(taken from Living a Holy Life, pg. 11-16)
Second, we can be reproved by the Word of God through a private rebuke from a fellow believer. “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15). That little phrase “tell him his fault” is the word “reprove.” Go and reprove him personally, “But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established”‘ (v. 16).
Christ was talking here about personal confession and personal reconciliation between believers. The attitude of the person doing the rebuking must be one of love and patience. But if the sinning brother won’t listen to you or to the witnesses, then tell it to the church (v. 17). If he won’t listen to the church, then he will have to be disciplined. But our aim is not to win an argument. Our aim is to win a brother so that we can continue in fellowship.
We don’t like this kind of reproof, do we? At times someone has stopped me after a meeting and said privately, “Brother Wiersbe, I want to talk to you about something.” I had no idea that something I said in a sermon or something I did in a meeting had offended somebody. That person could have said nothing and let that offense fester and create trouble and spread poison in the Body of Christ. But, in Christian love and obedience and honesty, that person came to me privately and explained the problem to me and gave me the opportunity to make things right.
Psalm 141:5 is easier to read than it is to practice. “Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him reprove me; it shall be as excellent oil; let my head not refuse it.” We can read that and say, “Well, that’s all true for the other fellow, but what about me?” Do we really like it when we are reproved? No, we don’t; but we need it. It’s like having the doctor say, “You have an infection; we must take care of it. You have a tumor; we must operate.”
God says to us in Proverbs 1:23, ‘Turn at my reproof.” When God reproves us, whether it’s through His Word personally or through a brother’s or sister’s talking to us privately, we must turn at His reproof and obey Him. “Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you” (v. 23).
When we receive the reproving of God’s Word, God can share His Spirit with us and teach us more about His Word. Proverbs 25:12 says, “Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to an obedient ear.” Don’t rush out now and start reproving everybody! Be sure you are a wise reprover.
It is dangerous for us to reject honest and loving reproof. Let’s look at some warnings given to us in the Book of Proverbs. It’s possible for us to disdain God’s reproof. “Because you disdained all my counsel, and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity’ (1:25,26). If this person had listened to God’s reproof, the calamity would not have come; but he disdained God’s counsel and reproof. “They would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof” (v. 30). First we disdain God’s reproof, then we despise it. “He who keeps instruction is in the way of life, but he who refuses reproof goes astray” (10:17). Then we start to refuse it. “Don’t talk to me! I don’t want to hear it! All you do is preach to me!” Do you ever hear that from your children or grandchildren? Sometimes we who are ministering the Word of God hear that. “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (12:l). Eventually, we start to hate reproof. And then Proverbs 29:1 warns us that we can harden ourselves to reproof. “He who is often reproved, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”
The Word reproves us in our own personal reading and study. The Word reproves us when a fellow Christian privately rebukes us. Third, we might be reproved through the public ministry of the Word of God. Those of us who preach God’s Word are commanded in the Word of God to reprove those who listen to us. “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (II Tim. 4:1,2). Those who sin “rebuke [reprove] in the presence of all” Paul wrote to Timothy (I Tim. 5:20). But we must be sure our reproof is based on sound doctrine. “‘Holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict [reprove] those who contradict” Titus 1:9).
Finally, there is the reproving of the Word of God through God’s chastening. “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked [reproved] by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:5,6). Proverbs 3:11,12 tells us that whom the Lord loves He chastens, and we have a similar statement in Revelation 3:19. God chastens us the way a father chastens a son or daughter. Sometimes He has to chasten us to rebuke us. When He speaks to us in His Word, He speaks in loving counsel. When He speaks to us through the circumstances of life, He shouts at us! He wants to get our attention. Sometimes He uses pain, sometimes disappointment, sometimes circumstances that just seem to fall apart. But He does this because He loves us. He wants to assure us that we are His.
Anyone who professes to be a Christian but who keeps on disobeying the Lord will be chastened. If he is not chastened, he is not a Christian. The Word of God states that very clearly (Heb. 12:7,8). If you are not chastened, then you are not truly a believer.
God wants to mature us in His Word. If I know what the Bible says but do what I want to do, then my Father in heaven says, “No, you can’t do that.” He brings circumstances into my life to remind me that He is the Creator, and I am the creature. He is the Master, and I am the servant. He is the Father, and I am the child.
What should our response be to the chastening, or reproving, of God? Hebrews 12:5 describes two ways in which we must not respond. First, we are not to despise the chastening of the Lord. In other words, don’t treat it lightly Don’t look at it as something cheap – it’s very costly. Second, we are not to be discouraged by the chastening of the Lord. Here are two opposite extremes. We can despise it and go our own way, or we can be discouraged and just give up. But God says neither response is proper. The proper response is found in verse 7 – endure it and accept it. If you endure chastening, God will deal with you as His child. Verse 9 reminds us, “We have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?” The suggestion is that if we don’t submit, we may not live. There is a sin unto death. We should exercise ourselves to accept His chastening. Verse 11 gives us the results. “It yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained [exercised] by it.”
Whether it’s through our personal reading of the Word, private rebuke, the public ministry of the Word, or God’s personal chastening, let’s accept God’s reproof. Let’s grow in holiness.
© 2005 Warren W. Wiersbe
© 1989 by The Good News Broadcasting Association, Inc. All rights reserved.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).