How should we receive the rebuke of other believers? I’m often asked questions about when and how to confront others. But I’m not sure if anyone has ever asked me about how to receive confrontation well. That’s regrettable since it seems that the vast majority of us don’t do it well. We probably need to give at least as much thought and prayer to how we receive confrontation as to how we give it.
Everyone loves to give and receive gifts. When someone sees me in need and gives a gift to meet that need, it tends to endear that person to me. I’m touched that they would be so thoughtful and caring. Typically, I will look for ways to show them my gratitude and to reciprocate in some way. I’m sure you can relate.
But consider how differently we receive rebuke. When someone confronts us to correct or rebuke, what happens in our hearts? We certainly don’t receive it as a gift. Many of us are moved instantly to a defensive posture. Our heart rate increases, we become anxious, our skin flushes – a textbook fight-or-flight response. We begin, at least internally, to justify ourselves. Like the scoffer of Proverbs, we stop listening to the person talking to us and we mentally outline our rebuttal (Pro 13:1). Indeed, we may even go on the offensive, finding reasons why the person in front of us doesn’t understand or doesn’t have the right to say these things. Perhaps, we even think of ways they have sinned that in some illogical sense make them unqualified to confront us.
Proverbs is treasure trove of wisdom on this issue. Consider what Proverbs 9:7 would tell us about our typical response to correction: Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. If we tend to turn the tables on those who confront us, what are we? We are wicked scoffers.
Other proverbs indicate that there are two approaches to the reception of reproof: the way of wisdom and the way of the fool. Proverbs 12:1 teaches, Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid…
I’m pretty sure the Bible just called most of us stupid. The wise person who loves knowledge will welcome correction. But only stupid people hate reproof. That’s strong language. But why would the Word say such a thing – that only the stupid hate reproof? Because reproof shows us where we are wrong and gives us the opportunity to change. Correction leads to growth, and the wise want growth.
We all have an inborn instinct for self-preservation. That’s why we don’t throw things at the doctor when he or she gives us a diagnosis. The doctor is helping us by revealing what’s wrong so that we can recover and be healthier. To ignore that internal issue will only lead to bigger problems later on. We’re usually thankful when doctors are able to tell us what is wrong with our bodies.
We could think of correction or rebuke as a much needed x-ray of our hearts. It’s for our good. We’ve been called to be like Christ, and if we love Christ, we’ll want to be like Him. Therefore, we should desire to know what parts of our lives do not resemble Him so that we can change. Correction is similar to a diagnosis that says, “hey, something’s wrong and if you ignore it, there’s gonna be big problems ahead.” If we rightly think of sin as detrimental to our spiritual wellbeing and we desire more than anything to be like Christ, ought we not welcome others pointing out to us those faults that we don’t see in ourselves?
When we think in those terms, it makes logical sense that we would welcome correction and receive it as a gift. So why don’t we? Why do we so often get angry and turn on the person helping us? Well, here’s another diagnosis that applies to every one of us: when we get angry or defensive in response to rebuke, we can know that we are eaten up with pride. So in addition to whatever the person in front of us is rebuking, we can add pride to our list of spiritual maladies. Pride is at the core of our impulse to defend ourselves against correction.
A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool (Pro 17:10). The more we grow in Christlikeness and the more humble we become, the more we will welcome correction as a gift. We’ll thank the Lord for it. We’ll not regard those confronting us with suspicion or question their motives or put them on our “list,” but we’ll have greater affection for them – they’ve helped us become more like the Lord.
I’ve got a long way to go on this. But I’ve begun to pray for my own heart that the Lord would help me to regard correction as a loving, gracious gift from Him. And I’ve prayed that He would help me to regard those who correct me – even those who correct me in a spirit of harshness – as tools in His hands doing me good by His sovereign, gracious design. You’re invited to join me. Imagine the growth that would take place in us if we all regarded rebuke as a gift.