In being rebuked, I’ve learned:
1. It is never an incorrect move to agree with someone who says I’m wrong. However, it is often an incorrect move to disagree with someone who says I’m wrong. The former will always grow me in humility and build the relationship. The latter will grow me in confidence (or arrogance) and will likely damage the relationship.
2. Apologizing is one of the most underrated opportunities in existence. Asking someone for forgiveness reminds me of my status with God and the mercy He shows me. Asking someone for forgiveness also offers that person the opportunity to be like Christ. It is an overt pleading that he do for me what God has done for him in granting him mercy.
3. People don’t feel comfortable rebuking one another. Thus, it takes great courage and care for a person to tell me I’m wrong, and (unless it’s some guy I don’t know telling me I’m going to burn in Hell because my shorts are too short) I should give my full attention and humility to the rebuke, assuming that my rebuker doesn’t want to be rebuking me.
4. It is never correct to point out my rebuker’s flaws. Even if I’m in a situation where the person rebuking me is wrong to do so… and I mean REALLY, 100%, obvious beyond even the slightest reasonable or unreasonable doubt wrong, there is no return-rebuke that’s good or right. It doesn’t matter how that person spoke to me; it doesn’t matter if that person is involved in open sin; it doesn’t matter if that person is a professing atheist. In the midst of a rebuke, it is always the wrong move to point out the rebuker’s flaws. Rebuke isn’t actually about the rebuker at all, and seeking to make it about him is a childish move. It’s a cowardly deflection.
5. People who rebuke one-another make excellent companions. There are some obvious exceptions, but the general character of the rebuker includes a rare courage and caring. It involves a sense of duty to both man and God, and it involves humility.
6. Rebuke is not the same as working through conflict. Rebuke requires a statement of wrong-doing. It is a push towards repentance and forgiveness. It is only to be used when there is clear-cut evidence of sin. Rebuke is far more serious than the vast majority of disagreements I have in my life, and I should respond to it as weighty.
I bring all of this up because I rebuked someone this week… over the Facebook thing… and I hate the feeling that comes in the wake of an unsuccessful rebuke. It’s been something like three years since I last rebuked someone, so I’m not used to the way it eats at me, although it ate at me that time too. I wish I was on the other end of the rebuke, actually, because one of the most painful things in life is watching someone I care for destruct, especially when there’s nothing that can be done in aid. The person just has to live it out for the time being.
I was reading Romans this morning, and chapter 7 has always been a confusing one for me. Scratch that – all of the things Paul writes about his relationship to the law confuse me. He writes such convoluted sentences sometimes, and I know they express something marvelous, but I can’t always access whatever that marvelous thing is, or sometimes I access it for a fleeting moment, and then I spend years trying to recapture that epiphany.
The passage that captured me today was towards the end of the chapter in v. 21-25:
“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”
There are several parts of this passage that resonate with me today. I don’t think I fully understand what Paul is saying here, and my thoughts get all jumbled because some of the verses seem to condemn me, while others justify me. Put through the filter of who and what I am at this very moment, I feel that the good I want to do wars with the evil that’s close at hand. Sometimes I feel that I am wretched. Other times, I feel completely at peace with it all because I’m confident in the cross. So, in many ways, this passage is about me. It’s the Bible, so it’s not more about me than it is about anyone else, but it’s important that I know it’s about me.
Then there are moments today when I filter the passage through the girl I rebuked. I don’t know if that’s a healthy thing to be doing… it sounds a little like the self-righteousness of sitting through a sermon and thinking about all of the people who need to hear the sermon because Pastor is talking about them. However, when I filter it through her, I actually just feel that ache of how difficult it is to allow ourselves to be wrong. How difficult it is to admit that we’re wretched. She dug in her heels against my rebuke, and I can feel that stubbornness, that hardness of heart. I intimately know the blockade I went up against in her. It’s a strong wall that won’t allow her to entertain the possibility that her good intentions are wrapped up in evil ones. I’ve been the person who says, and honestly believes, like she does, that I’ve examined my heart and that there is no sin in it. I’ve felt the pain that comes when I looked back and realized just how much sin was there that I was ignoring.
And after all of the thinking about rebuke and what it should be, how it is to be done… After reading Romans and filtering it through her and me, I’m left with the same ache I had before, during, and after the rebuke… the ache that wishes she wouldn’t keep throwing herself up against that stubborn blockade. I feel the ache that knows it’s far easier to ask God to destroy all that is in me that’s proud, self-assured, oh-so-very right – easier to ask Him to replace that stubborn wall with the righteousness of Christ… a righteousness that gave up a throne and authority in Heaven to be humiliated on behalf of sinners. And yet, my ache is also one that knows such a request of God only seems easy in retrospect. Really, asking that of God is so incredibly difficult.