I’m not sure I know how to love anymore, at least, not love others by rebuking them (expressing sharp disapproval or criticism because of someone’s behavior or actions) or by warning them (inform someone in advance of an impending or possible danger, problem, or other unpleasant situation) according to the Biblical uses of the words.
I just heard a sermon where the pastor said that to not warn a person of impending danger was the same thing as hating them. If you love them, you would tell them about the danger so that they could avoid it. The example they used was that of a young child reaching for an electric outlet or for the hot burner on the oven because we all knows that logical young children will always accept the warning and never injure themselves.
But day in and day out, we’re not talking about little children. What do you tell people who are fully-grown and self-aware adults who have been steeped in Scripture since day one and are not sure of what they believe? Let’s borrow evolution as a basis of conduct. If I warned you because of evolution that this or that would happen, wouldn’t you stop me and say … “Wait a minute, I don’t believe that!” In the same way, there are people who know the Scriptures inside and out who struggle with whether or not they believe them. To have somebody they barely know walk up to them and rebuke them or warn them from the Scriptures might seem odd. After all, if they know them so very well, then they might notice that a verse you used to warn them was taken out of context or did not mean what you told them that it did. What then?
I’ve never been one to use unkind words anyway. It’s against my nature to criticize people and I know that I’m bad at it. I really don’t want to practice my bad skills into perfection. I don’t see what is gained when my words wound a friends self-esteem or I make them doubt themselves. One of the truths that I do believe transcend culture is that kindness goes further than criticism. Praise does more good than put-downs. All it takes is one wrong word to miss an opportunity, to offend a stranger, or to open the door for unintended consequences. Which is why I tend to choose my words carefully.
I don’t rebuke because I hate others, I don’t rebuke others because I know it’s unloving thing for me to do to them. I know, it sounds like it’s the opposite thing that the church told me, but experience bears me out on this. Having a real relationship is vital for a rebuke to be acceptable. Calling every single obese person you meet a glutton is not a rebuke and it’s certainly not being loving. For a rebuke to work, you need to be sure that the other person knows that you care about them and that they care enough about you to accept your advice. No relationship – no rebuking. Anybody can quote scriptures condemning anybody of anything, but only a true brother or sister would walk side by side with fellow believers on their journey of overcoming sins; by really knowing who a person is, what words to say, what encouragement to give. If you don’t know a person, you really can’t help them. Whatever rebuke you might give them will be seen as little more than some judgmental Bible-thumper’s hot air and dismissed for that reason.
The other factor is well, you. If you’re meant to be a rebuker, you have to be certain that you’re not disqualified by your own sinfulness. Remember what Jesus said about taking the plank out of our own eyes before we attept to tackle the speckle in the eyes of those around us? Do you know how unsinful, unselfish, and unhateful you have to be to pull off a successful rebuke? Do you end up saying “you must not be a true Christian” far too often? Remember, just because a Christian believes different things than you do doesn’t disqualify him or her from being a Christian. If you can’t see them as brothers and sisters, then you really should hang up that rebuking habit – you’re doing it wrong.