What will your response be if you receive an email rebuking you of your errors? A typical first response would be to switch into an offensive mode, by replying with a nasty email directed to the sender, describing how wrong he was. Then, this is often followed by the defensive mode, by justifying the validity of the actions which you have been accused of, declaring how right you were. Rarely do we respond objectively to the accusations and do a self-examination before replying that email.
This could have happened to you if you were part of the church at Corinth. Though the apostle Paul did not write them an email, he did write them an epistle or a letter to rebuke them of their errors. The Church of Corinth was a gifted church. However, as abundant were their spiritual gifts, so were their sins. Divisions, strife, carnality, fornication, idolatry – you name it, they had it. The apostle Paul wrote them a weighty letter to rebuke them of their errors, so as to stop the rot. Nobody likes to be told that he is wrong. But nonetheless, the Corinthians responded positively to the godly rebuke with repentance.
That is the way with God – when we err in our ways, God sends us rebukes to help us to turn away from our sin and to turn back unto Him. One of the channels which God uses is His Word. When we read God’s Word, God uses His Word to rebuke us of our sins. God’s Word is God’s way of speaking to us – whether it be a word of comfort, encouragement or a rebuke. We never like such a rebuke from the Word of God – the truth hurts! Indeed, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Because of this, many, who are deep in their sins, are fearful to read God’s Word – for they know very well that the Word of God will surely rebuke them. How true is the saying – either the Word of God will keep you away from sin or sin will keep you away from the Word of God!
Other than His Word, God also uses His messengers to rebuke us of our sins. Many times, when we sinned against God, we thought nobody knows. But when God sent His messengers, be it preachers or fellow brethren, to speak to us, we are suddenly brought into awareness of our sins. Sometimes God works in such a way that the messengers themselves are not aware of our sins when they deliver the message to us. Many times in my preaching, some people think that I am highlighting their sins when the Word of God is preached. But the truth is that I have no idea what their sin is. In my preparation, I would seek the Lord on the message which He would want to be ministered to His people. It is the Word of God preached that convicts us of our own shortcoming. The preacher is just the vessel whom the Lord used to deliver His message. So, if the Word of God convicts us through the preaching, be thankful. It demonstrates that you are still spiritually alive and not paralysed. Without the Spirit working in your heart, you will not be able to feel the impact of the Word of God in your lives.
However, there are times also when God deliberately sends His messenger to highlight our sin. For example, God sent Nathan the prophet to rebuke King David for his secret sin. Similarly too, God used the apostle Paul to rebuke the Corinthian Church of their many sins. What lessons should we glean from this?
First, we need to be sensitive to godly rebuke, be it through God’s Word or God’s messengers. Do not develop an attitude of listening to what we like to hear only. Learn also to develop an appetite to listen to all the Lord has for us, regardless whether it is pleasant unto our soul. The Bible says, “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools” (Eccl. 7:5). True, none of us like to hear a rebuke. A rebuke does not have the melody of a song. It always hurts our feelings and our egos. At the same time, a godly rebuke can turn you away from the disaster of God’s judgment to come. Be sensitive to godly rebuke and it will help you avoid the displeasure of God.
Here is the second lesson for us – do not treat those who deliver godly rebuke to you as your enemy. The apostle Paul has this to say, “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16). And again, the Bible reminds us, “Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Prov. 27:5-6). A rebuke, when responded wrongly, could also bring an end to a friendship. But consider for a moment – if a person is willing to take such great risk to deliver a godly rebuke to you, what does this demonstrate to you? Such a person is sincere and is concerned over your soul – he is a true friend indeed who is not afraid to lose his friendship for the sake of Christ. We should learn to appreciate those whom God has sent to rebuke us and thank God for such faithful friends who are concerned for our souls.
Third, we also ought to learn to speak the truth in love, even if it is a rebuke and may not be pleasant to others. As preachers of God’s Word, we are called to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2Tim. 4:2). There is no joy in rebuking others or when we are rebuked by others. Godly rebuke is necessary to bring one to repentance. To repent, one has to make two right turns in life. First, he must make the right turn away from sin. True repentance will result in a person turning away from his sin. Second, he must also make the right turn unto God. To turn away from sin and not unto God is pride and not repentance. Take the case of Judas Iscariot who betrayed the Lord. The Bible says Judas repented but he went and hanged himself. Judas is a good example of one who turned away from his sin and yet never turned unto God in repentance. On the other hand, by turning unto God without turning away from
sin is simply hypocritical. Many people wanted to turn to God, and yet at the same time, they refuse to turn away from their sin. This is not true repentance. True repentance comes about when we make two right turns in life: turning away from our sin and turning unto God.
My dear readers, has the Word of God been rebuking you lately and you are in need of repentance? Turn away from your sin and turn back unto God. Listen to the message that Isaiah has for you: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:7). May the Lord grant you a sensitive heart to His Word for His glory.