By Olga Hermans
Rebuke is a curious, yet serious, word. It’s not used much outside of church circles.
I have taken inspiration for this post from Sparkling Gems from the Greek, November 6 (www.renner.org). The author, Rick Renner, approaches this topic from the perspective of having the integrity to confront a person who has offended you. I will instead examine it from the outlook of the one who is being corrected.
Quite honestly, just thinking about being rebuked makes me want to recoil. Isn’t that what Believers are always doing to Satan? Yet, I know that at times, I offend others both knowingly and unknowingly. It’s one thing to be called out from within my family, and quite another to be confronted by a friend or stranger.
Pastor Renner’s devotional, titled Confront, Forgive and Forget, inspired me to reflect back on the last time I was personally rebuked by someone outside of my family. The Holy Spirit taught me a lot from that experience which I want to share here. It is important that I clarify that this post is not about corrective actions that fall under the category of church discipline. We will discuss Believers rebuking fellow Believers. But, first things first, let’s define the biblical meaning of rebuke.
What Does Rebuke Mean?
Perhaps the thought of being rebuked is uncomfortable because I am thinking of the dictionary definition: “to express sharp disapproval or criticism of (someone) because of their behavior or actions.” That implies a harshness that is intended to wound the person being rebuked. The biblical meaning is quite different.
Pastor Renner does a beautiful job explaining the meaning of the word rebuke found in Luke 17:3. He says, “The word “rebuke” is the Greek word epitimao, which in this case means to speak frankly, honestly, and politely as you tell a person how you feel that he has wronged you.This doesn’t mean you have to speak to him like he’s a devil; it just means you need to directly and honestly confront him.”
The underlying motivation of the first is to strike out at the person being rebuked and thus harm the relationship. The underlying motivation of the second is to clear the air, and to restore the relationship to wholeness.
This topic is controversial because of the potential for the abuse of rebuking and also because, by nature, we are defensive when confronted. It is our nature to strike out. When someone corrects us, even in the most loving way, it takes a manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit to remain open and grounded. However, when we ask, God always provides a way for us to productively receive and process rebuke.
Productive Ways To Receive And Process Rebuke
The suggestions offered here have two overarching goals: to honor God and to guard against a root of bitterness. I can’t overemphasize the importance of immediately and routinely rooting out thoughts that would lead to bitterness. In my experience, it is extremely painful and difficult to eradicate bitterness, once left unchecked and deeply rooted.
• Center Yourself in the Holy Spirit
In any situation in which you are caught off-guard, or begin to feel emotional, train yourself to make your spirit aware of the Holy Spirit. This practice is so vital, yet under used. In essence you are praying, asking for His help in responding in the moment and beyond. What a comfort and encouragement it is to know the Helper and Comforter is right there with you, helping you to respond appropriately. Although it is done without speaking, it is powerful. The times I have, on the spot, asked God to help me to see the situation/person as He does, are the times I have been able to respond supernaturally, beginning with assuming the best about the person’s motives.
• Assume the Best
If you will take the position that the other person truly wants to make the relationship better, you can appreciate them for their candor in addressing the issue rather than letting it grow into a root of bitterness. It’s fairly natural to receive rebuke with defensiveness – especially if it’s delivered imperfectly. But we have the Holy Spirit as our helper to assess our part in causing the offense and to help us respond with the right attitude. And remember: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood…” (Ephesians 6:12).
• Join Forces Against Your Common Adversary – Not Each Other
The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10) and that includes relationships. Satan is the author of strife and loves to see Believers take offense. If you can be in agreement with the other person that you both want to restore wholeness to the relationship, it takes you out of a victim’s role. The person rebuking you is not your enemy. When both parties yield to God, relationships can be strengthened by dealing with the grievance instead of burying issues and pretending they don’t exist. Once the grievance has been aired and you are working together to resolve it, it’s time to seek and accept forgiveness and mercy.
• Seek and Receive Forgiveness and Mercy
Sometimes we are guilty of offense. Sometimes it’s a misunderstanding. And sometimes it’s just a matter of different personal styles of relating. At times, repentance and a change in attitude is called for. Other times, it’s appropriate to apologize in acknowledgement of what the other person is feeling. Sometimes, two people must agree to act in love toward each other despite personal style differences. Whichever the case, genuinely seek forgiveness and receive it. Follow your Heavenly Father’s example and then forgive yourself. Your heart is free. You have asked for forgiveness and received God’s mercy. Don’t mentally rehash it. Don’t continually talk about it. Consider the matter settled. Move on.
To Sum It Up
The meaning of rebuke implies a direct and honest confrontation. A rebuke can be personally and spiritually productive when we center ourselves in the Holy Spirit, assume the best of the other person, join forces against our common adversary, and seek and receive forgiveness. In doing so we honor God and guard against a root of bitterness.