No, You Don’t Always Have to Rebuke with Scripture

Lately, I’ve been wrestling with my lack of urge to rebuke with Scripture when my friends relay thoughts or recount actions to me that I know are not biblical. It feels testy considering the confrontation model seen in Matthew 18 which I’ve been advised to use when someone I know is sinning. (Although, the wording of the verse is “sinning against you” which makes me wonder if that model is excluding the simple observance of someone else’s sin. But anyway).

I am not suggesting that we discount this model of rebuke. I would, however, like to challenge the emphasis on rebuke I often see Christians employ in the spirit of that Matthew 18 passage.

If you don’t know what kind of rebuke I’m talking about, look at any recent controversy concerning a well-known Christian and the way we have reacted to it. It seems that everyone, myself included, was quick to assess and project Scriptural knowledge about the scandal with say, Lauren Daigle’s comment about homosexuality, for instance. I don’t want to focus on her comment or the validity of what she said; I simply want to use the reaction it received as an example of a larger issue. While Scripture, knowledge, wisdom, and being “ready to give an answer” (1 Peter 3:15) are all great biblical values, at the same time, I can’t help but feel more strongly about Jesus’ words as the foundation for how we apply all these other things. And Jesus’ words seldom focus on rebuke.

I especially love the gospel of Matthew and how, very early on in His ministry, Jesus came to spread the love. Not in a hippie, good vibes kind of way, although I personally don’t think those ideas are always so far off. He came to teach on and model love as we see in Matthew 7 where Jesus commands us to remove the plank from our own eye before noticing the speck in our brother’s. This follows chapter six, a chapter all about doing deeds in private to be seen by the Father. Unfortunately, as Christians, we are often quick to respond and defend with our biblical knowledge before men. Just because we know a verse off hand does not mean it is always good to share it. Likewise, in chapter nine, He says for the first and not last time, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” In chapter ten when He sends out the disciples, He lists off a mantra of good works to do because “freely you have received, freely give.”

Already in these instances where Jesus could have charged His followers to rebuke the people, He instead tells them to rebuke sicknesses, demonic presences, and death (Matthew 19: 6-8).

It is important to remember also that Jesus was controversial: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Indeed, welcoming sinners, rebuking sickness and not the person, and coming to deliver before coming to correct are divisive ideas in modern Christianity as I’m sure they were back then.

Some of you may be reading this and be thinking of your own contradictions or defenses against these observations and my application of them. I am not of the authority to say that your thoughts are less correct than mine. However, I would also challenge with Matthew 11:19:

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom if justified by her children.” I could be wrong, but when I read that Scripture, I hear the message that sometimes the lack of harshness or finality with which we employ the Word can appear evil to other Believers. We often praise Jesus as being a friend of sinners without really considering that His fellowship with them required real friendship. Eating of feasts and drinking of alcohol were part of His routine. It probably looked lazy and even dangerous to many godly people on the outside to see Jesus having a good time with unclean individuals. There were no doubt people at His table who were living a sinful lifestyle even as they sat beside Him. And yet, in the Holy Bible, we see far more instances of Jesus leading them to repentance through His kindness than by responding with Scripture when discovering their bad behavior. It’s a reason why He spoke in Parables; a seemingly watered-down story version of kingdom truth was a more loving way to share the good news in that time and place.

My final and favorite example comes from Matthew 25: 34-40 where He describes the meeting of physical and emotional needs from Believers as the indicator that they will receive the kingdom. He is not concerned with our head knowledge or how often we call out wrong behavior. No, His criteria for heavenly citizenship is a life marked by love. Practical love in action. Not “love” that is the cushy church life and a possession of biblical knowledge at one’s helm. Not “love” as rebuke against every wrong behavior we see. To truly follow the command to love our neighbor as ourselves, we must first ask how we want to be loved. I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t feel very loving to me when someone observes my flaws and tells me how to correct them before they get to know my heart and what is going on underneath, fueling that desire to sin.

For now, I feel peaceful about showing Jesus’ love through demonstrating mercy over sacrifice, fellowshipping with unsaved sinners, and loving with the resources I have been freely given, which includes my self-control to not play the righteous Bible-thumper. Before I rebuke, I will work to ask myself if I have first employed this principles which are integral to the foundation of the gospel.

Do you think we misapply Scriptures about rebuke? Do you think I misapplied Scripture? What do you think about rebuking others in general? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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  1. Vivienne Ellison
    January 15, 2019 / 2:30 am

    I read this while vegging in my bed, thus my intellectual brain is not at its highest. But I agree with your application and points. The more I grow my faith and let the Spirit lead me the more I realize He helps me discern when to do things. Taking scripture and using it for all these different situations because it said it is “good” I believe is unwise. When I have rebuked someone it has been very Spirit led! Once I wanted to rebuke but because I saw disgusts in my heart I new I could not. I think it’s easy to use scripture as our jab to gain the upper hand. As some righteous stab. But when it is used for winning arguments I believe it should be held back. We are not to argue, least of all with scripture. “Correcting” isn’t really our main job either. Nor is being the judge. We can steer a fellow believer by truth, but only God can make it take root. We are proud if we think WE can save a man.
    I could be wrong though lol
    Great post!

    • karolineott
      January 16, 2019 / 8:46 pm

      Vivienne, thank you SO much for commenting! I love that sentence about thinking that we can save people. This is a good point I might enter into more on a future blog post, because a lot of evangelical practices are based in trying to save people, but I feel like we handle that unhealthily at times. Thank you for being a part of this discussion!

  2. Gage Kell
    January 16, 2019 / 3:56 pm

    Thankful for your challenging thoughts and the conversations in my life that follow.

    • karolineott
      January 16, 2019 / 8:47 pm

      Thank you for reading what I write and not discounting the “controversial” stuff.

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