Monday, March 23, 2015

How to Receive a Rebuke

The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. - Proverbs 15:31-32

Three weeks ago we looked at How to Confront Sin in our brothers and sisters. But what happens if you're on the other side of the table? How can we be humble people who are willing to receive a rebuke?

The Scripture are replete with exhortations to have a humble heart that listens to correction:
  • Psalm 141:5 Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. Yet my prayer is continually against their evil deeds.
  • Proverbs 9:8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
  • Proverbs 9:9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
  • 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 13:18 Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.
  • Ecclesiastes 7:5 It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.
  • Revelation 3:19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
Honor and life and MORE wisdom come to those who are willing to receive rebuke and correction. Poverty, disgrace, and stupidity are waiting for those who will not listen. One of the most important character traits of a growing Christian is teachability. But let's be honest, receiving a rebuke is HARD. When a close friend says, "I have something I want to talk with you about..." we instinctively cringe and brace for impact. It's just so hard to be wrong! It feels exposing and shameful.

How can we cultivate a willingness to receive a rebuke? Here are some practical steps:
  • Read the Bible: Learn God's character and what He calls you to. Learn what His will is and how to be holy and acceptable (Romans 12:1-2). This will soften your heart, like a plow digging up the hard earth to be ready to receive the life of the seed. 
  • Pray: Pray for God to grow you, pray for humility, pray for a teachable heart, pray for hatred of your sin, pray for a listening ear, pray for brothers and sisters that will love you enough to rebuke you, pray for God to show you your sin and convict you. Also, Pray for Discipline.
  • Get Brothers: Surround yourself with godly mature brothers and sisters. Open your life to them. Live regular life together, basically: be deeply involved in a local church. If possible even get Christian roommates who can help you grow. We need Brothers in Arms to help us in the fight, and bring these life-giving rebukes to us. 
  • ASK people how you can grow: It's not just enough to HAVE brothers in our life, we need to make use of them! Ask if you've sinned against them. Ask them what they are seeing in your life. Invite correction. Pursue and invite rebuke from wise godly people who know you and know the Scripture. Develop a hungriness for it. One of the fastest ways to grow in sanctification and Christian maturity is to pray for God to show you your sin, and then ask some close brothers where you need to grow. And then listen to their answer and apply it! 

And when we receive the actual rebuke, how can we respond in that situation? 
  • Humbly listen: When someone rebukes you, LISTEN. Yeah they may get some things wrong, they may be misunderstanding you. But give them the benefit of the doubt. What can you hear and agree with? What are they saying that is true? How can you RECEIVE what they're saying with a humble and listening ear? Guard against your first response being defensiveness in arguing against their observation and challenge. Try to make the FIRST thing out of your mouth something like, "Thanks for sharing that with me, I'd like to grow."
  • Remember and BELIEVE the Gospel!: Hearing rebuke is HARD. But if we think we have to change all on our own power, rebuke is destructive and renders us so weighed down with guilt and heavy burdens that we are immobilized. Yes, you have sinned. But God's grace is for sinners! God in His grace has showed you an area to grow, but He provides the blood of His Son to cover and heal your disease. Use this rebuke as a fresh opportunity to remember the forgiveness that is yours in Christ, and rejoice that God is continuing to give LIFE to you. 
  • Apply and change: Listening to the rebuke and receiving it has more to do with our application than just merely HEARING out the person speaking to us. If we hear correction but don't actually CHANGE, we are like the foolish man who looks in the mirror and forgets what he looks like (James 1:22-25). Figure out what practical next steps of repentance you can be taking, and DO IT. Enlist the help of brothers for accountability if necessary. 

May God give you a humble heart to receive rebuke!
The Relentless Fight

Monday, March 2, 2015

How to Confront Sin

Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness;
let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head;
let my head not refuse it. Psalm 141:5

The Christian life is a call to believe the gospel and fight our sin. One significant problem we face is our own blindness to our sin. We love our sin, and because it is so ingrained in our lives we often miss it on the radar, and it continues to thrive unchallenged. This is why God has saved a bunch of us! We sharpen one another "as iron sharpens iron" (Proverbs 27:17) and help one another grow by pointing out the sin we must put to death. But HOW do we do this? And when? Who do we confront?

The Scripture has much to say on confrontation and rebuke:
  • Matthew 7:3-5 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Notice that Jesus doesn't say to do nothing about the speck, but rather to first take out your own log SO THAT you can clearly see and help your brother.)
  • Matthew 18:15  If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
  • Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
  • James 5:19-20 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. (Notice that God is using your rebuke to rescue your brother not only the current sin but all the others that would have grown with it. Sin never is stagnant, it's always growing and adding to itself!)
  • Luke 17:3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him
  • 1 Timothy 5:20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

And the Scripture goes on to speak of how the wise man loves and receives rebuke, correction, & reproof:
  • Proverbs 9:8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
  • 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 13:18 Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.
  • Proverbs 15:31 The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.

God will discipline us for our sin because He is a loving Father. And we should PRAY for discipline and receive it. Another resource that God provides for us is brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to both BE and HAVE brothers in arms who will help us in the fight. But how practically do we confront sin in others? Let's look at Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How: 
  • Who: We only confront believers in Christ, we don't confront unbelievers over specific sins but rather call them to overall conversion! A nonchristian isn't called to fight their sin, they're called first to CONVERSION. John Owen writes, "I say, then, mortification is not the present business of unregenerate men. God calls them not to it as yet; conversion is their work, -- the conversion of the whole soul, -- not the mortification of this or that particular lust...." and again, "Let men know it is their duty, but in its proper place; I take not men from mortification, but put them upon conversion. He that shall call a man from mending a hole in the wall of his house, to quench a fire that is consuming the whole building, is not his enemy." (from Of the Mortification of Sin in BelieversPaul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 that we don't judge unbelievers. We only judge & discipline those inside the church. 
  • What: We confront SIN, not the violation of our preferences. And we define sin according to the clear teaching of Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness". So we should have a text that we are pointing to when we confront our brother in his sin. For anger, perhaps Ephesians 4:26, for lust perhaps Matthew 5:27-30. Use biblical language (anger, idolatry, selfishness), not cultural buzzwords (annoyed, just relaxing, me-time). 
  • When: You could confront right in the moment, but perhaps it would be wise to talk with the brother later. "Strike while the iron is cold", when the anger isn't at it's highest point, or when the conflict cools down in a few hours. Chances are your brother will hear you better when there's some time distance from the event. 
  • Where: Matthew 18 says to first confront your brother in private, one on one. We don't confront publicly until much later when the brother is consistently unrepentant. Consider taking him out for coffee just the two of you. Or maybe if you're at an event, take them to the side out of earshot. 
  • Why: A very important question! Why are we confronting? Again Matthew 18 says we are trying to WIN our brother, and Galatians 6 says for the purpose of restoration. We confront out of love and concern for their spiritual safety. We long for them to grow and mature into the fullness of Christ! And we are called to kill our sin (Romans 8:13, Colossians 3:5) not ignore it and let it grow and kill us (James 1:15). 
  • How: How does the conversation itself go? We must have love govern all our words (1 Corinthians 13). We must be quick to listen (James 1:19). We must exercise gentleness and not be harsh (Galatians 6:1). We must be humble and not consider ourselves better than our sinning brother (Matthew 7:1-5, 1 Corinthians 10:12). We must PRAY at all times: before, during, and after (1 John 5:16, James 5:16). 

Practically, this might be the progression: You see a sin in a brother or sister. Pray for God's mercy & wisdom. Consider & evaluate your own heart. Pray for insight & humility. Ask, "What is the real issue to address?" Search the Scriptures and identify a few that you can share. Pray for God's leading. Speak face to face privately, praying during the conversation that God would use your words. Share your observation, share the Scripture, graciously call them to repentance. Pray with them. After the conversation, walk with them in help, encouragement, prayer, and maybe some measure of accountability. Continue to pray for God to grow them.

We often shy away from rebuke, because we are asking "What is the risk for bringing this up?" We fear losing the relationship, being judgmental, or offending our friend. And that is a good question to consider! There IS a risk when we rebuke and confront sin in others. But we should also ask, "What is the risk if I DON'T bring this up?" Sin is dangerous. And your brother is in DANGER if this sin continues unchecked and unchallenged. Love means you confront and rescue your brother from the clutches of this sin. So you step out in faith, and trust 2 Timothy 2:24-26, believing that maybe God will use your words to bring repentance. 

And finally, when God blesses your rebuke, and your brother repents.... rejoice! There should be great excitement and joy! Support him and be glad with him. Praise the Holy Spirit for His powerful work of granting life and freedom. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:8-9, "For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us."

Jesus says it best in Revelation 3:19, "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent."