Lord tells us to.
Second, reproof demonstrates our love for others. Though we tend to think that minding our own business and overlooking sin exhibits our greatest love for others, the Bible speaks to the contrary. Sin is like poison, and it spreads like gangrene. If obeying God's word brings us good, disobeying God's word brings consequences. Do we want consequences for those who we love? The Bible says a true friend refuses to ignore another's sin and silently watch them bring destruction upon themselves.
Think about it. What does sin do for a person? It brings displeasure from God. It brings consequences. It brings a guilty conscience. How can anyone sit back and allow another brother or sister in Christ to suffer these consequences? Not reproving another is one of the most selfish acts we can commit. Solomon calls it "hidden love" in Proverbs 27:5. In speaking of "hidden love," Allen Ross called it, "love that is too timid, too afraid, not trusting enough to admit that reproof is part of genuine love." Charles Bridges said, "Hasn't each of us a tongue to speak? To permit any, therefore, to rush into perdition without opening our mouths to save them, is a sin of omission.
About three weeks ago my daughter Kayla came downstairs with just the sweetest "minty" fragrance on her breath. When we asked her how this came about, she replied that she was upstairs eating toothpaste…a lot of toothpaste! It's dangerous to eat toothpaste! As a loving parent how would you respond? "Oh, who am I to get involved in her business…to each their own?" No, there's danger here! We'd called poison control! We'd help her overcome this situation! We'd plead with her in the future to never repeat such a dangerous act!
Beloved, is sin any different? There may be people in this church who are "eating toothpaste." Many of you may be aware of it, and you are sitting on your hands refusing to "get involved." If that is the case, you are either tragically unaware of the dangers of sin, or you are not a very loving individual. When you are aware of sin in another's life, biblically it is your business to get involved (read Gal. 6:1)! Bring them to the Word. You're not judging them. The Word of God is judging them! You are simply acting as a prophetic mouthpiece for God.
Listen, I know the waywardness of my own soul. I've seen men a whole lot more godly than I fall from the ministry. I've read the stories in the Bible about King David and the apostle Peter. I need help! I welcome people who are looking out for my best welfare. I welcome people who love me enough to tell me when I am wrong. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend" (Pr. 27:6). "Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed" (Pr. 27:5).
Third, reproof is giving other Christians what they should desire. Beloved, what is your greatest goal? Let me put it another way, what is God's greatest goal for you? Because God's greatest goal for you should also be your greatest goal for yourself, right? God's greatest goal for you is to see you conformed into the image of His Son (2 Cor. 3:18; Rom. 8:29). Therefore, is it not true that we should desire whatever it takes to make us like Christ? Listen, reproof is the Spirit's greatest tool to point out sin and drive us to godliness. The great puritan theologian Stephen Charnock once said, "We often learn more of God under the rod that strikes us than under the staff that comforts us." Is it any wonder why Solomon can say in Proverbs 12:1 that "he who hates reproof is stupid?"
This week I was reading a Puritan prayer that deals with this issue. Listen to his soft and humble heart, the heart of an individual who desires godliness. May we learn to pray this way at The Grace Tabernacle! "Teach me how to take reproofs from friends, even though I think I do not deserve them; Use them to make me tenderly afraid of sin, more jealous over myself, more concerned to keep heart and life unblameable; Cause them to help me reflect on my want of spirituality , to abhor myself, to look upon myself as unworthy, and make them beneficial to my soul. May all Thy people know how little, mean and vile I am, that they may see I am nothing, less than nothing, to be accounted as nothing, that so they may pray for me aright, and have not the least dependence on me…O how admirable dost thou captivate the soul, making all desires and affections center on Thee! Give me such a vivacity in religion, that I may be able to take all reproof from other men as from Thy hands, and glorify Thee for them from a sense of Thy beneficent love and of my need to have my pride destroyed." Now either this man is greatly deceived, or he is very godly!
I'll give you a challenge this week. Go to the three most godly people you know, not a scoffer, not a fool, and not one who is spiritually immature. Ask them, "What do you think about biblical reproof?" I can predict how they'll answer, and it'll be something like this: "Reproof has drawn me more to the foot of the cross than any of the Christian disciplines."
Fourth, biblical reproof, as recently hinted, allows us to access our spiritual maturity. If we hate and reject reproof, Proverbs says that we are either a scoffer, wicked person or a fool. We demonstrate a proud heart, resistant to God-ward change and addicted to self-love. Charles Bridges said, "To forsake the reproof; to be dead to the voice that would save us from ruin-is a most fearful error-the proof of a foolish and unhumbled heart." But, if we love and accept reproof, the Proverbs say we are "… a wise man on the path of life" (Pr. 10:17).
A mark of true godliness is to reach the point when we can have someone point out our faults and then thank them for undertaking the considerate and loving task. There can be no doubt, the way that we receive rebuke is one of the greatest tests of our character.
Fifth, reproof restores strained relationships. God wants His children to live at peace with each other. He wants our relationships unified, practically demonstrating the reconciliation that we all share in Christ. But, sin drives a wedge between relationships in the Christian community and causes division.
So what do we do when someone sins against us and divides our relationship? Here's what often happens in the church. We refuse to confront that brother or sister on his or her sin. But , we have no problem judging them silently in our heart. We have no problem gossiping and slandering them behind their back. We have no problem remaining bitter at them and holding a grudge. And what we fail to realize by this behavior is that person's one sin against us (possibly even unaware to their attention), just became 10,000 sins against them!
Listen, when someone sins against you, don't bottle it up inside- that's a wonderful remedy for bitterness. Don't avoid the person- that's a divided church. Don't change the subject- that's manipulation and deception. Don't tell the elders- that just spreads the awareness of a person's sin to more people. Rather, go to the person in love, speak about the situation, confront them with the Word, restore the relationship and release your burden!
Sixth, biblical reproof protects the purity of the church. Galatians 5:9 says, "A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough." 1 Cor. 12:26 says, "If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it." We don't have individual relationships with Jesus Christ. We have a corporate relationship as members of His body. Unchecked sin has a tremendous ability to spread like wildfire throughout a church. Therefore when sin is exposed, we are to nip it in the bud and protect the purity of the church.
Maybe this week you read my editorial in the Coast Star. It was on the back page, hidden amongst 20 others in tiny black letters. But on the front page, in large letters, the title read, "Wall man arrested for sexual assault of a child." That Wall man was a deacon at a prominent evangelical church in this community. Maybe no one knew of his secret life, but maybe some saw warning flags that pointed to destruction, and they kept their mouths closed. Maybe this little child could have been protected. Maybe his marriage could have been saved. Maybe the church of Jesus Christ could have been spared the shame. That's one reason why we practice church discipline here.
The world is eager to find fault with the church. When unchecked sin becomes evident to the unbelieving community, we destroy our testimony and shame the face of Jesus Christ. Let me ask you, what is the world to think of a church that doesn't deal with sin? Either the church is too afraid to confront, or the church is indifferent toward sin, the very sin that our Master suffered for and died to overcome. Wouldn't it be great if the church could expose her sins before the world exposes her sins? Wouldn't it be great if the world could not point to the sins of the church to excuse their own failures?
3. BIBLICAL PROCEDURE
Well, now that we have examined the biblical evidence and biblical rationale for giving reproof, how is the process practically demonstrated? Please take out your insert. Let's first examine the biblical steps for giving reproof.
Biblical Steps for Giving Reproof
- Preliminary- Realize that you are not on the sin patrol! It is your responsibility to look for the good in others and seek ways to edify your brothers and sisters in Christ (1 Thes. 5:11). Confronting others should only occur when the sin is brought to your attention (1 Cor. 5:1-5). Be sure that it is a biblical sin and not just an issue of preference!
- For the offender…
- That God would give him/her an awareness of the sin (Psm. 119:18).
- That God soften his/her heart to the truth in your rebuke (Psm. 51:17).
- For yourself…
- That God will use you as a mouthpiece for His glory (Rom. 12:1) and the other's good (Heb. 10:24).
- That He will rightly prepare your heart (Psm. 139:23).
- Have you sinned against the offender (and God) regarding this matter by demonstrating…
- Gossip (2 Cor. 12:20)?
- Bitterness (Heb. 12:15)?
- Judgmentalism (Mt. 7:1-2)?
- Lack of forgiveness (Eph. 4:32)?
- Is your spirit right with God prior to the confrontation by demonstrating…
- Proper motives (1 Cor. 4:3-5)?
- Self-examination (Mt. 7:5)?
- Humility (Gal. 6:1, 3)?
- Gentleness (Gal. 6:1)?
- Have you sinned against the offender (and God) regarding this matter by demonstrating…
- For the offender…
- Confront him/her with the Word (Heb. 4:12).
- Initially go in private (Mt. 18:15).
- Take the offender to specific Bible passages that directly address the situation (2 Ti. 3:16-17).
- Explain/reason/dialogue where necessary (Pr. 25:15).
- Point him/her to Christ for forgiveness and repair (1 Jn. 1:8-9).
- Restore the relationship if necessary (Mt. 5:24).
- Pray together (Jas. 5:16).
- Offer assistance-Bear his/her burdens (Gal. 6:2)
- Prayer (1 Sa. 12:23)
- Accountability (Pr. 27:17)
- Encouragement (1 Thes. 5:11)
- Counseling (Pr. 27:9)
- Tangible help (1 Jn. 3:18)
It may be hard to give reproof; often it's harder to receive reproof. Look at the other side of the insert. Listed are the biblical steps for receiving reproof.
Biblical Steps for Receiving Reproof
- Preliminary - Make it your passion to strive for godliness (1 Tim. 4:8)! Seek conformity to Christ as your primary goal (Rom. 8:29)! Be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18)! Therefore when reproof comes, you will welcome it in gratitude with a humble spirit and teachable heart, eager to implement Spirit-driven biblical change for the glory of God.
- During the time together…
- Pray before sharing the concern (Phil. 4:6).
- Listen carefully to the rebuke (Pr. 18:13).
- Ask questions to clarify the matter (1 Cor. 14:33)
- Thank the person for his/her concern (Eph. 1:15-16).
- Be careful not to…
- Justify your sin (Lk. 16:15).
- Blame others (1 Sa. 25:24).
- Judge the individual's motives (Jas. 4:12).
- Seek to find fault in the individual's life by blame shifting (Gen. 3:12).
- After the time together…
- Examine your life in the Spirit with the truth in God's Word (Psm. 26:2).
- Take necessary actions for reparation
- Confess any revealed sin to God (Psm. 32:5).
- Seek forgiveness from those you may have injured (Gen. 50:17).
- Develop a plan for repentance (Ac. 26:20).
Where have we been this morning? First we observed the biblical evidence in Proverbs which speaks in favor of reproof. Then we examined 6 reasons why a healthy church is a reproving church. And finally we outlined the steps for both giving and receiving reproof.
In closing I'd like to read a story by Gordon MacDonald that caught my attention this week. "One time, twenty or so years ago, I was in Japan on a speaking tour with a close personal friend. He was a number of years older than I was. As we walked down the street in Yokohama, Japan, the name of a common friend came up, and I said something unkind about that person. It was sarcastic. It was cynical. It was a put-down. My older friend stopped, turned, and faced me until his face was right in front of mine. With deep, slow words he said, "Gordon, a man who says he loves God would not say a thing like that about a friend." He could have put a knife into my ribs, and the pain would not have been any less. He did what a prophet does. But you know something? There have been ten thousand times in the last twenty years that I have been saved from making a jerk of myself. When I've been tempted to say something unkind about a brother or sister, I hear my friend's voice say, "Gordon, a man who says he loves God would not speak in such a way about a friend." Prophets do that. They remind us of the truth and where we are falling short of it. If you avoid prophets-and a lot of people do-you do so at the peril of your spiritual journey. You and I need prophets."