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The Risk of Rebuke

Michael Beck Michael Beck

“Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.” (2 Corinthians 7:9)

Successful correction requires both a “wise reprover” and an “obedient ear.” “As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.” (Prov. 25:12) What a beautiful sight indeed when one wisely reproves and another humbly receives it! But no matter how wise, gentle, or proper the reproof, when someone doesn’t want to hear it, things can get ugly. Defensiveness and counter-attack flashes from a scorner when an attempt at correction is made. Ministry is not for cowards.

“He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame: and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot.” (Proverbs 9:7)

Rebuke is a risky business. Not only can the reprover take a hit, but there is the risk of damage to the one being rebuked. This does not mean we should fail in our duty to correct when such is called for. The Corinthians needed a rebuke from their spiritual father, and Paul took the risk involved. The correction he administered stung, and for that he was not happy; but he was glad they received his rebuke, and were thus not damaged by it.

Ministry is not for cowards.

A refusal to humble ourselves and connect appropriate censure with the blame we deserve creates damage to our soul. What kind of damage? We develop a penchant for self-justification. We become people who are overzealous to defend ourselves and increasingly resistant to correction of any sort. We start to see criticism as an attack upon our person. We believe those who question our decisions are trying to strip us of our dignity and our right to self-determination.

People who will not be convicted of their wrong become damaged people who despise all who would call their actions into question. They hate those who reprove them. “They hate him that rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly.” (Amos 5:10) “Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.” (Proverbs 9:8)

At times there is no getting around it: we must speak the unpleasant truth to others which they need to hear. They may not want to hear it; it may be painful to hear, but if there is to be repentance there must first be conviction. Yes, risk is involved. There is indeed the potential for damage. But there is also the possibility for change.


Michael Beck is a pastor in New York City and the main author on Signpost. Receive a daily devotional he publishes every morning via email.