Let’s talk about reproof. Yeah, I know, not a very popular topic, but it merits discussion as the Word of God talks about it. I will attempt to answer some common questions about why it is important that a church actively practices biblical reproof.
When should I reprove someone?
Go for restoration, not revenge.
When someone has wronged you, and your heart is right toward that person, reproof is the next step. How do you know if your heart is right in reproving someone? Ask yourself, “Do I want to speak to this person for a sense of revenge and justice? Or do I genuinely care about this individual and want to see her free from entrapment in this particular sin?” If you can honestly answer with the latter, then the next right thing is to go to that person in love. If you attempt to reprove someone out of anger or a need for revenge or the desire to put that person in her place, it is likely to go really really poorly, leaving more hurt feelings and bitterness than before. The goal of reproof should always be restoration and never revenge.
What if that Person does not Respond Well?
If you have already spent time praying for this person, and you are certain that your motivation in talking to this person is coming out of a love for God and for them as well as a desire to see them grow, change, and benefit, then you have no business worrying about how they will respond. How you reprove someone is your deal. How someone responds to it is their deal. The only time that there is an exception to this general principle is when someone has a stacked history of blowing up in response to loving rebuke. In such cases, perhaps it is better simply to pray for that person. I’m not claiming to be an authority on this. This is just my thought. If you find yourself wronged by someone and with a heart that genuinely has that person’s best interest at heart, but that person has a history of blowing up in the face of loving reproof, I might consider talking to a pastor or elder before you make a decision about what you are going to do.
What if someone reproves me, but I really don’t think I did anything wrong?
This can happen. Perhaps you did something wrong, perhaps you did not. But either way, this person is coming to you saying that you have offended or sinned. The first thing to do is to remain calm. Give the person coming to you the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they are coming to you out of love and genuine concern for your well-being. Then ask yourself, “Is there any morsel of truth to what they are saying?” If there is, acknowledge it and commit to bring that area of your life before Jesus. If you believe that what you have done was the right choice, at least commit to praying about it and asking God to search your heart. Always thank the person for being concerned for your well-being and for your spiritual life and growth. Even if this person came to you with an angry and vengeful heart, they will likely be taken aback by your humble response, and you will have helped move the relationship toward restoration.
Lack of Reproof leads to Gossip
Gossip usually doesn’t happen because someone wakes up one day and decides they are going to slander someone and turn people against them for no reason. Gossip usually happens because someone has felt hurt, maybe even violated. It happens because people want to feel validated. They want someone to hear their side of the story and to sympathize with them. It is rarely as malicious as you might think. Gossip usually comes from hurting hearts- hurting hearts that have not been restored to the person who hurt them. When someone is hurt and prays to God for help in forgiveness, makes his heart right toward the person who hurt him, and goes to the person in love, gossip has no chance. It is stamped out before it even begins. A church free of gossip is a beautiful thing. But even when gossip does happen, you can still apply all of these same principles of reproof and go to that person. Otherwise, you will end up gossiping about someone who was gossiping. A bit hypocritical, wouldn’t you say?
I don’t like confrontation. Why should I bother?
Because if you don’t, Bitterness has opportunity to rule in your heart.
Without active reproof, churches will fall apart as bitterness festers in hearts. Members will come and go, but few will remain and see the fruit that comes from lasting relationships. When people wrong us, we have a few choices. We can try to forget about it and act like it never happened. But even if we forgive the person who hurt us, we will not have the opportunity for a deeper relationship with them, and all of our friendships will remain surface level.
We can let it fester and grow bitter. Now, this is obviously not the right choice, but unfortunately it is the one many people choose because it just sort of feels good to hang on to that resentment. Too often, people intend to forgive and move on, but they never actually forgive. As much as they intended to forgive….as much as they wanted to forgive….when they hear that person’s name, they cringe. When they see that person in the lobby at church, they look the other way. A person who leaves enough bitterness to fester in his soul will, when once enough people in the church have wronged him, eventually leave and start the whole process over at a new church, thinking there will be better people there when the truth is, the problem was in his heart all along. The only real solution to deal with someone who has wronged you is reproof. Reproof, when done in a biblical manner, restores and deepens relationships, builds trust, and keeps a church functioning together for the long hall.
“Faithful are the Wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6