The Importance of Rebuking

By Jason Yu

After reading the title of this article I have to advise you to please finish this whole article before going around and simply rebuking anyone you see. Yes, rebuking someone that is doing wrong (in God’s sight) is important. Not only that, it is a commandment from God, Luke 17:3 “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” However, there is a right way of rebuking, one which contains ingredients found within the bible.

But before we look into the ingredients of rebuking, let me first share from my experience on why it is important for us to rebuke one another. I used to be the type of person who likes to keep things to myself, I don’t try to change others but only focusing on adapting myself to the situation. However, I later found out that it is actually very selfish to do so. I realize that by not helping that person become better, I’m also disobeying God’s will.

Furthermore, in James 4:17: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” It is a sin since it is only good if we edify one another to become better. By keeping things in, it had also negatively affected my relationship with the person and I started becoming less tolerable and having less patience towards them.

When was the last time someone sat you down to tell you that you were wrong? These have been some of the most memorable and important conversations in my life, the conversations when someone I loved — father, mother, mentor, friend had the compassion and courage to tell me when I was out of line. However, I felt in those difficult (and often painful) moments the kindness in the confrontations, the caring of the correctors, the love of the rebukers. I now treasure these memories.

We all need one another to help us make sure we’re still on the right path; Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 “Two are better than one…. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion…And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Because even our new hearts in Christ are still susceptible to sin, Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” Do you value the hard conversations that keep you from making more mistakes, and guard you against slowly wandering away from Jesus?

One reason rebuke is often underappreciated in our own lives is because we have such small definitions for rebuke. If we are truly going to speak the hard truth in love or to appreciate when others say the hard thing to us, we need a bigger, fuller understanding of what this kind of love looks like according to the bible.

2 Timothy 4:2 “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” In this context Paul may be talking specifically about public preaching, but what he says about Timothy’s ministry has everything to do with our rebuking. Do you love the people in your life enough to “convince, rebuke, and exhort,” even when they don’t want to hear it?

2 Timothy 4:2 mentions that we have to rebuke with longsuffering. Usually we are impatient in rebuking because we expect instant transformation from the other party, not the days, weeks, or even years it often takes for God to rewire dysfunctional hearts and habits.

Our rebuke will always be shallow if we think the work is done the moment we inform a brother of his error. We often consciously or unconsciously believe that saying the right set of words will set things right automatically, and we’ll immediately be able to move on. But loving rebuke rarely happens that quickly or simply. Good rebuke is not just a moment of boldness, but a gentle and persistent pattern of patient correction.

However, we are also not to mistake patience for passivity. Paul says, in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all”. Patience doesn’t mean you just sit and wait on the sidelines waiting for something to happen. Being patient means to help, encourage, and even admonish, but with a compassionate willingness to wait (and even suffer long) for change.

If we think we are being patient when we just withdraw or overlook or neglect or “let go” in the face of sin, in most cases we’re not truly being patient. In fact, we’re likely being impatient and lazy, uncaring, and self-preserving. Instead of taking the rougher, harder road of patient perseverance, we opt for the moving walkway of easy avoidance like how I once was. Patience is not passivity. It’s active, intentional, and longsuffering love.

Paul includes one more often-overlooked ingredient for good rebuke in 2 Timothy 4:2 and that is “teaching”. Now, he is a preacher speaking to a preacher about preaching, but it has implications for us all. Since we are all meant to be teachers (1 Peter 2:9).

The hard work in rebuke is not simply to muster enough courage to say the hard thing, or to patiently persist in calling someone to repentance. The hard work also involves taking them to God’s own words, thoughts, and desires in the Bible to have their words, thoughts, and desires shaped by His. The voice your brother or sister needs most is not yours, but God’s.

When Jesus commissioned His disciples to carry on His work in the world, He didn’t say, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . telling them what is right and wrong.” Rather, He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). Not just what they should do, but how and why.

So I hope after reading this article, if you see your brother or sister walking out of step with the gospel or wandering (subtly or overtly) away from the faith, pray first that God would “grant them repentance” that leads to life (2 Timothy 2:25, Acts 11:18). Then ask God to give you the integrity to be honest, the courage to speak up, the compassion to rebuke lovingly, the patience to wait on His timing, and the specific words you need from Scriptures to lead them through repentance.