Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Proverbs 27:5
Receiving rebuke makes me feel devalued. Giving rebuke fills me with fear and trepidation. Misunderstandings about rebuke generate negative thoughts about it. Rebuke is often thought of as criticizing someone, pointing out faults, and positioning them in to a corner. I’ve been on the receiving end of such an approach. That understanding of rebuke is false.
True rebuke is better than "hidden love." Hidden love is overlooking faults, destructive behavior, and spiritual danger someone might be in. Hidden love is fear. Hidden love is turning a blind eye to bad behavior and offensive speech. Hidden love is not love. It is fear and cowardice.
Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III say, "Rebuke is bringing truth to bear in a person’s life in the hope he will repent so the relationship can be restored" (Bold Love [Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1992], p. 181). Genuine rebuke is not cold criticism, faultfinding, or positioning someone in a corner. That perception of rebuke actually works against what true rebuke is supposed to accomplish.
If true rebuke is better than "hidden love," then rebuke is "open and honest" love. True rebuke is loving a person enough that you will confront them with danger and unchristian behavior in their lives. If you enter into someone’s life to rebuke them, it means you care enough about them to risk losing them. Even if you rebuke someone in kindness, love, patience, and gentleness, you risk being rejected and hurt by them.
Rebuke is bringing truth to bear in a person’s life because things in their life are not right. They need to repent. They need restoration with themselves, with others, and with God. Rebuke intends to save a person’s life and soul.
Rebuke can be very direct and forceful as when Peter told Simon to, "Repent of [your] wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I can see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin" (Acts 8:22–23). Peter’s approach is certainly open and honest! Simon was in great danger! He tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit with money. Peter knew that degrading any part of the Godhead by reducing him to a material value was blasphemous and dangerous to one’s soul. Hidden love would have kept quiet and allowed Simon to go on thinking he was fine, even when his soul was destined for death. Open and honest love demanded Peter to speak the truth for Simon’s own good.
Rebuke can be indirect and subtle. A king took another man’s wife and had her husband killed. The preacher wanted to rebuke the king but had to be careful for his own life! So he told the story of a rich man who stole a poor man’s lamb and served it up as dinner. The king was furious and said the rich man ought to be killed! The preacher said, "Thou art the man." Nathan, the preacher, brought truth to bear to the king, David. Though indirect and subtle, this approach enabled the king to see his misdeeds.
In both stories, the men rebuked saw their error and the tragic state of their hearts and repented. Both men were restored to God and experienced restoration in other relationships. Is there someone in your life you see involved in destructive behavior: drinking too much, stifling the joy of others with a critical spirit, lying, and ignoring their own bad behavior? You are hurt by them. You are concerned for their soul. For too long you have kept silent. You have practiced "hidden love." But hidden love really isn’t love; it is fear. Better is open rebuke that is practiced with love and kindness. Real love risks the loss of another to bring truth to bear in their lives but carries with it the hope of repentance and restoration. True rebuke is possible because we trust in God’s grace to grant forgiveness and restore relationships.
(From Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks and Other Gems From Proverbs, hopefully to be released later this month!)