Tag Archive: rebuke


SwordI have a confession. Often when I am reading the Bible and I come across a particularly powerful passage, I immediately think of the people I know who need to read it. In fact, I suspect that sometimes I find a passage so compelling because it reminds me of other people’s problems, their wrong attitudes and actions. Now, I don’t intentionally read the Bible looking for ammunition against others. But it’s easy for me to see the relevance of certain passages to real-life problems.

But I’m not ashamed to make that confession for two reasons. First, I know that most of you do the same thing when you read the Bible, so I have plenty of company. And second, it’s not always wrong to read a passage of Scripture and apply it to someone else’s situation. Sometimes that’s a necessary and helpful response. But we’ll get to that later. Right now I want to focus on the first reason.

Be honest—you do this, too. You read the Bible and think of all the people who need to hear what you’ve just read. Maybe you even think of passive-aggressive ways you could covertly tell them—say, a Facebook status update. This method even has its own term: vaguebooking, posting an ambiguous status update designed to elicit sympathetic response from friends but also conceal the real reason behind the post. That way if the person you’re directing it at confronts you, you can claim it wasn’t about them personally. It’s a digital deniable op.

The problem with reading the Bible this way is that it short-circuits the true purpose of God’s word. Scripture was not given to us so we could use it to bludgeon others when they screw up. It was given to convict us personally of our sin so that we can right our own wrongs first. Jesus was dealing with this very issue in Matthew 7 when He taught us not to judge others. Before I go picking at the speck in my brother’s eye, I first must remove the plank in my own eye. The Spirit who inspired the Scriptures is the one who convicts us of sin, and conviction is always personal.

Paul called the word of God the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17). But he didn’t mean we should use it to cut each other. He meant we should use it to fend off Satan when he attacks us. It’s not nearly as fun to apply Scripture to my own sins as it is to point fingers at someone else. I don’t usually like feeling convicted. It’s an uncomfortable feeling because it calls me to change, and none of us really like change. Not personally, anyway; I’m more than happy to point out where others need to change. Perhaps that’s why we turn the sword against each other. When we feel the cut, we shrink back from the discomfort and attempt to direct it toward others. Have you ever noticed that the faults we most often criticize in others are the ones with which we struggle the most?

In Hebrews, the author describes the sword this way: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The Bible must always first and foremost convict me personally—my thoughts, my attitudes, my heart. Only after it has cut me to the heart can I understand what it means and then apply it to others. If I don’t let it cut me first, I have no right to cut others with it. There is a time and a place to use Scripture to encourage, comfort, and even rebuke others. But I cannot rightly do that unless I have applied the Bible to myself first. The next time you read a verse and start thinking about who needs to hear it, listen to it yourself. You may be surprised by how relevant it is to your life.

Advertisements

Before you read Part 4 of this series, it’s really important to understand the context for what I’m about to say. If you haven’t read the entire series, at least read Part 3 first (I promise it’s short).

Jesus Cleansing the Temple 4

Image credit: FreeBibleImages.org

There’s another application of these ideas that might hit a little closer to home for some of us. Please understand that I don’t write this in a critical or condemnatory spirit. Rather, I write from a pastor’s heart. I long to see Jesus’ church reclaim His mission—seeking and saving the lost.

But I worry that the modern church has reversed Jesus’ methodology. We are gentle and accommodating to well-churched people, and we worry tremendously about offending them. (If you’ve ever been on a church board or nominating committee you know what I’m talking about.) But we seem to give little thought to how we might be offending those who are not so firmly established in the church. When new people come to our churches, many of them feel immediately that they are not good enough to meet our standards. They don’t look like us, smell like us, talk like us, and they certainly don’t live like us. And sadly our attitude toward them communicates that until they do become like us, they won’t be accepted.

One especially egregious example is our treatment of young people, even young people already in the church, unfortunately. They come to church dressed “inappropriately,” and some self-appointed church guardian scolds them (anonymous letters seem to be a popular tactic). They sing special music and the beat is a little too strong, so they’re reminded to be more “reverent” next time (as if they’re going to want to sing again after being shamed the first time). When they speak up and share their ideas, we often ignore them. If we bother to listen at all we may tell them that they lack the wisdom and experience to comment intelligently on the important matters of the church—not necessarily in those words, but the message is clear: “leave it to the adults, kids.”

The well-churched folks who do this kind of thing may be well-meaning, but good intentions are not enough. Sadly they are misrepresenting the gospel. No one is good enough for God’s grace, not even church folks. You may be a tithe-paying, Sabbath-keeping, vegan-eating Seventh-day Adventist, but none of that qualifies you to receive God’s grace. But like the Pharisees, when spiritual pride creeps in we imagine ourselves better than others. We may not say it openly, but our self-righteousness is obvious to others.

Please don’t think I’m being judgmental of judgmental people. I’m not any better than they are. I’m just as bad as they are, and I need Jesus just as much as they do. But part of being the body of Christ means that we hold each other accountable. There are times when we must take a stand and say enough is enough. We need to stop letting spiritual pride hinder others from coming to Jesus.

Now, I know someone may be thinking: “But what about our standards? Who will uphold them? Who will guard the church from creeping compromise?” The answer is simple—Jesus. He’s the one who protects His bride, the church. What are we so afraid of? Are we worried that if we let our guard down, we’ll come to church some morning to find that the sinners outnumber the saints? If that happens, praise the Lord! Our mission on this earth is not to preserve a holy country club where only platinum-level church members are allowed. Our mission is to join with Jesus in seeking and saving the lost. It’s messy business that requires a lot of patience and gentleness in dealing with very imperfect people. Remember how Jesus showed you gentleness, then go and do thou likewise.

It takes a lot of wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit to know when to be gentle, and when to firmly rebuke. The example Jesus gave us is a great place to start. Be gentle with the wandering soul looking for hope, love, and salvation. Be firm with the self-righteous saint hindering others from finding those things. This blog series is not intended to be a manual on who to offend and who not to offend. I don’t pretend to know the answer for every situation. But I think it’s high time the church had a conversation about all of this. Share your thoughts in the comments.

When Jesus Offends Us, Part 3

Image credit: FreeBibleImages.org

Image credit: FreeBibleImages.org

In this blog series we’ve looked at Jesus’ interactions with people and saw that when dealing with wayward sinners He was gentle and patient, but when dealing with self-righteous religious people He was blunt and even offensive. We observed that the reason He was so straightforward with the Pharisees is that He wanted to break through the fog of pride that kept them from seeing their need of repentance. Jesus’ first and foremost desire is to save lost sinners, whoever they are. Last week we ended with another question: If Jesus was gentle and compassionate with wayward sinners, but blunt and offensive with the respected religious leaders of His day, how might He relate to 21st century well-churched Christians? What would He say to us?

The answer to that question depends on how we respond to Jesus. Do we come to Him with broken hearts seeking forgiveness for our sin? Do we fully acknowledge our need of Him and put our confidence in none of our righteousness, but in His alone? Then Jesus rejoices over us and welcomes us into His kingdom with open arms (see Luke 15). The humble, repentant sinner will always find a gentle and forgiving Savior.

But if we allow ourselves to become prideful and confident in our status as “good Christians,” and if we imagine ourselves to be better than the people around us, we may find that Jesus, determined to break our self-induced spell of spiritual arrogance, becomes just as blunt with us as He was with the Pharisees. God’s Word still convicts today, and whenever we allow pride to creep into our hearts, Scripture stings like a slap in the face. No one likes to be rebuked. But since the convicting rebukes of Scripture are for our own good, we should rejoice that God does not let us drown in self-delusion.

There are times when I am the whitewashed tomb. I look the part, talk the part, and act the part of a “holy saint,” but in my heart I harbor bitterness, criticism, or pride. I am a hypocrite. I judge others for their failures and wonder how they can call themselves Christians when they say and do that, but I excuse my own sins and ignore the times I’ve failed in the exact same way for which I’m condemning others. I’m thankful that Jesus bluntly spoke these words, and through the Holy Spirit still speaks them to me today: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:1, 2).

Of course, it’s our choice how we respond to Jesus’ rebuke. Like the Pharisees, we can harden our hearts against Him. We can delude ourselves further by thinking that Jesus is talking about others, but surely not about me. I’m certainly not prideful or spiritually arrogant—though I can think of a few people who are. (I’m saying this ironically, of course.)

Or we can take His rebuke to heart and repent of our Pharisaical attitude. I’d like to suggest that all of us, after we’ve been Christians for a time, are tempted to think better of ourselves than we ought. Let’s own up to it, repent of our pride, and ask Jesus to help us see others through His eyes. And let’s learn to treat them with the gentleness He shows them. And maybe we can even learn how to firmly hold each other accountable for pride, judgmentalism, and hypocrisy. More on that to come…