If you saw a blindfolded man walking straight towards the edge of a cliff, wouldn’t you immediately and desperately yell for him to stop?
In principle, this urgency should guide our response towards rebuking fellow believers.
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), so shrugging and saying that sin is okay is not loving.
It’s turning a blind eye – or even giving the green light – to our brother or sister who does not know or is living outside of God’s perfect law.
The Bible tells us many times to correct our fellow believers in…
- Love (Proverbs 27:5-6)
- Gentleness (Galatians 6:1)
- Righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
It also instructs us to spur one another on towards love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25).
And in the gospels, we see that Jesus saw great importance in relaying truth because He greatly loved the people.
He spoke what was necessary, bravely and boldly, even if it would sting people’s ears or if it was risky.
Christian author Mike Duran writes,
“Ultimately, if a Christian’s goal is to not be offensive, then they will either modify the Gospel or marginalize its message. Sadly, many Christians appear guilty of this.
While some appear to strip the Gospel of its demands for moral change (repent and believe), others elevate love and social justice above the truth of Scripture.
Either way, if we have to minimize or tinker with the Gospel to make it more palatable, then it’s not the Gospel we’re preaching.”
While we should point people to Truth, we should also exercise wisdom in doing so. Here are a few things we might consider…
Before correcting someone, consider these questions…
1. Have we removed the plank from our own eye?
When it comes to calling out sin, a particular passage may often come to our mind:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)
Jesus uses a hyperbole to show that we are often blind to our own sins.
Before we look at others, we must first examine ourselves. Are we blinded by our own pride, thinking that we are “holier” than our fellow brother or sister?
Whether we acknowledge and deal with our pride directly affects how we approach others about their sin.
In a message about the “speck”, Pastor John Piper explains that the passage is about overcoming “the blindness in our pride that keeps us from being lovingly helpful to our brothers”.
“The spirit behind correction is that of brotherhood and love, rather than condemnation and judgement,” he adds.
So the passage really isn’t about not saying something because you yourself have faults, but making sure your rebuke is restoring and loving.
2. Do we have a right to speak into their lives?
Before we consider calling out someone’s sin, we have to make sure that we are in the position to speak into their lives in that way.
It has often been said, they don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
Do we know them well enough, having considered all the areas of their lives, to say something meaningful?
Do we have their trust and respect, so that they are confident of our intentions to build them up and not tear them down?
“Richard Ford said, “When people realize they’re being listened to, they tell you things.” This is something that only happens in the context of relationships. When we are present in people’s lives and listen to their stories, we also start to learn about them. We learn their passions, their fears, their pains, their suffering, and their joy.
When Lazarus dies, we see this in Jesus. He weeps (John 11:35). He sits there with the family and cries. His presence communicates something. He actually cares.
If you are being present in the lives of people you want to hear the Gospel, it’s also important that we love, period. This is often difficult because when we have in mind the goal of “preaching the Gospel,” this also becomes the focus of our relationships.
But in order to earn the right to be heard, we must love without an agenda. We should absolutely have a desire to share the Gospel in this relationship; that’s important and will naturally flow out of our love for that person.”
There is utmost value in communicating that we don’t merely want to rebuke them; correction is an extension of our love and care for them.
Ultimately, in loving others, we are also earning the right to speak truth into their lives.
3. Do they want to pursue holiness?
When I was ten, I told someone on Instagram to stop cursing. Without thinking much, I just commented: “Don’t curse.”
In return, I got a string of curse words directed at me, as well as my own friend telling me to mind my own business (ouch!).
I had wanted to remind people to honour God, but it was a valuable lesson learnt: non-Christians do not recognise the severity of sin or the beauty of God.
Naturally, God’s perfect law means very little to them.
Matthew 7:6 reads: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”
BibleRef’s commentary on this says:
“It’s easy to focus on the derogatory imagery of dogs and pigs and miss the real point, which is not meant as an insult. The message is about wasting things of value on those who not only won’t appreciate them, but might even be angered by the offer.
…The emphasis is not on other people, but on God’s people. This verse is a warning to Christians: don’t waste time or invite harassment from those who are obviously hostile.”
Before you rebuke someone, consider whether the person you are speaking is even a believer in Jesus.
That will inform what you say, for you may well find it unproductive to hold others accountable to a standard they haven’t agreed to live by.
While someone is still hostile towards Scripture, our best approach may be to keep silent and pray first, asking God to do the heavy-lifting.
“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.“ (James 5:19-20, ESV)
At the end of the day, the spirit behind correction is that of brotherhood and love, rather than condemnation and judgment.
If we truly love our brother and sister, we would want to point them back to God in their lives.
But in making a rebuke or correcting one another, we must remember that we are all equally sinful. We are in no position to condemn someone, for God is the ultimate judge of the world (2 Corinthians 5:10).
So let us be people who do not condone sin — but also people whose words of correction edify, equip, exhort and encourage!
- Have you ever been corrected or rebuked? Was it done in a loving or harsh manner?
- Have you faced dilemmas to correct or rebuke a fellow believer? What did you do in the end?
- Which of these three considerations do you think you need to focus on the most? Why?
- Pray for love and wisdom as you obey God to point your brothers and sisters back to Christ.