I have heard many Christians inform me that I should not make waves in a certain instance, or that I should restrain from 'rocking the boat' on different topics. A quick rebuttal that came to my mind in one of these instances was the following line: "It is perfectly fine to rock the boat so long as you're sure of the seaworthiness of your vessel". Although this thought was a quick and clever thought, I believe that it must be revised in order to align more fully with the doctrines of Scripture.
I will begin by defining precisely what I mean when I use the phrases 'Rocking the Boat' and 'Making Waves':
Both of these ideas insist that it is not right - and usually disorderly - for someone to disrupt the status quo, challenge a long held and/or popular view, or rebuke/reprove someone for an act or belief that they are practicing. I believe that the Bible promotes a practice of correction that is contrary to these views and I will strive to illuminate this principle in the light of Scripture.
The Christians Responsibility
The primary and forthright question that must be answered is this: Is it the Christians responsibility to rebuke or chastise someone? The Christian does have two direct commands from Jesus Christ that he is obliged to observe and obey at all times. The first being to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength", and the second is "you shall love your neighbor as yourself"(Mark 12:30-31 ESV). With this understanding we can see that in order that we promote both the love of God and the love of man, we must make known to our neighbor the faults that are displeasing to God, and hazardous to the wellbeing of their soul.
Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:1-5 the following exhortation:
"1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." (ESV)
It is very evident in this passage that while preaching the word is Paul's first and foremost desire, as Christians Paul states that we also have the responsibility to reprove, rebuke, and exhort one another. Notice though how we are to do these things. We must do them with complete patience and teaching. It is because the people will not endure sound teaching that they will have itching ears which will cause them to accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. Looking at the following passages we see further instances of the Christians responsibility to rebuke:
"20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear." (1 Timothy 5:20 ESV)
"13 ..Therefore rebuke them sharply..." (Titus 1:13b ESV)
"15...exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you." (Titus 2:15b ESV)
It is a common theme among Paul's Epistles and throughout the New Testament that as Christians we should strive to keep each other pure in the faith. 1 Thessalonian 2:11-12 says:
"11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory." (ESV)
Clearly it is both the responsibility and duty of every Christian to exhort, encourage, and charge fellow believers to walk in a manner worthy of God, for as Christians we must take a stand for the truth whenever a doctrine contrary to Scripture is being taught. Therefore let us examine how we are to exercise these responsibilities while reproving are brothers and sisters in Christ.
In order to rebuke someone, there are three thing that must remain pure at all times else we ourselves are in the wrong. First our motives and purpose for this rebuke must be pure, secondly, our actions and application of rebuke must be in love, and thirdly we must desire the strengthening of faith as the final outcome of the rebuke.
Let us begin by examining what our motivation for rebuke should be in accordance with Scripture. Paul explains what our motivation should be in 1 Timothy 5:20-21 & also in Titus 1:13:
"20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality." (1 Timothy 5:20-21 ESV)
"13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith," (Titus 1:13 ESV)
Our priority in rebuke must not be personal vendetta, nor an attempt to slander an individual. The most important purpose of rebuke is that they may be sound in the faith, and the rest may stand in fear. The purpose of rebuke is to strengthen the faith of the one who is doing wrong, and establish the fear of the Lord in the body of Christ. 1 Thessalonian 3:2 declares:
"2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions." (ESV)
As long as we are God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, it is our duty to exhort fellow believers in the faith.
Application of Love
Now the question must be raised; how do we exhort fellow believers in the faith and reprove them for the practice of incorrect doctrine? And how do we approach this responsibility in a loving way so that we maintain a good conscience and pure character before God?
The Proverbs have many instances of reproving others, so let us examine them so that we may attain the knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures:
"8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man, and he will love you." (Proverbs 9:8 ESV)
"25 Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence;
reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge." (Proverbs 19:25 ESV)
"12 Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
is a wise reprover to a listening ear. (Proverbs 25:12 ESV)
As we are talking about application it must be noted that one does not reprove or rebuke everyone in the same manner. As noted in the proverbs there is no need to reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, but a man who is wise will except reproof, and he will love you for he will be wiser. The one in Scripture who is called a 'scoffer' or 'mocker' is the one that is a quintessential fool. He is a stubborn man who will not yield his own will, nor will he accept sound teaching, or believe that there is a definite right or wrong. He is the one who has said in his heart "there is no God". This is a man who's only hope lies in a beating, which may or may not result in the desired affect, but the simple will learn prudence through the discipline of the scoffer. It is the wise however who gain knowledge from a wise rebuke.
The fifth chapter of 1 Timothy explains how one is to rebuke different age and gender groups:
"1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father. Treat younger men like brothers, 2 older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity." (1 Timothy 5:1-2 ESV)
First, verse one is not saying that we should abstain from ever correcting an older man, but that we must be respectful in our approach and presentation of our rebuke. This is evidenced in the book of Job when Elihu rebukes Job's three friends who are much older than himself. Second, young men must be regarded as brothers of whom we should have a loving affection and great care for their spiritual well being. We must strive to encourage and exhort them in the purest faith. Thirdly, older women must be treated and respected as mothers. We must strive to please them and assist them in everything; this is our Christian duty. Fourthly, it is our obligation to treat younger women like sisters, in all purity. In no wise should any man try to force his doctrine or beliefs on a young women. When someone does this without going through the Father, they are usurping the authority of the young womens Father and Mother, for she is commanded by God to honor and obey them, not you.
It can thereby be established that the Christians duty is to reproof and rebuke another in the spirit of love and respect for that is what we owe both them and the Lord.
As discussed breifly in the section on motivation, the outcome for which we strive in our rebuke and reproof must be the strengthening faith of the one who receives our correction. Let us quickly review why we should reprove and rebuke one another, and then examine what the goal of our outcome should be. Look at Titus 1:10-14:
"10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth." (ESV)
Cretans in the days of Paul were well known for being liars, evil, beasts, and lazy gluttons as it is confirmed by one of their own prophets. Paul also states that their are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, that are upsetting whole families by teaching thing that they ought not to teach, and they are doing this for shameful gain. Since this testimony [was] true, Titus was instructed to rebuke them sharply. Furthermore, Paul states in Titus 2:15 that Titus should exhort and rebuke with all authority, and that he should not let [any]one disregard [him]:
"15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you." (Titus 2:15 ESV)
We have the responsibility and duty as a Christian to sharply rebuke those who are practicing doctrines that are contrary to Scripture while maintaining a spirit of brotherly love, with the desire that they may be sound in faith. This should be our goal all throughout the process of rebuke. If we loose sight of this goal, we have failed to be an instrument of truth through the grace of God.
Responding to Rebuke
I must take a moment to reflect on the opposite side of the coin; How is one supposed to receive rebuke? To answer this we must once again understand the nature of rebuke. For a Christian rebuke is a blessing because it is from rebuke that we attain wisdom and gain understanding. I found 13 references in Proverbs that specifically dealt with listening to instruction, but in order to draw this article to a close, let it suffice for me to quote three of them:
"15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
but a wise man listens to advice." (Proverbs 12:15 ESV)
"32 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence." (Proverbs 15:32 ESV)
"20 Listen to advice and accept instruction,
that you may gain wisdom in the future." (Proverbs 19:20 ESV)
It is for our own benefit that we should listen to the advise, instruction, and reproof of others so that we may obtain a strengthening in our own faith & knowledge.
In conclusion I wish to revise my original rebuttal of "It is perfectly fine to rock the boat so long as you're sure of the seaworthiness of your vessel" to the following;
"It is perfectly acceptable for me to rock your boat as long as my primary motivation is to ensure and establish your faith in the seaworthiness of your vessel."