Great Practical Advice on the Oft-Neglected (and rarely properly done) Ministry of Rebuke

Posted: August 20, 2010 by Rick Hogaboam in Church Discipline, Discipleship/Sanctification

Kevin DeYoung has done a 3 part series on the ministry of rebuke and I couldn’t commend it more highly to all beleivers, especially my peeps at Sovereign Grace Fellowship. He offers a checklist of 20 guidelines. Here is a link to the 3rd installment, which contains links to the first 2 within it: link.

Here are some of his guidelines that I especially appreciated. In his first installment on “Why” to rebuke:

3. It protects. Rebuke protects you from hurting others and from hurting yourself. It also protects the flock from false teachers and evil doers. One of the chief responsibilities of the elder or pastor is that he be able to rebuke (2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:9, 14; 2:15). A leader who never rebukes sin and never corrects false teaching is not protecting his flock. And he who refuses to protect refuses to love.

In Ezekiel, the leaders were likened to watchmen on the city walls. That’s what the elders are to be (Acts 20:26-31). If we see enemy doctrines or enemy sin in our midst, we must warn the city, lest we have blood on our hands. Correction is our calling.

In his 2nd installment on “When” to rebuke:

3. The more the person is blind to it. Christians who make mistakes and feel terrible about it don’t need a rebuke. They need the Savior. But it’s a different story when your brother or sister doesn’t see the problem. Suppose you begin to notice that one of the couples in your small group never seems to get along. You sense coldness and hostility in their marriage. But they’ve been open with the group that they are seeing a biblical counselor for help. Probably no need to rebuke what they already see. But if they were blind to their problems, someone needs the courage to confront.

4. The more habitual the problem is. An errant swear word is bad, but depending on the situation may not require your rebuke. But where there’s a habit of letting the filth fly, reproof is in order. When Christians fall into sin they need a hand up. When they fall into the same sin in the same place day after day, they need a kick in the pants first.

 On “How” to rebuke and how to receive rebuke:

3. Check your heart. Are you getting in his face so you can serve your notice of indignation, or are you going to serve their sanctification? Consider this wisdom: “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Prov. 17:27). And, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention” (Prov. 15:18). In other words, check yourself before you wreck yourself. Or as James puts it, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person by quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).

Don’t be loud if you can be soft. Galatians 6:1 says restore your brother gently. 2 Timothy 2:25 tells us to correct our opponents with gentleness. A gentle answer, Proverbs tells us, turns away wrath (15:1). It was always Paul’s desire to come in a spirit of gentleness; the rod was only a last resort (1 Cor. 4:21; cf. 2 Cor. 13:10). You see a pattern here? Try gentleness first. Don’t be the one whose rash words are like sword thrusts (Prov. 12:18).

Immature Christians only have one decibel level. Some don’t know how to whisper and some don’t know how to scream. The goal is to administer the rebuke as softly and gently as possible. In most situations, the trumpet blast should come only after you’ve tried the flute first. Don’t launch the nukes at the first sign of trouble. Try diplomacy, then sanctions, then warnings, then strategic targets, then air, then sea, then ground, then start consulting about the big red button. Don’t punch them in the gut if an arm around the shoulder will do the trick.

How to Receive Rebuke

1. Consider the source. If you are any kind of public figure there will always be complaints. Ditto if you spend any time on the internet. So it’s imperative we know what to do with criticism. Ask yourself: is this rebuke coming from someone I trust and respect? Is it from someone I know and someone who knows me? Is this person someone to whom I am accountable–a spouse, an elder board, an employer? We can’t take every rebuke to heart. But ignoring every unflattering assessment is foolish too.

2. Consider the substance. Pray about the hard word spoken to you. Ask others what they think. Maybe this rebuke needs your blind eye and deaf ear. Jesus was rebuked by Peter, so not every correction hits the mark. If you take an honest, humble look at the rebuke and it doesn’t seem to fit. Don’t wear it. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4 “My conscience is clean.” That didn’t mean he was necessarily acquitted before God, but as far as he could tell, he had not sinned. So he moved on.

But sometimes we do screw up. Even the best of men are men at best. I doubt many of us are over-rebuked. Most of us, myself included, would probably do well to receive more specific correction. So consider the source, consider the substance, and be prepared to grow.


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