At Grace Biblical Counseling Ministries we have formal biblical counseling sessions on-site every Thursday. Those meetings take place because people have sought us out for help, filled out paperwork regarding the issues they’re facing, and been matched with a trained biblical counselor. In these formal settings, it’s often much easier to speak truth to someone regarding sin in their lives than it might be in a less formal setting. Why? Well, just put yourselves in the counselor’s shoes: the person you’re meeting with has asked for your help, invited you to share the Word with them and apply it to them personally – they’re there precisely because they want your counsel. Now, lest I paint too rosy a picture here, I’ll say that broaching the subject of personal sin is by no means well-received every time. But, this kind of setting at least makes a biblical rebuke of sin less intimidating to perform.
Most Christians aren’t going to be formal biblical counselors who hold formal counseling sessions with others, though. So in those informal cases, when you see a believing friend or family member living in sin, how should you handle that? What is your responsibility, and what does biblical rebuke even look like? Sadly, I’m guessing that more of us have seen rebuke done wrong rather than have seen it done right, and that can lead us to avoid this important work at all costs.
Marshall Segal wrote a piece for Desiring God that can help us here. It’s called, “Do You Know How to Rebuke?” In it he says:
One reason rebuke is often underappreciated — in our own lives, and in many of our local churches — is because we have such small definitions for rebuke. If we are truly going to speak the hard truth in love — or appreciate when others say the hard thing to us — we need a bigger, fuller picture of what this kind of love looks like in relationships.
The article goes on to explain what this “bigger, fuller picture” looks like by diving deep into the meaning of Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:2, where he instructs his friend Timothy: “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
These three words – “reprove, rebuke, and exhort” – carry a lot of overlap, but the subtle differences between them help provide a richer understanding of how we can best speak truth in love to those in need. Consider the closing words of Segal’s article:
Satan would love for us to simplify rebuke to something small: “tell someone else they are wrong.” That kind of proud and shallow vision creates division, not delight in God. But God himself gives us a fuller vision for loving rebuke, with greater color and texture and warmth.
I highly recommend reading the full article, so that the next time you’re called to enter one of these difficult conversations, you can do it in a way that best reflects God’s design.