Rebuke Your Neighbor

The bible teaches that a rebuke is a good thing.  To rebuke another is to bring truth where change is needed.

Yesterday, I was walking through a chapter in one of my favorite books called Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul David Tripp (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2002), and I was both encouraged and convicted.  Tripp proposes a model for helping one another that is organized around four words: Love, Know, Speak, and Do.  Chapter 11 is one of the chapters on the ‘Speak’ portion of that model.  Tripp proposes that before we speak into another person’s life, we must love them by empathizing with others, listening to their story, and entering into their suffering.  I want to summarize for you much of chapter 11 because I think it is incredibly biblical and gets right to our hearts when it comes to confrontation and rebuke.

Tripp begins by pointing out that we do not normally react positively when we think about rebuke and confrontation (pg.200).  Those are negative terms to most people.  We usually think of harsh words, anger, and threats.  However, Tripp explains that the bible describes a rebuke as an act of patient and committed love in which a person speaks the truth in love (pg.200).

Surprisingly, Tripp points the reader to Leviticus 19.15-18 in order to make his point.  That isn’t the first place I would have turned, but he makes some incredibly insightful observations that I wish to highlight in this post.

Leviticus 19:15-18  15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.  16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.  17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.  18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

The first two points together say that rebuking must be rooted in submission to the two greatest commandment to love God with your whole being and to love your neighbor as yourself.  He points out that God twice says, “I am the Lord,” which is a command to submit to him, and he notes that all the commands in the passage deal with loving a neighbor.

Verse 17 is where he draws some important applications.  Now, the ESV translation that I have quoted above doesn’t quite translate it how I would after looking at the Hebrew, and Tripp’s applications depend on it reading a little differently.  Rather than saying, ‘You shall reason frankly,’ the phrase ‘reason frankly’ should probably be replaced with something like rebuke/convince/chide/argue/reprove.  While I agree with the ESV that the word entails some sort of reasoning to occur in this encounter, the word also suggests that it is a confrontation that includes a challenge.  Tripp also notes that the last part of verse 17 teaches that failing to confront sin brings guilt upon the one who sees and does not confront.  The ESV provides an adequate translation, but the translation also doesn’t quite capture everything the Hebrew suggests.  That said, Tripp then concludes:

Being nice and acting out of love are not the same thing.  Our culture puts a high premium on being tolerant and polite.  We seek to avoid uncomfortable moments, so we see, but do not speak.  We go so far as to convince ourselves that we are not speaking because we love the other person, when in reality we fail to speak because we lack love…True love is not offensively intrusive or rude.  But the bible repudiates covering sin with a facade of silence.  It teaches that those who love will speak, even if it creates tense, upsetting moments…we fail to confront, not because we love others too much, but because we love ourselves too much.  We fear others misunderstanding us or being angry with us.  We are afraid of what others will think (pg.202).

The third and fourth points Tripp makes are that we have a moral responsibility to make confrontation and rebuke a part of everyday relationships (pg.202-203).  He explains that confrontation doesn’t have to be a big ordeal because little rebukes should be an ongoing part of healthy Christian relationships.  He says:

Often when people hear the words rebuke and confrontation, they think of a radical moment of truth telling, a long list of stern indictments against a person who is significantly rebellious or who has tragically wandered away.  Yet the model hear is ongoing honesty in an ongoing relationship…In each small moment of truth speaking, the progress of sin is retarded and spiritual growth is encouraged…Notice that the passage says, “…so that you will not share in his guilt.”  There could be no clearer statement of our moral responsibility.  Each of our relationships must be pursued in absolute submission to the will and way of the Lord (pg.203)…a good relationship always grows in its ability to recognize, confront, and deal with the truth…This passage envisions a “constant conversation” model where the daily intervention of honest rebuke is a regular part of all relationships (pg.205).

Tripp also explains that rebuking and correcting others does not mean that our love is conditional.

The self-sacrificing love of this passage exists at the intersection of patient grace and intolerance for sin.  This means that I love you and I will not walk away from you at the first sign of weakness or sin.  I will extend to you the same grace I have received.  At the same time, however, my love for you does not close its eyes to wrongdoing.  It does not stay silent while sin is allowed to grow.  The love I am called to extend is the love of the cross of Christ, which stands at the intersection of God’s grace and his complete intolerance with sin.  His intolerance does not cause God to move away.  He moves toward me in redemptive love, so that someday I will stand before him without sin (pg. 203).

The fifth and sixth points that Tripp makes may be the most challenging.  Tripp explains that our failure to confront often stems from hatred.  There are two forms of this hatred: active hatred and passive hatred.

Passive hatred:

One subtle form of hatred is favoritism, granting favor to some but refusing it to others because of a standard we have set up in our own minds.  It may be based on economic status, physical appearance, race or ethnicity, doctrinal differences, self-righteousness, revulsion over particular sins, or something else (pg.205)…A second form of passive hatred is bearing a grudge.  We keep a record of what someone has done against us.  We go over it again and again, each time growing more angry and giving ourselves more reason to despise the offender.  Our anger grows when no further sin has been committed; it becomes the interpretive grid through which we assess everything the person does (pg. 206).

Active hatred:

Here we not only act as the judge, but as the jailer and executioner as well.  This passage says that there are three ways our hatred actively reveals itself: injustice, gossip, and revenge…

Injustice perverts God’s system of restraint.  It doesn’t protect, correct, or restrain the sinner.  It hurts and mistreats him.

Gossip doesn’t lead a person to make a humble confession before God or others.  When I gossip, I confess the sin of another person to someone who is not involved.  Gossip doesn’t restrain sin; it encourages it.  It doesn’t build someone’s character; it destroys his reputation.  Gossip doesn’t lead a person to humble insight; it produces anger and defensiveness.

Revenge is the opposite of ministry.  Ministry is motivated by a desire for someone’s good; revenge is motivated by a desire to harm him (pg. 206).

These insights into this passage were the most convicting for me personally.  Tripp essentially argues that many people don’t confront because they love themselves more than God and others by living for peace and approval instead of engaging in the difficult act of loving confrontation.  However, others don’t confront because they have come to hate their neighbor.  Fearfully, I have to admit that reading Tripp’s explanation of Leviticus 19.15-18, I had my eyes opened to hatred in my heart.  Those of you who know me know that I don’t shy away from confrontation, but I have come to see that my failures to confront well or my frustrations in my attempts to confront sin have often turned to hatred toward those who did not receive the rebuke.  Rather than remaining committed to patient, humble, and loving rebuke, I have often turned to hateful ways.

Hate is such a strong word, that it is difficult for me to own that, but I can’t escape what Leviticus 19.17 says, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall rebuke your neighbor.”  I am called to love my neighbor, but instead of love, I have hated many people in my heart that has resulted in hateful passive behavior.  This is nothing short of sin that deserves death.

Praise God that he loved me, a sinner, and did not hate me despite my consistent rejection of his reproof!  Thank God that he has shown me mercy by sending his Son to lovingly confront me with my sin, persistently moving toward me in correcting love, a love that led him to the cross to die to take the penalty of my sinful, hateful heart.  God made me his child by adopting me on the basis of Christ’s blood, and now my identity is in Christ.  Because I have everything I need in Christ, I can persist in loving confrontation and not resort to hatred behavior even when my rebukes are ignored (pg.207).  If I remember my status as a child of God who has been shown mercy and grace, I can be motivated out of love and not impatience, frustration, or hurt when I confront (pg.208).  I can approach others humbly since I see that I have been shown mercy and have no righteousness of my own.  Living in light of the gospel, the good news that Jesus died for my sin and rose again, empowers me to place others before the Lord rather than forcing them to deal with me (pg. 208).

Biblical confrontation means starting with our own hearts.  If we do not start with our own hearts, we will tend to:

  1. Turn moments of ministry into moments of anger (pg. 209).
  2. Personalize what is not personal (pg.210).
  3. Be adversarial in our approach (pg.210).
  4. Confuse our opinion with God’s will (pg.210).
  5. Settle for quick solutions that do not address the heart (pg.210).

Biblical confrontation starts with the right goals.  We all need the ministry of loving, honest rebuke because of:

  1. The deceitfulness of sin.  Sin blinds our hearts (pg.212).
  2. Wrong and unbiblical thinking.  None of us thinks in a purely biblical way (pg.212)
  3. Emotional thinking (pg.212).
  4. My view of life (God, self, others, the solution) tends to be shaped by my experiences.  Because I am the one who interprets my experiences, my conclusions will be reinforced by each new situation (pg.212).

Thus, the right goals for confrontation are:

  1. To be used as one of God’s instruments of seeing in the lives of others (pg.212).
  2. To be used by God as an agent of repentance (pg.212).

I think Tripp has some incredible insights in this book and especially in chapter 11.  I want to add a few thoughts to conclude this post on confrontation and rebuke.

This chapter focuses on our hearts as we seek to rebuke and confront others, but it has profound implications about how we receive confrontation as well.  Implicit in the verses in Leviticus, and many other places in Scripture, is the teaching that we must be open to hear from others.  We must not only be open to the correction of others, but we must humbly seek insights from other people.  We cannot confront others unless we are inviting others to look into our lives as instruments of seeing our own hearts.  In one sense, this is how Tripp has been used in my life!  How much better would it be if this was an ongoing part of all my personal relationships?

The bible teaches that humility means that we recognize that it is by grace alone that there is anything good in us.  We are righteous because Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us through faith.  The result of this recognition of God’s grace is that we are open to correction and suspicious of ourselves since we know that nothing good dwells in us.  Humility does not mean that we are never confident in what we believe, but it does mean that we don’t think ourselves better than others when we know we are right and that we are always open to being shown that we are wrong.

In my experience, much frustration occurs in relationships when one person is not humble and therefore not open to reasoned evaluation of their heart, thoughts, and actions.  As Tripp points out, confrontation should not be a dramatic one time event, but an ongoing part of our lives.  In this sense, the conversation should never end during this life as we continue to speak into one another’s lives as we ourselves seek to be open to correction.

So, don’t shy away from rebuking or receiving rebuke, but be humble in light of God’s grace to you in Christ!

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3 thoughts on “Rebuke Your Neighbor

  1. Christians have the tendecy to operate at the extremes of the issue. I’m afarid they would “rebuke” the same way.

    Chuck

  2. I have read Tripp’s book myself I have been both delighted and convicted.
    Having been a Christian for almost two decades I have found that most Christians never speak about specific sin in either their own life or lovingly point it out in another’s life. Most give general assent to the fact they are “sinners: but individuality, autonomy and pride keep the actual substance of specific sin’s far from external view.
    Every one of us would be much further along in our sanctification (and much deeper in our fellowship with one another)if we actually lovingly confronted one anther and shared those most private struggles and worked together to become more like our Lord.

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