One of the most loving things a brother or sister in Christ can do for you is to tell you when you are wrong or when you are sinning.
Whether a gentle correction, a loving rebuke, or formal church discipline, Paul broke it down for us very well in 2 Timothy 3:16-42. All of these forms though when done in the right way are a gift to our souls and a blessing of love. All corrections and rebukes should be carefully thought out and delivered in a loving way with the intent of addressing sins and correcting behavior destructive to our souls.
These times of rebuke and discipline can be received in two ways. Will we take it personally and respond defensively as an attack against us, or will we look at it as a chance to repent and change, forgive or ask for forgiveness, to grow in sanctification? Do we embrace the counsel and rebuke as a blessing? Proverbs’ great theme is that those who embrace rebukes are wise and learn to walk in a more holy and grace-filled way, while those who despise and ignore correction find themselves to be fools on a slippery slope towards spiritual death.
This is all easier said than done—giving a rebuke lovingly and accepting rebukes gracefully. Deep in our human and sinful hearts our first response is to justify and continue our sinful behavior. We become defensive, and sometimes bitter, and lash out at our brother. We don’t want to hear correction.
However, the proverbial warnings against brushing off and ignoring brotherly correction are overwhelming in their number and in their clear and concise language. “The one who rejects reproof leads others astray” (Proverbs 10:17). This person, who rejects reproof is called “stupid” (Proverbs 12:1), and a “fool” (Proverbs 15:5), and “despises himself” (Proverbs 15:32). “Whoever hates reproof will die” (Proverbs 15:10).
But even more compelling are the promises of blessing and spiritual growth promised to those who embrace the correction and rebuke. “Whoever heeds reproof is honored” (Proverbs 13:18) and “rudent” (Proverbs 15:5). “He who listens to reproof gains intelligence” (Proverbs 15:32), “loves knowledge” (Proverbs 12:1), “will dwell among the wise” (Proverbs 15:31), and “is on the path of life” (Proverbs 10:17) because “the rod and reproof give wisdom” (Proverbs 29:15).
“He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing” (Proverbs 5:12-14).
Being rebuked is a gift (Proverbs 25:12). It is an expression of love and caring. Often it is easier for us to say nothing, but to just continue on our way or let the offending and sinful brother or sister go on their way down the path of eventual destruction. We must be willing to take a risk to address these issues and take the chance of being ignored or attacked for that risk.
All of us who have “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3) in Christ and are in our right mind should be willing to share and also accept instruction. We should actually invite and encourage our brothers and sisters to rebuke us when we are going astray or leading sinful lives. We must set the example and embrace it as a blessing given to us in love and concern. We should thank God at these times for the grace of having people in our lives who truly love us enough to say something. Just as “the Lord reproves him whom he loves” (Proverbs 3:12), we should count it as love from our brother and as a channel of God’s love for us.
I also realize and acknowledge whole-heartedly that there is no righteousness within me that is earned or deserved, for I know no matter how hard I try I can never attain “goodness.” There is no one except Jesus that attained that full measure. The only righteousness I can boast of is that which is imputed to me by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I did not earn it, nor do I deserve it. It is mine only because of the infinite mercy and grace of God.
I never want to act or speak in a self-righteous manner as this can be a deep and ugly pit. Being self-righteous by definition is “piously sure of one’s own righteousness, exalting our moralistic or legalistic beliefs, and exhibiting pious self-assurance about one’s own beliefs and opinions.” Anything that exalts our own ability to attain goodness is self-righteousness. Comments such as “I follow the Ten Commandments. I never go to bars or drink alcohol like my neighbors. I never cheat on my spouse, criticize, or gossip. I don’t fellowship with Christians outside of my denomination who don’t believe the truth.” These things look and sound great on their outward appearance, but the point is you are comparing yourself to someone else, saying you are better, and therefore you can trust in your own abilities to earn, or deserve salvation.
Far too often we are unwilling to take part in the ministry of rebuke for fear of being seen as self-righteous or arrogant. Then too, we are afraid of telling the truth and placing ourselves in a position that opens the door for someone to accuse us of self-righteousness. But the important question should be, are we to do what pleases man, or focus on that which pleases God? God gives us His Word and His Holy Spirit to advise and teach us, and then we are responsible to either obey or disobey. We then “reap” what we “sow.”
Let’s face it brothers and sisters, Christians are not perfect. We fight against our old nature daily. That being said, we do need to be wary of falling into the pit of “self-righteousness,” for we must be ever mindful that there is no righteousness aside from which is given to us by the mercy and grace of God, through faith in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Righteousness cannot be attained by what we do, but depends solely on what God has done for us.
True righteousness never looks down on others. Self-righteousness repels relationships, while the true righteousness of God draws people to you as it drew those to Jesus Christ.
“For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” (Romans 10:2-3)
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.” (Romans 12:10)