Favoring the Reprover

“Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more

favor than he who flatters with his tongue.”

Proverbs 28:23

To rebuke a man is to inform him that he is in sin – that he is guilty of falling short of the standard of Christian conduct as revealed in the Bible. In a sense, a rebuke is like a verbal spanking. Just as a parent spanks their child in order to let their kid know that he has disobeyed the standard of household conduct that the parents have established, so a rebuke is a verbal spanking that lets a Christian know that he has fallen short of the standard of Christian conduct that God has established in sacred Scripture. And though rebukes are never pleasant, they are greatly needed in the Christian life.

Since a gentle rebuke is so profitable, those who give godly rebukes should “afterward find more favor” in the eyes of the ones whom they reproved. Sure, the ones receiving the rebuke may have their pride hurt at first, but they should eventually see the spiritual good that came from the rebuke. Once they see that the well timed reproof served to remind them of the dangers of sin, the value of their souls, and the importance of living in a manner worthy of the gospel, their hearts should favor the reprover. I found this proverbial teaching perfectly illustrated when I read Iain Murray’s short biography on John MacArthur.

The Reprover Finds Favor

During the early years of John MacArthur’s ministry, a flustered lady from his church informed him that her husband had left her in order to go live with another woman. MacArthur knew that this was a spiritually grave situation, so he obtained the house number of the woman this man went to go live with. Upon calling the number, the husband that was messing around with adultery actually answered the phone himself. MacArthur then said to him, “This is John from Grace Church. I’m calling in the name of Christ for you to move out of this woman’s place before you sin against God, your wife, and your church.” Needless to say, the man was utterly shocked. He told MacArthur that he would go right back to his wife. 

On the following Sunday, the man approached MacArthur, embraced him, and said, “Thank you! I didn’t want to be there. I was tempted, and I thought no one would care about that.” Though he did not think that anybody would care about his flagrant sin against God and his willful betrayal of his wife, MacArthur cared enough to actually call and rebuke him about it. Because of this, the man’s affection for MacArthur increased. In light of this stinging rebuke, MacArthur found more favor in this man’s eyes.

The Flatterer Does Harm

Whereas a rebuke does a great deal of spiritual good, flattery does a great deal of spiritual harm. To flatter someone is to insincerely complement or praise them out of self-interest. Instead of rebuking someone over a particular sin, the flatterer will generally encourage them in their sin so as not to lose the advantageous nature of their relationship. Before long, though, it becomes apparent that the flatterer never had the spiritual well-being of the one whom they flattered in mind. They only had their own self-interest in mind. In light of this, the flatterer should lose favor in the eyes of the one whom they flattered.

So, this proverbial teaching is clear: the reprover should find more favor than the flatterer. Too often though, “the flatterer finds more favor than the reprover.” One reason for this is because “few people have the wisdom to like reproofs that would do them good, better than praises that do them hurt.” This is a sad reality. May we all seek to have godly wisdom that welcomes the reprover. And if we give a rebuke, may we give it in the spirit of our gracious Master, Jesus Christ. When he wounds his beloved children through rebuke, he then pours healing balm in the wound.

The Necessity of Rebuke

To rebuke somebody is to tell somebody that they have done wrong. It is, figuratively speaking, a verbal spanking (Ps. 141:5)! A godly rebuke, one that honors the Lord, is to lovingly tell somebody they have done wrong with the aim of bringing them to repentance and restoration (Gal. 6:1). An ungodly rebuke, one that dishonors the Lord, is to angrily or bitterly tell somebody they have done wrong with the aim of tearing them down. The important point is this: if either rebuke, the godly or the ungodly, is true, then it is for the benefit of the Christian.

An Illustration

Think about it this way, surgery is one of God’s ordained means to heal a person from an illness, infection, or injury that’s wreaking havoc on the body. Generally speaking, if there was no surgery, then there would be no healing. In the same way, rebuke is one of God’s ordained means to a heal a person of a spiritual malady that’s inflicting harm on the soul. So if there is no rebuke, then there will be no spiritual healing.

An Example

This truth becomes evident as one looks at the Bible. Take David for example; David was languishing in unconfessed sin after he quenched his sinful sexual passions by having intercourse with Bathsheba, another man’s wife (Ps. 32:3-4). As David languished, the Lord mercifully sent Nathan to use the scalpel of rebuke in order to expose David to the spiritual danger that he was in (2 Sam. 12:1-5). Afterwards, David confessed his sin and found restoration and forgiveness (Ps. 32:5). Nathan’s rebuke proved to bring healing. As Proverbs says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6).

Rebuke…..A Despised Thing

Though what I am saying is biblically accurate, I should let you in on something. Our sin nature abhors rebuke. Since we often times desire the approval of man, we don’t like giving nor receiving rebukes, and this is understandable. Giving a rebuke is kind of like doing surgery on somebody that is not under anesthesia. You can visibly see the pain that you are causing them, so you want to stop or even avoid the surgery. And receiving a rebuke is like being under surgery without anesthesia. You feel every bit of the pain.

Despite the fact that our sin nature is repulsed by both giving and receiving rebukes, we must remember that our sin nature doesn’t desire our spiritual well-being. Our Heavenly Father desires our spiritual well-being, and those who are his children must understand God’s ordained means for rebuke in the Christian life. It is clear from the Bible that rebuke is necessary if we want to grow spiritually. And it is clear from the Bible that the godly man both gives and takes heed to rebukes, and that the ungodly man refuses to both give and listen to rebukes (Ps. 141:5; Pr. 13:1; Pr. 17:10).

How To Rebuke

So how are we supposed to rebuke people? Here’s some advice:

  1. Examine yourself to make sure you aren’t in the same sin you are about to rebuke
  2. Make sure what you are about to rebuke is actually sin, and not merely some man-made standard you have for people
  3. Make sure the sin you are about to rebuke is actually deserving of a face to face rebuke
    1. Simply put, you can’t rebuke every sin that somebody commits. I mean, you could……people just wouldn’t hangout with you anymore
  4. Be as gentle and loving as possible when you rebuke
  5. Have useful Scripture
    1. One of the purposes of the Bible is to reprove and rebuke, so let the Bible do the rebuking
  6. Expect the person you are rebuking to get defensive (this will allow you to remain calm when they actually do get defensive…….because they probably will)
  7. Do not expect the person to appreciate your rebuke immediately
    1. Often times the person will come to appreciate your rebuke hours, days, weeks, or even months later
  8. Trust God for their repentance
    1. God is the one that grants repentance, so trust him for the other person’s repentance

How to Receive Rebuke

And here is how we can receive rebuke:

  1. Be in a constant pattern of repentance
    1. This produces humility and a spirit that is willing to receive rebuke
  2. Have friends that are willing to wound you
    1. Gather godly friends around you that are willing to rebuke you when it is necessary
  3. When rebuked, in either a godly way or ungodly way, weigh the rebuke to see if there’s any truth in it
  4. If the rebuke is valid, repent as soon as possible
  5. Thank the one that rebuked you, and tell them that God used it to bring you to repentance
  6. Memorize Psalm 141:5 which says, “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.”