Recently, a loyal reader of this blog posed a difficult question related to a sermon that the person had heard that made the claim that it was required that people go around rebuking others. This person was, perhaps unsurprisingly, rather reluctant to consider that to be a biblical requirement on all believers. In pondering over the issue myself, I could not help but see the biblical position on matters of rebuke and correction to be a very complicated one, but also a very worthwhile subject of discussion. Rebuke and correction are key matters in Christian life. They offer communication of where we and ourselves fall short and need to repent and/or overcome areas of shortcoming and weakness in our lives. There are frequent issues of asymmetry when we deal in correction and rebuke in that those who most enjoy correcting and rebuking others least enjoy taking rebuke in a constructive fashion. The questions of the motive of the person giving the rebuke and correction is also something that must always be kept in mind, because there are often mixed motives involved in this as in all other aspects of human behavior.
Because issues of rebuke and correction, who is to provide them and how rebuke and correction is to be provided, and how it is that we should take them, are so complicated, it is worthwhile to frame this discussion as though one would examine a particularly complex gem that has a variety of different facets, with different shades of light available to our view as we turn over the gem in our hands and look through different facets. It would be in vain to expect an exhaustive study about such issues in such a modest forum as this one, it is at least worthwhile to explore the complexity of rebuke and judgment and how they are intertwined with a variety of other issues, not least the question of who and how such rebuke and correction is to be taken and received, and what is the relationship of the person engaged in rebuke and correction to the standard of correction that is used. In dealing with these complexities, we will of course have much to say about the nuance and complexity of the Bible’s own position on these matters and the relationship between rebuke and correction and the elusive aspect of attaining any degree of justice in this present evil world.
As is frequent in discussions of this nature, the discussion about rebuke and correction is going to be divided into various parts, each of which will deal with one of the facets of this larger issue. And, after various facets of the issue of rebuke and correction are to be undertaken, there may be a general summing up of questions that are involved when we seek to engage in correction and rebuke that is profitable not only to our own sense of ego and self-importance but also to the well-being of the person receiving correction and rebuke and the relationship between us. These are, perhaps unsurprisingly, issues that are not always considered when people go about being self-appointed rebukers and correctors, something which many of us (myself included) are prone to be on occasion. Included among the facets to be examined in this study are general principles of rebuke and correction, as well as the complexity that is involved in their presentation, a discussion of the two-sided nature in rebuke and correction in that we rebuke ourselves when we use the biblical standard to rebuke others, a question of the wide scale in which wisdom and discernment in judgment is expected and often found lacking among the community of believers, and a question of the ultimate aims and purposes of rebuke and correction. This will be sufficient, we hope, for a lengthy and productive study.
When we deal with issues of rebuke and correction, we of course deal with matters that are very near and dear and personal to us. And, as is the case with the view of correction and rebuke in the Bible, correction and rebuke in our own lives are complicated matters. We may have a personal history that includes rather harsh and unjust criticism that leads us to dislike the idea of rebuke and correction at all. We may see much that is wrong in the world and in other people that ought to be put to right that spurs us to rebuke and correct. We may fret over how our rebuke and correction will be received by others whom we wish to maintain friendly relations with but who we also notice are not exactly going about their lives in the best way. We may feel ourselves unqualified to be just judges in correcting and rebuking other people and wish for someone else to take upon themselves that unpleasant duty, while we may alternatively seek positions of authority because of our fondness for rebuking and correcting others. In all of these matters, we find rebuke and correction to be a challenge because we approach the subject from different angles, and because properly undertaken, rebuke and correction have complex goals and aims in that they are meant to instruct, motivate, and even coerce others into changing their behavior in ways that are more pleasing to ourselves or God in ways that we hope nonetheless will not harm our own relationship with them. As might well be imagined, this is not and has never been an easy matter.