I’m sure that, like me, you don’t really like the words challenge, correct, or rebuke. When people say these words, we can often think of someone having a right go at us, humiliating us, or just being plain rude. Maybe we think it’s a bit like being called into the headmaster’s office and getting told off. We always think that challenging has to be confrontational and a really unpleasant experience.
But according to the Bible, that is not necessarily the case. Just because we challenge someone doesn’t mean that it is a negative thing or even an aggressive thing. Our mindset in this area has been twisted.
I don’t know many people that look forward to challenging someone or being challenged themselves. But that doesn’t mean that it is somehow negative or something that should be avoided at all costs.
The Bible tells us that the Lord disciplines those he loves (Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3:19). This goes right against the grain of what our culture teaches today. We somehow think that it is unloving to show discipline, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Before we get into some more practical stuff, it would be helpful to understand the words correct and rebuke properly.
When we correct someone, we are wanting to challenge something that is wrong, whether that be behaviour or thought. So, for example, when our children are learning to speak, we correct the way they say words or the way they put a sentence together. We do this almost without thinking. It’s natural. And we do it out of love for them.
Or think about when we are writing an email—we check it to make sure no corrections in spelling or grammar are needed. Both of these are forms of discipline and chastening, even though we don’t often think of them as such.
There a quite a few verses in Proverbs that talk about correcting (Prov. 5:12, 10:17, 12:1, 15:31–32). These all basically say that it is wise to listen to correction and foolish not to. I’m sure you can think of times in your own life when you have not listened to correction and it has ended up in disaster. As the Proverbs say, we don’t like to listen to correction because we think we know best. But those very same Proverbs go on to tell us that if we ignore loving correction, then we are fools.
Rebuke is similar to correction, except that is has a more stern sense of disapproval. It’s not really a word we would use in everyday conversation. You wouldn’t say to someone “I need to rebuke you now!” But it is a word that the Bible uses. It carries a sense of punishment or chastisement.
So, for example, if you were having a discussion with someone who thought that Jesus was just a good guy but not actually God, and you started to explain why that thinking is faulty, you would be rebuking them.
Or think about when Jesus calms the storm. The Scripture says that he rebuked the wind and the waves (Matt 8:26). When Jesus rebuked them, they were calm immediately. The wind and the waves ‘ceased’—and that conveys immediate obedience to the rebuke of Jesus. This is helpful to notice because a rebuke is something that demands more immediate change in behaviour than correction.
Paul says in 2 Tim. 4:2—“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” He is encouraging the young pastor Timothy with these words. He says this right before he says that a time is coming when people won’t want to listen to sound teaching. Does that sound familiar?
Open Rebuke > Hidden Love
There are also a couple of great Proverbs about rebuking—Proverbs 27:5 says: “better is open rebuke than hidden love”, and Proverbs 28:23 says: “whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favour than he who flatters with his tongue.” These are pretty self-explanatory, but in case you missed it, Solomon is saying that it is better to speak a word of rebuke than to shy away from it. He makes it even clearer in Ecclesiastes 7:5—“it is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.”
So, let’s show that we are taking the Bible seriously and loving our fellow brothers and sisters by being counter-cultural and bringing loving challenge—whether in the form of correction or rebuke—where it is needed.