Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear.
— Proverbs 25:12
Rebuking has gone out of style. Authentic and loving rebuke is rare, because few can deliver it. Few are discerning enough to see when someone has embarked upon a harmful path; few know a friend well enough to find a suitable way to deliver words calculated to bring salutary change; and, few love someone well enough to place a relationship at risk by delivering a loving reproof in any case.
We hear much today about how to correct people properly, although much of it is gleaned from the world of business and not the Word. And there’s no shortage of hand-wringing among the saints over the fact that we don’t “speak the truth in love.” Every American under 40 has grown up hearing that “when you point a finger at someone there are three fingers pointing back at you.” Yet I can’t help wondering if the greatest need of American Christians isn’t actually the other side of the coin: ears that can hear rebuke.
Yes, we know that Paul tells those of us who are “spiritual” to restore with gentleness those who are caught in sin. (Galatians 6:1) But certainly there is no hope for adjustment of the offender’s life and no hope for him to reach the high calling to which he is called unless he himself has an ear that can receive a word of loving correction.
David prayed in Psalm 141 – no, not prayed – invited rebuke from the righteous: 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. (Psalm 141:5a, ESV)
Which of us is seeking this? Our generation is insolent, even surly. We accept no correction and our first instinct is the instinct of all flesh – to protect the precious life and self. Isn’t this what John the Baptist and Christ Himself meant when they called people vipers? An outstretched hand or a flame too close will causes a snake to lash out, and in just the same way, the old man defensively bites at anyone who suggests there may be a better way than the way he’s doing it.
May the Lord give us grace to not only hear correction, but begin to actively seek His judgments in our lives. One of the most life-giving forms of spiritual poverty is this: to know that not only Christ but others, too, have what I need and that they may be able to see where I’m missing it, even when I cannot.
Is the real problem the fact that I’ve been rebuked or is it that my ear cannot hear it?