Think about the last time you received correction. How you responded. Do you think you responded in a right way or a wrong way? Our normal response is to: get angry, argue back, defend ourselves (“I didn’t”), make excuses, blame others (like Adam did with Eve), blame the rebuker (“You did it too” or “Well, you did this”), or ignore them. None of these are right responses to rebuke. Before we discuss the right ways to respond, let me share a story.
On January 28, 1986, just four months before I graduated from high school, the space shuttle Challenger and its crew set out on a mission to space. One of the goals of the mission was for teacher Christa McAuliffe to deliver educational lessons from space. Well, a lesson was delivered, but it was not one that anyone expected. Just 75 seconds after liftoff, tragedy struck. Before a watching world the space shuttle suddenly exploded overhead, disintegrating the cabin and its crew. Debris of metal, blood and bones plummeted to earth. It was a tragedy.
What went wrong? Teams of researchers examined the wreckage and the specific cause was found. The problem was with the O-rings (circular rubber seals), which had been designed to fit snugly into joints in the sections of the booster engine. But apparently, the O-rings became defective under the adverse conditions in space. This resulted in a mechanical failure and led to the disaster. Was that the whole story?
The truth eventually got out. The real cause of the space shuttle disaster was pride and a failure to receive rebukes. A group of top managers failed to listen carefully to the criticisms, reproofs, warnings, and corrections given by others who were concerned about the reliable functioning of these parts under conditions of abnormal stress in space. Just think: listening to their criticism and rebuke could have saved seven human lives and a national tragedy.
In the same way, when we ignore correction we are inviting disastrous consequences into our lives as well. Proverbs 29:1 tells us that “He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy”. Because none of us want to bring destruction into our lives, let’s learn how to correctly receive rebuke. There is a time for giving rebukes, but our focus will be on rightly receiving rebukes, because we can’t even begin to give rebukes until we have learned to graciously receive them.
These are the questions we will answer:
- What does it mean to rebuke someone?
- What are some benefits of rebukes?
- From whom should we receive rebuke?
- What keeps us from receiving rebukes rightly?
- What is the cure to receiving rebukes graciously?
- How should we rightly respond to rebuke?
What does it mean to “rebuke” someone?
We’ve all been rebuke before, but do you think rebuking is an acceptable way to respond to someone? It is. Even though you might not like the answer, rebuking someone is a Biblical response. In fact, Jesus often used rebuke as a way to call out the sins and wrongdoing of others.
How many of you like being told ”you’re wrong”? My guess is none of you do. I certainly don’t. Why don’t we like to be rebuked and corrected? One of the main reasons is because we don’t like our sins and failures to be revealed and it’s painful to hear. However, we have to understand that we need rebukes. They are an essential part of the processes of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. The challenge we face is to stop thinking of rebukes as negative offenses to us, and start welcoming them as blessings that God uses for our good.
What are some benefits of rebukes?
Rebukes cleanse us and purify our hearts: “Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, as do stripes the inner depths of the heart (Proverbs 20:30).”
Rebukes spare us from disaster and unforeseen consequences: “He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Prov. 29:1).
Rebukes lead to wisdom and understanding: “The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise. He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding” (Proverbs 15:31-32).
Rebukes keep us on the path of life and help us show others how to live: “He who keeps instruction is in the way of life, but he who refuses correction goes astray” (Proverbs 10:17).
Rebukes give us honor: “Poverty and shame will come to him who disdains correction, but he who regards a rebuke will be honored” (Proverbs 13:18).
Rebukes lead to a love of knowledge: “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1).
Rebukes turn us away from death: “Harsh discipline is for him who forsakes the way, and he who hates correction will die” (Proverbs 15:10).
Rebukes bring us happiness and blessings: “Behold, happy [blessed] is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty” (Job 5:17).
Godly people profit from rebuke and should even welcome and desire it. King David did when he said, “Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; it shall be as excellent oil; let my head not refuse it” (Psalm 141:5). I doubt that David enjoyed being rebuked, but he learned the benefits of it and even welcomed rebuke. He calls being rebuked “a kindness”, and says that he “will not refuse it”. That’s true humility. But, are we supposed to receive rebukes from just anyone? Let’s answer that from Scripture.
From whom should we receive rebuke?
- From God:
Through His Word –God brings us correction through His Word in order to teach and train us. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Through Discipline – If we don’t respond to God’s word, He corrects us through discipline. “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” (Heb. 12:5-6). Why does God rebuke us? Because He loves us. And since God rebukes, we know that rebukes can be good.
2. From our parents:
If we don’t heed God’s word, He will get our attention through our parents who will give us instruction and rebuke. So, it’s very important that we listen to them and obey their corrections. If we don’t, then God will bring other things to get our attention, which are usually more difficult and painful. He’ll do that until we finally obey. He does this because He loves us and wants to protect us and bring us blessings. We’re not going to receive those blessings unless we humbly receive rebukes and corrections from our parents and obey them. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1).
A young lady named Emily signed up for a Facebook account and was having so much fun keeping in touch with all of her friends. She didn’t see anything wrong with it, but then her dad came to her with some concerns and firmly said, “Emily, I don’t think it’s a good idea that you’ve signed up for Facebook. I think it’s wasting time that you could be spending in better ways. Also, I know that you’ve been in contact with a young man and that’s not an acceptable or healthy way to communicate. So, I’m encouraging you to delete your Facebook account.” Emily didn’t like this idea at all because she enjoyed Facebook and all of her friends were on it. However, without arguing or defending, Emily thought seriously about what her dad had asked her to do and she sought the Lord for direction. The Lord convicted her that her dad was right and that she needed to receive his instruction and obey what he suggested she do. So, on her dad’s birthday, as a gift to him, she deleted her Facebook account. She is so happy that she made that decision and she thanks her dad for correcting her and giving her wise instruction.
- From preachers of the word:
Those who preach the word of God are told in Scripture to “reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). Believers should be thankful for ministers who will “sharply rebuke” them because not everyone will tell you the truth.
There was a lady who was involved in a local church and she didn’t have the greatest attitude about some things in the church. One day she did something that she knew the pastor wouldn’t approve of. As soon as the pastor found out what she had done he confronted her, corrected her, and told her that what she had done was wrong. This woman got very upset and offended. She felt like the pastor had treated her wrongly by not responding gently. After that, she became less and less involved in the church and pretty soon she left and went to another church. There she talked to others about the situation and passed on her negative attitude about her first church. The problem got bigger.
Now, that pastor could have been a lot more sensitive and loving in the way that he approached the woman. He could have waited until a better time, after he had had a chance to think and pray about the situation and calmed down. So, he was partly in the wrong for the way that he confronted the woman. But she was definitely in error for responding wrongly to the pastor’s rebuke and then later slandering the pastor, not to mention being rebellious in doing something at her church that the pastor would not have approved of.
In the end, both the woman and the pastor were wrong, but think of how things could have turned out so much differently if the woman had responded in humility, even if the pastor was wrong, even if she felt like he didn’t understand. If she had been humble anyway and had simply admitted that she had done wrong, the pastor’s attitude would have changed right away, and he would have been more sensitive and understanding in the way he responded to her. The whole situation could have turned out entirely differently if she had been willing to listen to rebuke and respond in humility.
We have seen that we should receive rebuke from God, from parents, pastors, and ministers. But that’s not all. The Bible tells us that we are also to receive rebuke from: our authorities, masters (1 Pet. 2:19-20), those less intelligent (Acts 18:24-26), younger people (Ps. 8:3), unconverted people (Gen. 20:9-16), our friends (Prov. 27:6), and even from our enemies (Is. 53:7; 1 Pet. 2:21-23). So to sum it up, we are to receive rebuke from anyone. Balaam was even rebuked by a donkey (Num. 22:21-39). He would have been wise to listen to the donkey’s rebuke. We should be wise and heed the rebuke of others as well.
What keeps us from receiving rebukes rightly?
The main hindrance that keeps us from receiving rebuke rightly is pride. “Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.” (Proverbs 9:7). If someone is a proud mocker or wicked he will hate rebuke and fight back, but a wise man accepts rebuke as instruction. “A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke” (Proverbs 13:1).
What is the cure to receiving rebukes graciously?
The main cure to receiving rebukes well is humility. That means lowering yourself to a position beneath others and giving them the higher or better position. In the case of rebuke, it means to respectfully hear and consider what the other person has to say, accept it graciously, and yield your own “rights” to defend. “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). “Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34).
When Sarah Mally was a new driver her dad rebuked her and gave her corrections about her driving. Her immediate response was to defend herself and explain why she did what she did. Afterwards, she thought about the situation and wondered, “Why is it that, as humans, we are so quick to defend ourselves and make excuses instead of humbly receiving correction and instruction?” After that incident, Sarah made a commitment to the Lord to receive rebukes in the right way – humbly. She asked the Lord to remind her of her decision whenever someone rebuked her. Since that time, the Lord has often brought this decision to her mind when someone is rebuking her. This has helped her to respond rightly instead of defending herself, getting angry, or saying the first thing that comes to her mind, and it has brought many blessings as well.
How should we rightly respond to rebuke?
Being rebuked is an area that we’re going to deal with our whole lives, so we better learn how to receive rebukes, correction, and instruction in a right way. This will save us from arguments, consequences, and even disasters. So, what are some ways to respond correctly to rebuke?
12 Ways to Correctly Receive a Rebuke
- Adopt a good attitude about rebukes ahead of time. Your frame of mind will determine the success or failure of the rebuke. Make a commitment that you will respond rightly to rebukes, and stop thinking of rebukes as negative offenses, and start welcoming them as blessings that God uses for our good.
- Listen to the entire rebuke and do not interrupt.
- Do not begin to prepare a defense in your mind.
- Do not argue back.
- Do not point out the rebuker’s faults or question his or her motives. (You say, “Why should I appreciate his rebuke, because he wasn’t kind or gentle in the way he did it?” Even though you might not like the way the rebuker gave the rebuke, or think his motives were wrong, you still need to take the rebuke to heart without pointing out the faults of the rebuker).
- Thank the rebuker for loving you enough to rebuke you. “Open rebuke is better than secret love” (Proverbs 27:5).
- Thank God for the rebuke no matter how painful or humiliating it may be. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes” (Ps. 119:71).
- If the rebuker is right, confess this on the spot and ask for forgiveness.
- If you think the rebuker is wrong, tell the person that you will think about what he or she said and acknowledge that it’s important to you to be like Christ and do the right thing.
- Think carefully about the rebuke, correction, criticism, or instruction.
- Pray about the rebuke and ask God to show you what He wants you to learn through this situation.
- Go back to the person and explain how their rebuke helped you (if possible).
Instead of becoming resentful at the least correction, getting angry, defending ourselves, arguing back, blaming the rebuker, or taking up an offense, let’s purpose to adopt a good attitude about being rebuked and be thankful that someone loves us enough to point out our wrongs so we can grow and become more like Jesus Christ. Let’s heed the challenge to stop thinking of rebukes as negative offenses, and start welcoming them as blessings that God uses for our good.
“Let the righteous strike [us]; it shall be a kindness. And let [them] rebuke [us]; it shall be as excellent oil; let [our] head not refuse it” (Psalm 141:5).