“SHARP REPROOFS MAKE SOUND CHRISTIANS”
1. Turn in your Bible to First Kings chapter 1, where we will read of a tragic pattern of behavior by a father:
1 Now king David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat.
2 Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat.
3 So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag a Shunammite, and brought her to the king.
4 And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not.
5 Then Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, I will be king: and he prepared him chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him.
6 And his father had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so? and he also was a very goodly man; and his mother bare him after Absalom.
2. Sometimes people who read the Bible get so concerned about a girl young enough to be David’s granddaughter being put into bed with him to keep him warm that a terribly serious sin David committed over a period of years as a father is completely overlooked.
3. Verse 6 declares that David had not displeased his son, Adonijah, at any time by holding him accountable for sinful or foolish behavior. Beloved, children who are not held accountable by their fathers, who are not made to answer for foolish or sinful behavior, won’t turn out right.
4. Let’s move from this specific illustration of a Biblical truth to my text for this evening, Titus 1.13. Writing to his co-laborer, Titus, who had been sent by Paul to attend to matters on the island of Crete, we find Paul’s instructions to Titus to deal with a number of issues.
5. First, there is the issue of appointing qualified and experienced men to be pastors to the Churches on the island, verses 6-9. Next, there are those who are opposed to the Gospel who must be dealt with, verses 10-12. And in verse 13 Titus is told what to do with the Christians who had actually committed the sin of listening to the vain talkers and deceivers opposed to the Gospel.
6. Let’s stand to read this verse together: “This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.” The witness that is true is the witness that “The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.” What Titus was to do about it is found in the second sentence: “Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.”
7. My friends, when someone comes to Christ they do not come into the Christian faith perfectly sanctified. Every single one of us is a sinner and we all bring baggage into our Christian lives that needs to be dealt with. Sometimes progress is evident and the growth of the new Christian in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ is obvious and can be allowed to progress right along.
8. But there are times, Paul informs Titus, that the man of God needs to step up to the plate and take a cut or two at a presenting problem. That’s what our text is all about. “Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.”
9. There are four kinds of observations that I would like to make for your benefit this evening that will help you to see what God expects, what God commands, and what God demands from a man in the ministry for your benefit, for your equipping for service as a child of God.
1A. WHAT WE HAVE FIRST IS A DOCTRINE
1B. By doctrine I mean a principle, a truth, that is found and easily established in God’s Word. And what is that doctrine? The doctrine is this: “Sharp reproofs make sound Christians.”
2B. Let me establish the first half of this doctrine by directing your attention to the first half of the text: “Wherefore rebuke them sharply.”
1C. “Wherefore” In light of the character of the people you are dealing with. Because some people bring into their Christian lives a general insensitivity to tender instruction and mild rebuke.
2C. “Rebuke” This same word is found in Matthew 18.15: “Tell him is fault between thee and him alone.” We also find the word in John 16.8: “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” And, of course, in Second Timothy 4.2: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” So we see that every Christian will, from time to time, engage in rebuking, but that rebuking is very strongly associated with the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of the Gospel minister.
3C. “Sharply” This translates a Greek word pronounced “apotomws,” and sounds a bit like “hippopotamus” without the “hipp.” What does this word mean?
1D. Listen to what Albert Barnes says about this word: “The word is used here in the sense of severity, meaning that the reproof should be such as would be understood, and would show them plainly the wickedness of such traits of character, he was not to be mealy-mouthed, but he was to call things by their right names, and not to spare their faults. When men know that they are doing wrong, we should tell them so in few words; if they do not know it, it is necessary to teach them, in order to convince them of their error.”
2D. Here is the note on the word from the Geneva Bible, published in 1599: “Clearly and plainly, and do not go about the bush with them.”
3D. A. T. Robertson, the renowned Southern Baptist Greek scholar, had this to say: “Sharply (apotomôs). Old adverb from apotomos (from apotemnô, to cut off), in N.T. only here and 2Co 13:10, ‘curtly,’ ‘abruptly.’ It is necessary to appear rude sometimes for safety, if the house is on fire and life is in danger.”
4C. So, to rebuke someone sharply means to be confront them about their sin, not mildly encourage them to do right, but to curtly and pointedly warn them to straighten up.
3B. So, it is established in God’s Word that sharp rebukes are both necessary and spiritual. And that these severe and sharp rebukes are called for by the likelihood that the person who is so rebuked would not respond to any milder form of rebuke. And Second Corinthians 13.10, the only other place in the New Testament that this particular Greek word is used, seems to bear out my conclusion.
4B. So, we have a doctrine: “Sharp reproofs make sound Christians.” And this doctrine was embraced by the Puritans. It’s not some new invention of mine.
2A. AS WELL, THE DOCTRINE IS LINKED TO A WHOLESOME DESIRE
“Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.”
1B. The apostle Paul linked sharp rebukes to soundness in the faith. But what is “sound in the faith”? The word “sound” refers to health and vitality, to vigor and correctness. In Luke 5.31 the Lord Jesus Christ used the word to described physical health: “And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.”
2B. So, there are cases in which the health and vitality of a person’s Christianity is restored or is preserved by a sharp rebuke. But, of course, there is always a risk associated with a sharp rebuke. People don’t always take sharp rebukes well. Sometimes they recoil at the thought of someone strongly rebuking them. Sometimes they recoil at the particular strong words that are used to rebuke them, because we are in a time when some will not endure “sound doctrine,” to use this same word in Second Timothy 4.3.
3B. The key to sharply rebuking someone seems to be two things: First, they have to know, or they ought to know, that what they are doing is wrong. Second, it is thought by the preacher doing the abrupt or severe rebuking that being mild and tender with this person simply won’t work. But the goal is always to the end that the person will be sound in the Christian faith, will become a strong Christian.
3A. ALLOW ME TO NOW PUT SUCH STRONG REBUKES ON DISPLAY
1B. First, With Those Who Are Lost
1C. The first such strong rebuke toward an unsaved person is God’s rebuke of Cain, in Genesis 4.3-6: “3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. 4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: 5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. 6 And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? 7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” God is very short with Cain here, very abrupt, seemingly rude. Why? Cain knew better than to do what he did. And how did he respond to God’s sharp rebuke? He murdered his brother. God’s sharp rebuke was ignored.
2C. Turn to Numbers 22 and you will find God sharply rebuking the prophet Balaam again and again. But did Balaam submit to God’s sharp rebukes? No, to his own destruction.
3C. There are many in our own time who are so effeminate that they think there is never an occasion when a sharp rebuke is called for. But what about John the Baptist, in Matthew 3.7? Was he not a man of God who was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb? But listen to what he boomed to some who came to hear him preach: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” A pretty sharp rebuke.
4C. Do you think John the Baptist, the anointed and Spirit filled man of God, was too harsh? Then, perhaps you will think the Lord Jesus Christ was also too harsh. In Matthew 12.34 He said these words: “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” Pretty sharp rebuke. And in Matthew 23.33 He said these words: “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” Now, that’s a sharp rebuke. Amen?
5C. Turn to Acts 8, where we read of Simon Magus, a false convert, trying to purchase the Holy Spirit with money. Listen to Simon Peter’s scorching rebuke of the man: “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.” Simon Peter was a holy blow torch on this occasion. Was the sharp rebuke effective in this case? It may have been, because Simon Magus immediately responded, “24 Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.”
6C. Then there was Paul’s sharp rebuke of the sorcerer, Elymas, who was interfering with Paul’s attempts to bring a man to Christ. Acts 13.9-10: “Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, And said, O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” This is an incredibly strong rebuke.
7C. So we see, there are instances in which lost people simply need to be fired on by the preacher. Sometimes their hearts are so cold, their sensibilities are so callused, their perceptions are so dull, that only the sharpest of rebukes has a hope of benefiting them.
2B. But there are Christians, too, who need sharp rebukes.
1C. Our text for this evening, Titus 1.13, clearly shows Paul directing Titus to sharply rebuke Christians for engaging in the extremely dangerous practice of listening to men they knew to be false teachers and sowers of discord. So, because they knew better, but refused to stop sinning in that way, they were targeted by Paul for a sharp rebuke.
2C. Likewise, in Galatians 2.11, Paul wrote “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” This public confrontation could only have been the sharpest of rebukes, because Peter’s behavior threatened the clarity and purity of the Gospel. And Peter knew better. He had been carried along to error once again by fearing men rather than fearing God, and needed to be stopped in his tracks before major damage was done.
3C. So, as with the lost, there are times when patient instruction is not called for, mild encouragement is not called for, tender cajoling is not called for, careful explanation is not called for. Sometimes what a person needs is a sanctified “Knock it off.”
4C. And how is it to be determined whether a mild correction or a stiff rebuke is used to correct someone? First Corinthians 4.18-21: “18 Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will; and I will know, not the word of them that are puffed up, but the power. 20 For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. 21 What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?” Clearly, then, the disposition and attitudes of the people who are committing the sin is the determining factor whether or not a sharp rebuke is necessary.
5C. Two kinds of Christians need and can take sharp rebukes: First, there are those who are mature and tough enough not to be cry babies, and who don’t need to be handled with kid gloves because of their high level of commitment and mental toughness. Second, there are those who are a bit dull and insensitive and who miss anything approaching subtlety, so you have to pole ax them a bit to adjust them. A bit of a spiritual ball peen hammer up the side of the head from time to time does some of these kinds of Christians real good. Sometimes that’s what I need.
6C. Those who can’t be sharply rebuked are those who are just very immature, who have very thin skin, and who are unduly self-conscious and easily rolled. They are the ones who will pout and huff and puff if you so much as furrow your brow toward them. Excuse me, but we don’t have more than a little while for Christians to mature out of that stage. The stakes are too high and time is too short for us to tolerate for more than a little while professing Christians who are too thin skinned and sensitive. We need people who are deadly serious about enduring hardness, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, Second Timothy 2.3, and who are determined to serve God against whatever obstacles they have to overcome to get it done. Amen?
4A. Finally, A DESCRIPTION OF WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A REBUKE IS SHARP
I am sure that there are some who are so proud and haughty that they can never imagine the need to be rebuked sharply, can never see themselves being dealt with by a spiritual leader strongly, and who simply do not see the cause of Christ and their own Christianity as important enough to merit a good jostling to keep them aligned to the truth of God’s Word and good practice. Such people will eventually be sharply rebuked completely out of our Church, showing themselves to be the lost people they really are. But for the rest of you, it’s important that you see the spiritual benefit of a sharp rebuke.
1B. Imagine it to be the sword of the Spirit with a very sharp edge. Hebrews 4.12 tells us that “the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
2B. Recognize that there are times when the Word of God, the “sword of the Spirit,” needs to be wielded effectively, needs to be swung hard, needs to be thrust deeply, to do its proper piercing and dividing.
3B. And when God’s Word is used to strike immediately, to penetrate deeply, to cut quickly, will there be pain, will it sting? Of course.
4B. Will there be a flood and torrent of conflicting emotions, possible feelings of confusion and hurt and rage to wrestle with while deciding how to respond to the sharp rebuke? From my own experiences I can say, “Absolutely.”
1. Listen carefully. A person is only properly rebuked sharply when he is committing known sin, when he is clearly violating a Scriptural prohibition or ignoring a Biblical injunction.
2. So, whether the person is saved or lost, it is a person who does not avoid sin, does not shy away from its danger, and doesn’t much care what his actions might do to other people, who is the candidate for a sharp rebuke.
3. The sharp rebuke is like the sting of a willow switch, that doesn’t really do any damage, but has a terrible sting. The surprise of it. The perceived humiliation of it. Feeling overwhelmed and shamed by it. But there is no damage from it, rather great potential for spiritual healing and avoidance of sin.
4. Then what happens? Possibly tears. Possibly rage. Possibly frustration. Possibly feelings of hurt. But then what happens? Depends.
5. Those who become strong in the faith reflect upon their own actions in light of God’s Word. Those who become strong in the faith humble themselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt them in due time. Those who become strong in the faith find the experience so painful, so miserable, so memorable, that they determine to never need rebuking in such a way ever again.
6. I have been sharply rebuked on several occasions in my Christian life. When it happened my face turned crimson with shame and humiliation. I wept bitter tears and felt great anguish in my heart. But I never felt hatred or animosity toward the person who sharply rebuked me.
7. On occasion, I have been encouraged by so-called friends to quit the Church I was attending and go somewhere else. At other times I was enticed to turn against the pastor by speaking out against him or becoming his enemy.
8. But by God’s grace those things never happened. Without consciously knowing what was happening at the time I became, much to my own delight and to God be the glory, stronger in the faith than I otherwise would have been.
9. I hope the same can someday be said for you if ever I have to sharply rebuke you.
Albert Barnes, Albert Barnes’ NT Commentary, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), email@example.com
1599 Geneva Bible Notes, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), firstname.lastname@example.org
A. T. Roberston, Word Pictures In The New Testament, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), email@example.com
Thomas Hooker, The Soul’s Preparation For Christ, (Ames, IA: International Outreach, Inc., 1994), page 56.