“Rebuke is more effective for a wise man than a hundred blows on a fool” (Proverbs 17:10).
Older siblings know better than their younger siblings, so more is expected of them. Parents know better than their children, so more is expected of them. Elders know better than the flock entrusted to them, so more is expected of them. No one knows better than God.
Like so many other things in life, wisdom is attained as opposed to inherited. It is something one strives for; it is not gifted to them (with one exception we know of). It is passed down, not by blood, but by word of mouth—the word being God’s. The book of Proverbs is one of the great repositories of godly wisdom; indeed its purpose was quite singular and provides the way to achieve one real goal: How does one make a godly man out of a young man?
Youth can be a lot of fun, and our culture has chosen to put it on a pedestal. Yet, it is also full of pits and snares, all the temptations that Paul summed up as “youthful lusts.” One thing I’ve discovered, unless I’m unique, is that the temptations don’t really change, at least not in an absolute sense, just the way I think of and deal with them. Temptation is always lying in wait for the unwary.
Rebuke is simple enough to understand, and we have all received some. It is a criticism intended to correct and amend a fault and/or improper behavior. The word itself is similar in meaning or purpose to the words translated as “correct” and “instruct.” In fact, there is little distinction to be made between the three, which tells us a great deal of what is expected of our teachers.
Proverbs has quite a bit to say about rebuke, most of which is related to our response to it once we have received it. This is one of the keys to growing in godly wisdom, and Proverbs says as much. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7). Perhaps 13:1 illustrates the point best: “A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.”
I like the things 13:1 points out. First, rebuke is accomplished via relationships—the closer the relationship the more effective rebuke will be. The case here is father-son, but I think it’s easy enough for all of us to see how this extends to the church, as it is the household of God. Another, related to the first, is that rebuke is not spiteful; in fact, it is one of the truest acts of love. “Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell” (Proverbs 23:13-14). Parents understand the far-reaching effects of sin and folly, whereas a child does not. The same is even truer of God compared to us. The last thing I would point out is that, to some extent, wisdom is relative. The son, foolish enough to still require his father’s instruction, is yet wise enough to heed it—he does not deride and dismiss it.
In the church most of us are “grown-ups” no longer under our parents. But in a very private society that prides itself on its citizens’ “rugged individualism” things can, when it comes to rebuke, get a little dicey. As with all things concerning the flock, rebuke should be handled with care. But the aforementioned lessons regarding a child’s response to the correction and conditioning of their parents applies to us and our church leaders equally. Rebuke in these instances is still about amending lawless behavior, is still concerned with strengthening familial bonds within the body and is still accomplished with love, not malice.
But what about “small things” between two Christians? Well, I believe everything I have said still applies—and a rebuke need not be sharp. It may shame the rebuked, but need not be hurtful to accomplish that. I also believe that the fewer people involved the better. Christ himself encouraged us to settle matters of offense between ourselves. Two brethren, seeking after their Lord, should be able to accomplish reconciliation without too much fuss. I “hurt” my oldest daughter’s feelings almost daily when I chasten her, but she has no doubts that I love her—which is why our relationships within the body are so crucial. Iron sharpens iron. We need one another, including our corrections of each other. We are part of an institution whose purpose is largely to save souls from hell. None of us will get the criticism we need from any other outfit…and all relationships are about trust. My children trust my wife and me. I trust my elders.
I trust God. That means I know where true wisdoms comes from, and I understand its importance. It also means I am assured of what lies in store if I do, and why we try to be diligent to impress these things on our daughters, as young as they are. Nothing else is more important.