Proverbs: Correction

Proverbs: Correction


It was a summer night about two or three years ago when I drew the short straw and was putting my girls to bed. And, there’s a curious thing that occurs when you need to put your child to bed. Even though you have literally done it every single day of their entire life, you will be met with perplexed rebuttals and surprised resistance. It’s like they had absolutely no idea I was going to make them sleep that night. I know the parents out there are able to sympathize with me here. No matter what I tried in that moment, Gwen, who was about three-years-old at the time, just would not stay in her bed. All I wanted was for her to sleep so that I could sleep. But, on that night, her simple rebellion morphed into a decisive tantrum. She kicked. She screamed. She cried. This kid declared war, and she was not going to go to bed.

Now, what I’m about to tell you is not something I am proud to admit, but that three-year-old broke this thirty-year-old. I joined in on her tantrum. I had had enough. With what energy I had left, I joined in on the screaming and the yelling, and I shouted, “Stop your crying, and stay in your bed!” In case you’re thinking I just raised my voice—no, it was more than that. I lost my voice from yelling so loudly. I was so loud my voice cracked like a prepubescent boy, which I think is God’s graceful way of reminding us in those moments we really are acting like a moody teenager. 

It shook the walls of our home, and it must have rattled something within Gwen, too, because her crying stopped in that moment. Her face was still wet with the tears of rebellion and my throat still stung with anger. She looked at me, and said these words now in a gentle and loving voice: “But, Papa, you don’t make a kid stop crying by yelling at them.”

It stopped me in my tracks, and I wasn’t quite sure what to say. So, I told her she was grounded—just kidding. Because, she was right. Her insight at just three years old was something I was ignorant of in my blind rage. See, there were actually two fights occurring within that moment. One was the very real and evident struggle of putting my child to bed. And, I was certain everyone in my neighborhood was aware of this struggle by this point. But, the other was also a very real but not so evident struggle over my heart and the anger and need for control I held within it. I thought I knew what the problem was, but her words reminded me that I was still my biggest problem. And, the Lord used my toddler to correct me. He used those words to reveal to me there were really two children throwing tantrums that night, but He loved them both dearly enough to reprove them. Call it correction, rebuke, reproof, discipline—whatever it may be—but, we read in Proverbs 3:11-12,

[11] My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, [12] for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

And, that, at first, can sound quite opposite of how we think about love. Discipline and correction don’t always feel like love. I mean, the word rebuke doesn’t even sound like a very kind word, but it is. Frankly, I don’t want to be on the receiving end of rebuke. Who really does? But, the book of Proverbs is littered with warnings toward those who dismiss good and wise correction. We read,

[Proverbs 10:17] Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.

[Proverbs 12:1] Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

[Proverbs 15:5] A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.

[Proverbs 15:32] Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.

[Proverbs 15:10] There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.

[Proverbs 13:18] Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.

Like, those are some pretty strong warnings, right? If you hate rebuke, you are a stupid fool who is only leading others astray and causing more harm to yourself. It will result in poverty and disgrace and death for you. Look, that’s just what the Scriptures say. And, if that is truly to be the result of those who continue in their own way and ignore the instruction of the Lord, then no wonder He rebukes those He loves. It would actually be unloving to not correct and redirect such destructive behavior. 

So, the wise person will recognize rebuke as a gift and as a token of love. Friends, I don’t always get it right, but, in that moment, I wiped the tears from Gwen’s eyes and held her as we prayed for both our hearts. In one sense, it would have been more comfortable to tell Gwen, “Well, you need to listen better next time,” walk out of her room, and just go to bed. But, church, one of the reasons change doesn’t come is because we’re not confessing. And, one of the reasons we’re not confessing is because we aren’t really seeing. And, one of the reasons we’re not really seeing is because we aren’t listening to loving correction. What Gwen and I needed, and remain in constant need of, was a Savior. He already sees all our sin and, by His grace, we saw it for ourselves that night, too. 

So, we need to be a people who love the rebuke of the Lord, even when it is awkward and uncomfortable, and it stings. We need to be a people who prayerfully consider the source and the sin and, then, who bring them before the Savior. We do not need to fear His loving correction because we read in 1 John 1:9,

[9] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

But, not only do we need to become better recipients of His correction, we need to become more graceful in how we give correction. See, here’s what I’ve observed to be true: if you’re eager to and enjoy rebuking someone, then you’re probably not the right person to do it. Generally speaking, there are two types of people. There are people who hate conflict. And, if that’s you, listen to me: you honestly probably need more of it. But, then, there are other people who run to conflict. Like, you enjoy it, and if that’s you, listen to me: you honestly probably need to chill out a bit. Those who enjoy giving a good rebuke are usually the least qualified to give one, but those who would rather do almost anything else are often the very people who would serve others best with their correction.

Those who enjoy giving a good rebuke are usually the least qualified to give one.

And, today, I want to invite you to allow the Lord to examine your heart and show you which person you are. See, problematically, in a day of emails and blogs and social media, rebuking has never been easier. But, friends, if we only pause to consider what it is that needs to be rebuked without ever evaluating the manner in which that rebuke is delivered, then I fear we may cause more harm than good. The way in which we bring rebuke matters. It matters who you rebuke. It matters why you rebuke. And, it matters how you rebuke. Let’s take a look at each of these for a moment.

It matters WHO you rebuke.

First, it matters who you rebuke. Some of you need to hear this: no one person is responsible for speaking into everyone’s life on every issue all of the time. Friend, it is not your responsibility to rebuke every single wayward Christian author, musician, pastor, or church. The Lord has placed specific people around you, and you first need to consider those for whom you are responsible. For your children, for your spouse, for your close friend, for your accountability partner, for your congregation, for that particular person who has invited your correction into his or her life—for these people you must not be silent. 

But, I fear we may be spending so much time wrong-spotting and rebuking everyone and everything that we fail to truly know and care for and minister to those who the Lord has directly placed around us and actually given us responsibility to care for. Friends, ask yourselves, “Is this someone for whom the Lord has given me responsibility? Is this someone who endangers those for whom I have been given responsibility?” If not, you may not be the voice that is needed in that moment.

Then, there are other times we rebuke individuals who are already well-aware of their mistakes. We add insult to injury and correct the brother or sister who has already been convicted and is repentant. They don’t need a rebuke; they need a Savior. They need the way out of their mess. Now, it’s a different story entirely when your brother or sister doesn’t see the problem. Rebuke is for those who are blind to their error. But, once the wound is exposed, we are to bring healing and redemption through the Savior. We probably don’t need to rebuke the broken in spirit; we can save our rebuke for the blind. But, I fear we may spend so much time looking for faults in others that we have forgotten how to lead them to the throne of grace. 

We also need to be aware what kind of person we are confronting and their spiritual needs. We ought not rebuke every person in the same manner. We need to know if the person is in need of a gentle correction or if they need the firm whack of the rod. Know who you are rebuking. Do they need the gentle redirection the shepherd gives to his sheep or the stern warning he gives to the wolves? But, see, I fear too often we blast the sheep and coddle the wolves. We need to have more situational and emotional and spiritual awareness than that. Not every person or every situation demands full force rebuke and, if you ask Him, the Lord will give you discernment.

There is yet another hard truth for us to realize: there will be people not worth the time. You would be better served to save your wise counsel and rebuke for someone else, someone with ears to hear, someone less foolish. In fact, Solomon gives four warnings and results of our attempts to rebuke a fool. Our rebuke is meant to bring healing and restoration, but this is not feasible with the fool. Instead, rebuking a fool first leads to resentment. We read in Proverbs 9:8,

[8] Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.

Rather than the correction bringing reconciliation, it brings only more division for the fool. But not only will the fool hate and resent you, it leads further to accusation and incivility. Rebuking a fool also leads to a bitter retort. In the preceding verse, we read,

[Proverbs 9:7] Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.

While our rebuke should lead to life and repentance and redemption, that is not the result for the fool. Rather than throw praises to the Lord for His loving correction, the fool throws insults. But, not only will the fool resent you and throw bitter retorts your way, but rebuking a fool always results in more of the same. We read in Proverbs 17:10,

[10] A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.

You can keep trying and trying and trying, but the rebuke never truly pierces the heart of the foolish person. So, rebuking a fool will continually be resisted. Proverbs 15:12 says,

[12] A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise.

We need the discernment to save our time and correction for the person who desires wisdom and has a teachable heart. Friends, it deeply matters who you rebuke. And, I fear we damage our effectiveness as disciples when we don’t take these things into consideration.

It matters WHY you rebuke.

But, not only does it matter who you rebuke, it matters why you rebuke. Our motivation for bringing rebuke ought to be because it is biblical, because it is loving, and because it restores. If you rebuke something because you care more about its effects on you than you do for the well-being of the other person, your motivations may need adjustment.

Confronting is not the same thing as criticizing.

Friends, hear me on us: confronting is not the same thing as criticizing. We need to guard our confrontation from accusation, and truly begin to ask ourselves this question: do I really have their best interests in mind, or just my own? We too easily fall into the temptation of rebuking something simply because it violates my preferences rather than being chiefly concerned over what violates God’s purposes. Our rebuke needs to be biblically-founded. We read in 2 Timothy 3:16,

[16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…

Frankly, it doesn’t say that your opinion is profitable for correction. In this arena, your opinion doesn’t hold weight; we appeal to the Word of God. So, let me ask you again: are you confronting this person because you simply don’t like it or because it violates the Law of God? We ought not to rebuke people so they will look more like us but so they may look more like Christ. Instead of just giving you a piece of my mind, we ought to desire to show people the heart of God. 

I fear that too much of our confrontation is just personal attack rather than Godly correction. Before you confront—before you speak or before you begin to type—have you even considered the Lord? Instead of simply being reactive to everything, we need to be a people proactively on our knees before the Lord—a people who seek Him continually. Don’t feed the social media engine that lives off your reactions. Reactions are instant, but the Word of God instructs us to take every thought captive. Reactions are based on the present moment, but the Word of God instructs us to be eternity-minded. Reactions are survival-oriented, but the Word of God calls us to not just live with survival on our minds but with revival in our hearts. There is a better way than to simply react to everything, and it is to prayerfully respond as the Lord leads you. When we bring rebuke, it ought to be more about Jesus than about us.

It matters why we bring rebuke. God-honoring rebuke ought not to be vindictive in nature but redemptive. God-honoring rebuke is not meant to be punitive, but it is to be restorative. Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung puts it this way: “A loving rebuke is not supposed to be like a gunshot, but like a flu shot. It may hurt, but the goal is to help you get healthy.” Today, too many gunslingers are bringing the rebuke. If we are needing to bring rebuke, it should be for their redemption, not their destruction. We read in James 5:19-20,

[19] My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, [20] 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.

The soul is what is at stake here! God-honoring rebuke always creates a way back. God-honoring rebuke always seeks to restore. And, I genuinely fear that we hold such vindication and grudges against certain people that no matter what they do, it would never be enough. We have given them a piece of our mind and then written them off. Friends, it ought not be this way! The Lord desires to restore relationships with Him and to restore our relationships with one another.

“A loving rebuke is not supposed to be like a gunshot, but like a flu shot. It may hurt, but the goal is to help you get healthy.” Kevin DeYoung

Church, may I just speak with you bluntly for a moment? I want to have a tough conversation; one that is long overdue. If you’re visiting with us today, this here is a little family talk. Because we have to be better in this area of our discipleship. In August, I completed my ninth year on staff at this church. It is one of my great honors and privileges to serve the congregation in which I grew up. There are some of you here today who served me as a Sunday school teacher and dealt with me as a teenager, and the fact that you now afford me the opportunity and respect to be a pastor at this church is not lost on me. 

I have to be honest and tell you these past nine years of ministry have looked a lot different than I imagined they would back in Bible college. There have been more joys than I thought possible, but there have also been more heartaches than I have wanted to endure. In the past nine years, I have become quite familiar with church conflict. I have become quite familiar with the various complaints, criticisms, rebukes, corrections—whatever you want to label them as—that comes with the territory of ministry. And, I have had my fair share directed toward me, but I have seen and heard more than a fair share directed toward the office next to mine. To be really honest, there are times where I think to myself, I don’t know why any one would want to sit in that office. In seminary preparation, we spend a great deal of time on training how to care for the church, but there’s certainly not enough preparation for what to do when the church doesn’t care for you.

Let me be clear about something: pastors are absolutely not above rebuke. We get it wrong sometimes. We’re going to make mistakes, and we need the loving correction of those around us. Honestly, it is a truly humbling and meaningful experience when someone cares about us deeply enough to confront us personally about an issue and graciously show us a better way. But, I have also seen contaminated motivations behind some of those confrontations. Motivations that are only meant to undermine the pastor. Motivations that seek to decrease or remove his influence rather than to sharpen and strengthen it. Motivations that are influenced by the agenda of personal opinion rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have seen personal attacks and criticism subvert the place of Godly counsel and correction. 

I know you’re not going to like every single decision that’s made here. But, we need to make a decision to put the welfare of God’s church ahead of our own. Look, pastors are reluctant to even talk about this because it sounds self-serving, so let me say it today as one of the staff pastors. Let me say it about my pastor: the Lord is taking note of how you treat your pastor. And, if that frightens you because of how you have been behaving, then, you either need to change or you need to find a pastor that you can treat better. Because here’s the reality: it’s actually for your benefit to do so. We read in Hebrews 13:17,

[17] Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Church, I love you deeply. You know that, right? And, this team of pastors—we’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to need your gentle and kind correction. But, the way in which you bring that correction matters. It matters who rebuke. It matters why you rebuke. Someone once said doing the right thing with the wrong motivation doesn’t reveal your devout righteousness; it reveals your deep unrighteousness. The Lord cares about our motives. We need the careful discernment of the Lord to see if this is just something I don’t like or if it’s something that hurts the heart of God. Before we confront someone else’s heart, we need to invite the careful examination of our own. We can say the right things with the wrong intentions.

It matters HOW you rebuke.

And, this leads us to our third and final point this morning: it matters how you rebuke. One of the first lessons I had to learn in marriage is that I can say the right things but in the wrong way. And, I say I learned this early in marriage but, gosh, my wife can attest to the fact I am constantly still learning this valuable truth. Honestly, sometimes I can get so fixated on winning the fight that I forget I am to be winning her heart. It is frighteningly easy to become so focused on what is being said and done that we neglect how it is being said and done. We can so often focus on being right that we fail to get it right. 

In the same way, how we bring rebuke is deeply important. And, as we just talked about, it matters who you rebuke. The foolish person is not going to listen to your correction; but, friends, we could afford to evaluate the way in which we bring that rebuke. Sometimes rebuke isn’t well-received because of their foolish heart, but other times it’s because of our foolish way of delivering it. We cannot only approach people with a point to prove; we must come with love to bear. In a passage of Scripture you are undoubtedly familiar with, the Apostle Paul would confess to the Corinthian church,

[1 Corinthians 13:1] If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Anytime I read this passage, I can’t help but think of Charley Chimp—you know, those cymbal-banging monkey toys. They’re just obnoxious and loud and noisy. Some of your rebuke cannot be received because it’s just noise. You had something good to say, but it was lost in the midst of your unloving heart. We must be willing to always approach others with humility. If you’re asking someone to change, be willing to change, too. The humble person is able to recognize there is often more they don’t know than what they do know. If you cannot approach someone with a humble and teachable heart yourself, then you have some work to do with the Lord before you can bring the rebuke.

Friends, the world can point out faults. Like, anybody can do that. It is not a gift or a talent to tell someone they’re wrong. Anybody can tell you a better way to be doing what you are doing. Anybody can sit back with their arms crossed and shake their heads at the things you say. But, what makes our rebuke distinctively Christian is that it is done out of love. The rebuke we read about in Scripture is intended to stop us from going down a destructive path. It is done out of genuine interest for other person’s heart. It is done out of love.

What makes our rebuke distinctively Christian is that it is done out of love.

Yes, rebuking a fool will lead to resentment, but the individual who seeks to honor the Lord with his rebuke leads to redemption. Yes, rebuking a fool leads to bitter retort, but the individual who seeks to honor the Lord with his rebuke leads to rejoicing. Yes, rebuking a fool leads to more of the same results, but the the individual who seeks to honor the Lord with his rebuke brings renewing. And, yes, rebuking a fool leads to resistance, but God-honoring rebuke is received.

Perhaps if more of our rebukes sounded and felt like love, these difficult conversations would be more treasured and less resented in our relationships. How we rebuke must be loving if it is to be God-honoring. But, there is another ingredient to such rebuke which is often overlooked and neglected. We read in 2 Timothy 4:2,

[2] Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

I don’t know if I have ever been described as patient man, much less a completely patient man. We are called to be ready to speak the truth with genuine love but then to patiently trust the Lord to bring the growth. It is undoubtedly a hard thing to lovingly confront an individual; it is an even harder thing to practice complete patience with them afterward. 

We often think of rebuke like a Hot Pocket. We want to deliver our rebuke and then we want two minutes of repentance and transformation, rather than the days, weeks and even years of God’s faithful work and rewiring of our hearts. As delicious as they may be, Hot Pockets do not cultivate habits of patience within us. Friends, we must understand the work is not done the moment we bring correction to our brothers and sisters. 

I know patience is a hard thing but, friends, the Lord has been patient with you. Have you forgotten that? Did you think the change that has happened in your life occurred overnight? Did you think there was nothing else the Lord is patiently dealing with in your life currently? Oh, friends, He is patient toward you. We read in 2 Peter 3:9,

[9] The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

To be more patient with others begins by looking at just how marvelously patient the Lord has been toward us. May the correction we bring exude with love and patience and truth. And, before we move to our conclusion this morning, I want to give you a case study for God-honoring rebuke. In Exodus 18, we find Moses in the middle of the wilderness, fulfilling his ministerial duties, when his father-in-law Jethro steps in and gives us a clinic on God-honoring correction. 

See, Jethro watched Moses, who was unquestionably a gifted leader, but he also saw there was a problem. Moses spent his entire day judging dispute after dispute, and he couldn’t keep up. There was a backlog in the court system. Not only were the people growing frustrated, but Moses was becoming exhausted. At this point, we read that Jethro asked Moses a question in Exodus 18:14,

[14] …”What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?”

In love, Jethro asked Moses a clarifying question. He didn’t jump to any conclusions. He didn’t walk among the people Moses was leading and asking for their take on things. He didn’t grumble or complain about what he saw. No, he went first to Moses with a clarifying question so that he might be able to understand the situation better. This gave Moses an opportunity to explain what he was doing, which was helpful to Jethro. So, Jethro responded by saying,

[Exodus 18:17] …”What you are doing is not good. [18] You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.”

Jethro didn’t beat around the bush. Jethro was graciously truthful. Notice that though Jethro was pretty blunt, he was also clear that he cared for and loved Moses. He says, “This isn’t good for you…” He wasn’t selfishly motivated; he didn’t confront Moses because what he saw wasn’t good for Jethro but because what he saw wasn’t good for Moses.

Finally, notice that Jethro’s critique was designed to be helpful, not harmful. His rebuke against Moses wasn’t ad hominem. He didn’t look at Moses and say, “Man, this is bad leadership. You have no idea how to be an administrator, and it’s clear you are not qualified to be a leader.” Jethro desired to increase Moses’ effectiveness, not remove it. He didn’t undermine him; he didn’t form a mob. He wanted to help Moses and not harm him.

Friends, so it ought to be with our rebuke. How you rebuke matters. You can say the right things and still be wrong. There’s no talent in telling people they’re wrong, but it takes the grace of God to do so with all love and patience. Church, we could afford to grow in loving rebuke and correction. It’s not enough to just be right; you need to be loving. And, may we take a page from Jethro’s book so that we can use clarifying questions so we can be graciously truthful, and may our rebuke’s purpose be to help and not harm. It matters who you rebuke. It matters why you rebuke. And, it matters how you rebuke.

This morning, as we move to our conclusion, the important question remains for us: like, what are we to do with this? What are we to do if we find ourselves on the receiving end of correction? What are we to do if we find ourselves in need of giving correction? What are we to do if we have honestly become aware that who and how and why I rebuke are not God-honoring? Well, we read in Hebrews 12,

[11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. [12] Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, [13] and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. [14] Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

And, see, that must be our objective: to see the Lord. If we find ourselves on the receiving end of the rebuke, may we strive to see the Lord through our brother’s or sister’s words. May we not be dismissive of Godly counsel; rather, may we rejoice in receiving it, knowing it is His grace and love toward us to correct us. To set our eyes simply on behavior modification would be to set our sights on something lesser than Jesus. To set our eyes simply on the other things not in need of correction and our own self-righteousness would be to set our sights on something lesser than Jesus. No, friends, we need to see the Lord.

And, if we find ourselves in the position of giving rebuke, may we strive to help our brother or sister to see the Lord. May our motivations be from the Lord. May we stop seeking out our own personal self-interests but to truly love and care for the other person’s heart. To set our eyes only our own preferences and likes and dislikes would be to set our sights on something lesser than Jesus. To set our eyes on bringing a person down to be beneath us rather than to raise them up in Christ would be to set our sights on something lesser than Jesus. No, friends, we need to see the Lord.

Church, I’m telling you we can no longer afford to set our eyes on anything less than Jesus Christ and our love for Him. Woe be to us if we look to dismiss people before we look to Jesus. Woe be to us if we look to rebuke people before we even look to Jesus.

As we respond to His Word today, I want to challenge not to look to another brother or sister today. Frankly, in this moment, I don’t even want you to look at yourself. Let us look to Jesus, and when we do so, something strange begins to occur. All other things find their proper place when He is in His.

One of my favorite hymns is “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” The famous hymn was written by Helen Lemmel in 1922, but the song was actually inspired by a tract written by Lilias Trotter, a missionary to Algeria. Trotter was writing about the difficulty of maintaining focus while living in a world that provides us with so many choices. Friends, you have so many choices today, including choices to make as to who and as to why and as to how you rebuke. You have so many choices today as to what to do with the rebuke directed toward you. In her tract, Trotter gave this prescription for keeping one’s life moving in the right direction: ”Turn your soul’s vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him.”

If we are willing, God will use correction to produce transformation within our lives. If we are to know whether the counsel we have received or feel impressed to give is of the Lord, we need only to fix our eyes on Jesus and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him. If we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the things around us—the things of this world—will fade into obscurity until He is all that remains in focus. Before we look to any thing else today, let’s look to Jesus.

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