There are people in the Church who believe that all their fellow believers are subject to ‘Church Discipline’. Now on one level, that’s understandable – if someone is a direct threat to the congregation, say they’re distributing drugs or porn videos, then yes, you need to put a stop to it.
But some people feel they have a right to challenge and ‘rebuke’ fellow believers on aspects of personal belief, that they just happen to disagree with. Maybe on minor points of doctrine, maybe it’s some perceived ‘sinful’ behaviour or attitude.
Well, if you are thinking of such confrontation, you should think very carefully first. I’ve already written on this subject here – and it may be best to read that other post first (it opens in a new tab) but here’s a bit more to think about.
You need to be in an already established, loving relationship with the person whom you would want to speak to, and you must be sure that God Himself has not already initiated dialogue with them about the ‘problem’, because if He has, He’s already sorting it.
I need to make two further points, though.
Firstly, their reaction to the rebuke is between them and God. You place your ‘rebuke’, then you leave the response to them. Remember that their response to correction is between them and God from that point onwards, if He actually agrees with your rebuke. Remember that their ‘sin’, if indeed it is so, does not stand between you and God, but if it is a real problem then it stands between them and God. (More on this here). Once you have discharged your responsibility, it is no longer your problem.
Secondly, the vast majority of ‘loving rebuke’ is in fact no such thing. It is carried out by unloving, harsh and judgemental Pharisees who have no care for the best interests of the person being ‘rebuked’, and usually without relationship and carried out with some sort of threat, either stated or implied. Usually, the ‘rebuke’ is made because the rebuker is uncomfortable with some aspect of the rebuked, not because of anything God is saying. Read my post on judging others for more on this subject.
The potential for harm is far, far greater than the potential for benefit…..and especially if the ‘correction’ is done in any way incorrectly.
My own opinion is that most of us should just live-and-let-live, rather than presume to speak for God into someone’s life. This latter is a really dangerous thing to do unless it’s done truly lovingly – and by that, I don’t mean the ‘tough love’ approach of ‘You don’t like this but it’s in your best interests’ kind of ‘love’. Too many believers presume to have the right to speak critically into the lives of people they hardly know. This is a grave mistake in the vast majority of cases. Jesus’s Love is gentle and involves the co-operation of all parties; it’s not a unilateral thing where we just have to ‘obey’ and that’s the end of the matter!
And remember that being in a Church is an entirely voluntary thing. Rebuke someone too harshly and you will lose them; you will fail to ‘win them over’ (Matt 18:15). This is far worse than saying nothing to him in the first place because you will not only fail to win him over but you will also alienate him and harden him against future relationship.
Also, remember that the objective of anything like this is not simply to tell him he’s wrong just for the sake of it. The objective is restoration; restoration of relationship – either between him and God, him and others, him and you, or any combination of the above. Gal 6:1 says, “…if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently”. Gently. And only if you live by the Spirit (others translations say things like ‘those who are godly’). If you don’t, or if you’re not, forget it.
Remember also that you are talking here about God’s precious child, just like you are His precious child. Treat them as He would treat them, or rather, as brothers and not as sons (he’s not our child; he’s our brother). It is not our job to discipline people, period. If still you feel you must do this, examine your motives, examine your relationship, and if you’re still convinced of your total, complete and faultless rightness, go ahead. But like I said, you are not responsible for his response. That’s between him and Father.
So, if you are thinking of ‘rebuking’ someone, then please, please be careful! And, preferably, don’t do it!
2 thoughts on “On ‘Rebuking’ a Fellow Believer”
Tony, what an excellent article! I don’t think we have a right to ‘rebuke’ anyone. Who are we to judge another? But I agree that if we have a close relationship we can have a non-judgmental conversation about an issue: ask a few questions; share some concerns–then leave it up to them. We have no authority over anybody.
I really like your stance: “My own opinion is that most of us should just live-and-let-live, rather than presume to speak for God into someone’s life. This latter is a really dangerous thing to do unless it’s done truly lovingly – and by that, I don’t mean the ‘tough love’ approach of ‘You don’t like this but it’s in your best interests’ kind of ‘love’. Too many believers presume to have the right to speak critically into the lives of people they hardly know.”
Keep up the good work!
Thanks Tim 🙂 You can imagine that this one was inspired by an incident in point, as it were! Sometimes our inspiration comes from painful places 😉