My friend Jessica had excused herself to the bathroom in the middle of our coffee date. When she sat back down, her disposition noticeably changed. I knew something uncomfortable was headed my way.
She gracefully navigated the awkward transition from “how was your weekend” talk to the ominous “can I share something that’s been bothering me,” and I immediately began racking my brain for what offense I may have unknowingly caused. I wore a calm face but internally braced myself for the wound I knew was coming.
Jessica sweetly shared a few specific instances when she had just needed a friend to listen, and I had done anything but. You see, I’m a verbal processor. And at the time, I was in the middle of studying and thinking through something I felt burdened to write about. So, I was extra verbal-processy. Instead of listening to her, I had used what she shared as an occasion for a mini-sermon.
Of course, I had meant nothing by it. Because I had not willfully sinned against her in my heart, my conscience had not been awakened to shine the light on my oversight. But still, I had hurt my friend. So much so that she no longer looked forward to hanging out with me, which was how she knew she needed to address it. Because she valued our friendship and cared about me, she spoke up, even though it was highly uncomfortable for her.
The Gift of Rebuke
Proverbs 27:5–6 says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” I had a blind spot. A habit with negative side effects I couldn’t see. And by God’s abundant kindness, He gave me a friend who was bold enough to address it directly and gently enough to speak with kindness and compassion. My friend gave me the gift of rebuke, and it’s a gift I’m still reaping the benefits from today.
Nowadays, godly rebukes should be included on the endangered species list. They are a rare occurrence in the sea of affirmations and flattering platitudes often directed at women. Who wants to hear “you’re not a good listener” when you can instead hear “you’re enough”? Who wants to hear “you value your own thoughts too highly” when you could instead hear “your dreams matter”?
The answer is no one. No one wants to hear a rebuke. No one wants to be reproved. No one wants to hear that they are wrong. But rebuke and correction are gifts that we desperately need. If it’s true, like the hymn suggests, that our hearts are “prone to wander . . . prone to leave the God we love,” then a loving rebuke, issued by the Word of God in our daily reading or by the lips of a friend, is a gift to keep us from going astray.
Let us not forget that this is the part of the purpose of the Word in our lives. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17, emphasis added). If we are rightly reading and studying the Word of God, it should often correct and rebuke us. It exposes our worldly ways of thinking, our self-centered motivations, and it shows us our need for recalibration and direction. This is a good thing! This is a gift!
The Gateway to Wisdom
Beyond being a gift to keep us near God, rebuke is also the gateway to wisdom. You see it in Proverbs 1: “Wisdom cries aloud . . . If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you” (vv. 20, 23, emphasis added).
Wisdom, by its very nature, rebukes. It corrects. It redirects. And how we respond will determine if we grow wiser or more foolish. If we respond by turning, seriously considering any word of correction, and changing our direction accordingly, then wisdom will be poured out on us. What a promise!
But while wisdom does offer a promise to all who will receive her rebuke, she also offers a warning to all who will ignore it. Proverbs 1 continues:
Because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you. . . . Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices (vv. 25–26, 29–31, emphasis added).
It is a dangerous thing to ignore the rebuking voice of wisdom and treat her warnings lightly.
These words in Proverbs 1 provide needed clarity in our “live your dream” culture. They remind us that we need more than just encouraging words; we need admonishing words. We need words of correction as well as words of comfort. Words of rebuke as well as reassurance.
Sadly, many equate rebuke with hatred. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Proverbs 3:11–12 reminds us of the truth: “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”
If you receive a difficult word of rebuke from the Bible or a friend, the Bible says to consider yourself loved and delighted in! Proverbs 6:23 says that “the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,” not the way of death. Let’s realign our thoughts with the Word of God and remove rebuke from the “hate word” list. A godly rebuke is the way to wisdom and life, not condemnation and death.
Be Wary of Flattery
So, what do we do with this information? How do we apply the truths of God’s Word in this area? The first step for many of us is to shift our way of thinking. We should no longer view the more “offensive” or uncomfortable truths of God’s Word as bad or to be avoided. Quite the opposite, this lesson from Proverbs on rebuke offers a better way. If God’s Word ever feels offensive and unattractive to us, we can now see it as an invitation to wisdom and life, if we will turn to it.
But secondly, these truths warn us if all we listen to are affirming words. If every book you read, every person you follow, and every speaker you listen to speaks only positively and never challenges your current way of thinking or living, be cautious. Yes, the Bible offers many words of encouragement for those who are in Christ, but that is not its only function. We need encouragement desperately, but we also need reproof. They are not mutually exclusive.
Practically, this means we should read all of the Bible, not just the parts that make us feel good. We should welcome the parts that challenge and confront us. And we should watch what we read and listen to, making sure that just as often as we are being encouraged we are being challenged and redirected by the Truth of the Word.
Rightly valuing rebuke may also mean extending the invitation to trusted friends and family, letting them know that you would gladly receive any critique or rebuke they may have for you if the time comes. Like my friend Jessica, most people aren’t jumping at the chance to share a difficult word. So, making the invitation may make all the difference in how much of this life-giving gift you receive.
Because of Jessica’s rebuke, I now have an awareness of my tendency to speak before listening, especially when it comes to topics I’m passionate about. I’m aware of the difference simply being a good listener can make and the pain not listening can cause. Because of her rebuke, I’m a better friend. I wouldn’t trade that uncomfortable conversation for the world. And when you humbly receive a rebuke and gain wisdom poured out on you, I know you won’t either.