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How to rebuke somebody

Because we humans are self-willed and prone to tell and embrace lies, we have to help each other by pointing out where we’ve gone off course.  This is called a rebuke, and few Christians do it well.    There is a fine art to rebuking someone.  Generally speaking, it is im…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Because we humans are self-willed and prone to tell and embrace lies, we have to help each other by pointing out where we’ve gone off course.  This is called a rebuke, and few Christians do it well. 
There is a fine art to rebuking someone.  Generally speaking, it is important to not shame the person, so a rebuke should almost never be in front of others or in such a way that the person is left to lick his wounds.  Let’s look at how Jesus did it.* 

One day, a Pharisee insinuates that Jesus is a phony.  How will Jesus respond?  Does he go after him with his rhetorical bazooka and call him a white-washed sepulcher?  How to confront this man?  Jesus doesn’t want to shame him and in fact wants to help him grow.  Jesus deftly accomplishes this with a quick story and a question:

“Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me teacher.”
“Two men owed money to a certain money lender…which of them will love him more?”
After Simon answers, Jesus affirms him: “…You have judged correctly”

From this brief interaction, we can extract the following five principles:

  1. A rebuke is required or a lie will persist.  The process of spiritual growth involves weeding out lies. We live unaware of them.
  2. Get permission.  A rebuke is more effective when permitted.  Our walls of self-defense are only lowered voluntarily.
  3. If possible, package it with a story.  People like to be told stories.  Stories shine the light of truth, but rather than a spotlight, are a softer, indirect light. 
  4. Bring it home with a question.  Questions are an invitation to participate in the discovery of truth. They give dignity.
  5. Affirm the person.  Affirmation is like cauterizing a wound.  It prevents the infection of further lies like, “I’m bad.”

*Luke 7:39

Comments (12)

  • This is excellent. Someone faced me up to a lie I was believing last weekend. They did pretty much what you say here – my friend asked if he could ask me a question, then he asked quite a toughie. But it made me think and as he expanded it a little more, understanding dropped into my heart and I realised I had been believing a lie. Repentance was fast to follow and I am so grateful for his honesty and the care he showed. It was something I badly needed to hear but couldn’t see until he pointed it out. But the way he did it made it so much easier to face. I agree with Talia – good exegesis!

    Love Caz xx

  • St. Mark of the Cross

    I love this topic!!!! Why because it is necessary for growth & discipleship. I have found however, after many years of crying out that the main reason we struggle with correction or rebuke is that most of us were not corrected in the right manner growing up. We were corrected by parents, teachers, ministry who were angry, hurt, jealous, or whatever reason. When they corrected us, it wounded, instead of bringing life to us. I see this in so many lives: children, adults, ministry, teachers, etc… I have learned to teach correction that heals and brings life to the hearer/receiver. I always speak of what correction if for, and then begin to bring the correction. Also, I really cry out to the Holy Spirit to ask if this correction is from God, or myself(which brings up a pointam I correcting because of that person irritating me, or am I jealout?) I teach correction through love and life, thereby being led of the Holy Spirit not to wound, but heal.

  • I can remember two instances of poor rebukes that have stuck with me more than any positive correction:

    1) A female tried to call me out on something that she herself was also doing and really wasn’t wrong at all. She had come from a legalistic background, and thought she had a “word from the Lord” for me. I didn’t ask for her advice and so when it came it was unsolicited and seemed rather self-righteous on her account.

    2) Another male friend one night decided to tell me all the things that he didn’t like about me, and not in a gracious manner. He told me that every attempt I had made to be nice to him or serve him seemed like a joke. He called me a phony and expected me to return the “favor.” He thought that’s what “brothers” do – emotionally beat each other up. Somehow, I knew that the “as iron sharpens iron” verse didn’t mean THAT.

    Good blog.

  • I think that a huge point to notice here is that each example mentioned is done in love (assuming that when someone lowers their defenses to you it’s because they know you care). Else, we’re just moral snipers without realizing there’s a target on our own head.

    I think Caz made a good point when she said, “(I) couldn’t see until he pointed it out.” This is most often the case… and another reason for a sincere loving approach.

    Great post Seth!

  • ironic how graceless many people are in bringing correction when their intent is to be a help and bring truth. we need remedial lessons in it. that’s the point of discipleship.

  • Wow. I just came home to read this after a pivotal incident with my Dad. I called him on some age old habits that have really hurt me over the years…first time that I actually stood up for myself on these issues, and was all worried about where to go from here with him. Thanks for the wisdom, Seth.

  • Most of the time I think myself too objective and not caring enough to rebuke someone. I think I have set myself up for only a bad feeling to come across, no matter how I say it at the time. I think that the way people will react from a rebuke has its greatest reflection on the way the rebuker has behaved towards the rebukee. You set yourself up by being supportive. And there´s a ton more work to do once you´re in that hole by not being supportive or caring enough.

  • i luv it! wisdom! but MOTIVE is everything…God says: motive is everything.. i luv it! i desire to do that “sandwhich ” thing.. POSITVE-TRUTH,dercerned lie, revealed in love-and lastly the positive,sollution, hope from god for the hearer… God has had to teach me this.. as he allows me to decern motives..etc..and prophetic gift if used by enemy can have pride, and then we can hurt people, rather than help them.. i luv this…its delivery with grace as God leads…i rather not ruffle feathers..but god often asks me to show what he lets me see..and as i deliver in right way, it wins people to you..rather than wound them..jesus reveals our hearts to us, and then we can feel his comfort, love for us..but, baby christians, those with knowledge, and lacking love, and wrong motives are worked thru by enemy for the destruction of the Body..motives are everyting..we break our own heart/regret later everytime we do it wrong..:(

  • I am immensely grateful to come upon this site. Seth has said it in thee best way I have seen. And YES, rebuke is supposed to be used in a certain manner. If the rebuker cannot rebuke by certain guidelines, then they should not be in the position to rebuke…and therefore SHOULD NOT rebuke. Ex: we r not to rebuke out of anger (flesh), or in public (=embarassment), even if it is out of joking…publicly. Yes, rebuke is meant to uplift a person into making a change for thee better or stopping something that hinders themself or others….to bring life to them and not to tear them down. Yes, it is very important to rebuke in private…..it is more direct and mature that way!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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