Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE IMPORTANCE OF SHARP REBUKES”

 

Have you noticed how thin-skinned people are getting these days? It seems as though people are cultivating a sensitivity to what other people say or do that borders on a hypersensitivity that is neurotic. Gang bangers pride themselves on being tough guys, all the while demonstrating a hypersensitivity toward people looking at them. Imagine. Eye contact is now seen as sufficient provocation to actually take another person’s life for some supposed offense that is labeled “disrespecting me.” Around the world we see people embracing a victim status, so that retaliation for any perceived slight or offense is justified. For writing a book titled Satanic Verses, Salmon Rushdie’s execution was ordered by the Ayatollah’s fatwa. For his portrayal of Islam in a movie he produced, a grandson of Vincent Van Gogh was murdered in Europe several years ago. Not to mention the political cartoonist who drew several cartoons that poked fun at Islam’s prophet Mohammed, producing threats against his life and rioting in the streets and innocent people killed in a number of countries. Several weeks ago, a pastor in Canada was ordered by a quasi-governmental body there to retract his words and recant his Christian faith. His supposed crime? Hate speech. He said that the Bible taught homosexual behavior was wrong, so he was found guilty of hate speech.

Do you see what is happening? The notion of free speech is under a terrible assault. When I say free speech, I am referring to one of the principles on which our nation was founded. This is one of our bedrock rights, that many Americans are surprised to discover is not a right in any other country.

Let me read the first amendment to the constitution of the United States of America: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”[1]

No such right exists that I know of in Mexico, in Canada, in the United Kingdom, in France, in Germany, in Russia, and certainly not in any Arab or Muslim country. I am not an attorney, and make no pretense at being able to either understand or argue principles of law. However, I am a student of the Bible, and I do recognize the importance of speaking the truth in love.[2] Therefore, when I see a widespread assault on people’s right to express themselves, I suspect that it will eventually lead to religious persecution.

When the Pilgrims and then the Puritans settled in New England the right to free speech was recognized nowhere in the world. The Pilgrims and the Puritans came to New England so they could speak the things they wanted to say, but they did not allow anyone who disagreed with them to say what they wanted. Over time, of course, Baptists insisted on freely exercising their religious convictions, to worship as they saw fit and to speak as they saw fit, until Rhode Island was formed as a free speech and a religious liberty colony. However, it did not stop there, with Baptists insisting that they should not have to move in order to worship God as they saw fit, or to speak out about issues as they saw fit. They paid a high price for their convictions, as the painting of Obadiah Holmes after being lashed in Boston in 1651, along with the explanation of that outrage in our church’s foyer, clearly shows. However, eventually we ended up with a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion and the freedom of speech that accompanies it.

My fear is that we are allowing these rights to slip away. British police recently rebuked two Christians for engaging in hate speech for daring to witness in predominately Muslim neighborhoods in Londonistan. A member of the Canadian parliament publicly spoke out against our country’s right to free speech and expressed her delight that such nonsense did not exist in Canada. Universities all over the country have speech codes, that effectively bar free speech in favor of politically correct newspeak. As well, if you are not careful how you raise an objection or voice a contrary opinion you will very likely be accused by someone of hate speech. In my opinion, this worldwide quashing of politically incorrect speech, which is being employed by Muslims in the west to stifle criticism of their religion, and is being used by the homosexual activists to advance their antifamily and anti-Christian agenda, will ultimately be used in an attempt to silence the voices of Christians the world over.

This evening I want to draw attention to the importance of sharply rebuking someone. To be sure, I believe it needs to be pointed out that we live in an era of sissified crybabies who get overly upset when people say things to them they do not like, but that will not be the thrust of my message tonight. I want to positively assert something. I want to positively assert the propriety, the spirituality, the benefit, the necessity, and the absolutely indispensable necessity of sharply rebuking someone. To be sure, the child of God must exercise wisdom and discretion to make sure he speaks the truth in love, but speak the truth we must, even if it produces hard feelings, a sense of outrage, and consternation in those the sharp rebukes are directed to. We do not live in a moral vacuum. We do not live in a world of moral relativism, despite what most people think. Liberty is not the absolute right to do any wrong thing you want to do, without regard for its effect on others, on innocent bystanders, and on children. Therefore, there are times when something needs to be said. When something needs to be said, Christians are frequently the ones who should do the speaking.

Allow me to set before you this matter of sharply rebuking someone, so you can see that it is scripturally sanctioned conduct, so you can see that it is beneficial:

 

First, THE SHARP REBUKE WHEN CONFRONTING THE SAINTS WITH THEIR SINS

 

Does it need to be pointed out what Paul wrote in Galatians 6.1? “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest the also be tempted.” Restoring a Christian usually requires the spoken word and the manner by which that spoken word is conveyed is frequently in the form of a sharp rebuke. Some examples:

Turn to Titus 1.13, where Paul instructs Titus how to deal with Christians who had erred by giving ear to false teachers: “This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.” Is any further explanation required here?

Next, turn to Philippians chapter 4, where we see precisely why Paul wrote from a Roman prison to the Philippians, so that he might publicly rebuke in an open letter to the church the two women whose fussing ways were destroying the harmonious unity of the congregation. I read verses 1-5:

 

1      Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.

2      I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.

3      And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.

4      Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.

5      Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.

 

Do you think Paul’s rebuke was not an embarrassment to those two women, pleading with them in this letter, and asking church members to help them settle this matter? This rebuke, which calls for them to rejoice instead of fuss with each other, and which pleads with them to show their moderation (or sweet reasonableness) because the Lord is at hand, was stinging.

The third case needs some explanation, since it involves the segregation of Christians along ethnic and racial lines, which should be intolerable to Christians. Notice, in Acts 13.1, the evidence we see that Christians were thoroughly integrated and culturally mixed from the days of the Antioch church onward: “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” Two Jews, a Gentile from North Africa, a guy with likely mixed blood heritage from Herod’s household, and one very likely a black guy called Niger (Niger means black). So, the first church outside Jerusalem was thoroughly integrated. Now turn to Galatians 2.11-14:

 

11     But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

12     For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.

13     And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.

14     But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?

 

Though the implications of Peter’s actions bore directly on the integrity of the gospel message, what Peter actually did that resulted in Paul’s very strong public condemnation was to segregate himself from the Gentile Christians to exclusively commune with Jews. Excuse me, the Bible indicates that blood-bought and blood-washed Christians are to prefer one another, Romans 12.10 and First Timothy 5.21. After all, what good does it do for anyone to avoid spending quality time with people he will spend eternity with?

We do not have the time to read from First Corinthians. However, let me point out that in chapters 1 and 3, Paul strongly rebukes the members of that congregation for being carnally divisive. In First Corinthians chapter 5, he blisters them for tolerating wickedness in their midst, for failing to speak out against one of their own who was guilty of sexual sins. He goes on to point out in the next chapter that Christians have no business spending social time with those committing sexual sins. As well, he also rebukes them in First Corinthians chapter 6 for filing lawsuits against each other that were heard by unsaved magistrates.

So you see, sharp rebukes are not only commanded in scripture, but we see that a surprising amount of Paul’s writings in the New Testament are, in fact, sharp rebukes or a record of sharp rebukes. To deny the importance of the need to sharply rebuke Christians entangled in sins is a serious mistake.

 

Next, THE SHARP REBUKE WHEN CONFRONTING SINNERS IN THEIR SINS

 

Listen to Simon Peter as he stabs Simon the magician with a rebuke utterly necessary to penetrate his callused heart and conscience. Acts 8.20-23:

 

20     But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

21     Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.

22     Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.

23     For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

 

Now for the surprise. Take note of the Savior’s rebukes of sinners:

 

Turn to Luke 4.23-29, where we see the Lord Jesus Christ’s rebuke of those in Nazareth, the town He grew up in, and their reaction to His rebuke:

 

23     And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.

24     And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.

25     But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land;

26     But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Serape, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.

27     And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.

28     And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,

29     And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.

 

They wanted Him to work the miracles in Nazareth they had heard He worked in Capernaum, but He cited examples of Elijah and Elisha working miracles among the Gentiles and not among the Jews. In other words, not only was He telling them no to their request, but His rebuke pointed out that their prophets, Elijah and Elisha, had basically done the same in days gone by. Not only did they not like what He said to them, but they were so outraged that they tried to kill Him.

Next, turn to Matthew 7.11, where we find a statement the Lord Jesus Christ made during His famous sermon on the mount: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” In His dealings with people He started with the assumption they were evil and told them so.

Now turn to Matthew 16, where we find record of our Lord being asked for a sign:

 

1      The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven.

2      He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.

3      And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?

4      A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.

 

Notice how strongly the Lord Jesus Christ rebuked them. He directly called them hypocrites, in verse 3, and only a bit obliquely characterized them as members of a wicked and adulterous generation in verse 4, before telling them no and departing. My friends, how is it that the Word of God is read by people without seeing His words as the sharpest of rebukes. Our Lord tore into people, yet the mildest rebukes from professing Christians oftentimes produces outrage these days.

Finally, John 8.44, where the Lord Jesus Christ outraged pious unbelievers in the courtyard of the Temple: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” How did they react to His words? They picked up stones and would have killed Him had He not left by mysterious means.

“If this does not sound like the ministry of the Prince of Peace, realize that his aim is not peace with unbelief and disobedience. Those are the enemies that must be destroyed, lest they destroy. When the amnesty of Jesus is despised, division is inevitable - and he knew it.”[3] Luke 12.51: “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.”

 

Why do you suppose God’s Word calls for Christians to sharply rebuke Christians in their sins, and the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles set an example for us to sharply rebuke sinners in their sins? Surely, God knows that whenever someone is rebuked sharply he will convulse with anger and rage and embarrassment and the temptation to lash out at the person who rebuked him, even if the conduct that was rebuked merited a stinging rebuke.

Why, then, do you suppose God ordained such a means as a sharp rebuke to deal with both the lost and the saved about their sins? You would think that reasoning with people would be more effective. Reasoning with people would probably be more effective than any other way of dealing with sins, if the person you spoke to was reasonable about his sins. However, do we not find in scripture that people are typically anything but reasonable about their sins?

The standing invitation God has extended to us is found in Isaiah 1.18: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” However, since sinners will not reason concerning their sins, you do minister both grace and love to them by rebuking them, thereby shaking them out of their lethargy, and jolting them into consideration of their sins.

To be sure, when anyone is rebuked, especially if the rebuke is timely and sharp, it provokes a whole range of emotions, and the person who has been rebuked convulses as he contemplates his responses. Will it be fight or flight? Will it be compliance or condemnation? Will he respond to the rebuke or rebel?

In the end, whether he is a lost man or a professing Christian who has received a stinging, pointed, painful rebuke, the rebuke not only tempts him to recoil in an overtly sinful and angry way, but it also provides him with a unique opportunity to humble himself. Therefore, the reason we see sharp rebukes so infrequently used by Christians these days, either to evangelize the lost or to restore the saved, is in my opinion because there is so little humility and so very much pride.

Do you observe someone tangled up in a knotty problem caused by sin or in a knottier sin? The nice evangelical approach is to gently and kindly discuss the issue, hoping that you can reason with the sinner in the hopes he will reasonably quit his sin.

However, since sinners (both saved and lost) are so infrequently reasonable when it comes to sinning, the most spiritual approach, the most gracious approach, is to sharply rebuke the sinner in the hopes that he will quickly humble himself, for it is in that place of humility where the grace is found.

Are you fearful the sinner will react against you, and that you will lose his friendship? It is a real possibility. However, it is far better for your friend if you will risk losing him so that you might free him from the shackles of his sinning than to keep him as a friend who continues to be enslaved by his sinning.

In closing, let me commend to you the ministry of rebuking. So long as it is but one of the tools used to restore someone, or to evangelize someone, it can be carefully, wisely, and spiritually used to great effect. There is no conflict between being spiritually minded and being tough minded. Neither is there any conflict between ministering grace to the hearer in such a way that he actually listens and benefits from what you say. The right rebuke, administered with deftness and skill, might very well be used by God to deliver someone from his sins.



[1] Jethro K. Lieberman, Understanding Our Constitution, (Greenwich, CT: A Fawcett Premier Book, 1968), page 140.

[2] Ephesians 4.15

[3] John Piper, Seeing And Savoring Jesus Christ, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), page 105.



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org