Rebuke First

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” -Luke 17:3b-4, NIV


Some may argue from these words that forgiveness does not happen unless the offender asks for it.

I am not going to make that argument here as other places (e.g. Mt 6:14-15, Mt 18:21ff, etc) suggest we need to do this for our own spiritual benefit. However, I do grant that the Luke text is suggestive of the need for the offender to ask or seek forgiveness. That aside, what I am going to do is point out is the need to rebuke in the forgiveness process. I see this as often missing in Christina circles.

We are quick to jump to forgiveness and skip over the rebuking step outlined here.

Somehow, the many Christians has gotten to a place where confrontation is avoided at all costs. It is almost as if calling someone on their wrongful actions is worse than the sinful actions themselves. Directness is treated as harshness as opposed to important surgery.

How unloving! You have sin in your life, too. How dare you confront me about this!

Such a response says a great deal about the person responding. They are responding in the flesh and with a very hard-heart. A person with a soft heart cares about when they wound other people. I believe Jesus gives us these instructions to rebuke a person sinning against us as a grace to the one sinning against us. It gives them the opportunity to choose to do the right thing. And it benefits the wronged person as well (more on that below).

Now, I do not see Jesus telling us to keep on rebuking. I see it as a one-time event. Then the escalation outlined as  church discipline  ought to kick in for Christians (see Mt 18:15-17).

All of this is done if it is safe to do so or in a way that is physically safe. And even if one can no longer rebuke the person for whatever reason (e.g. they are dead, it is unwise, or it was already done with them responding poorly), I still encourage faithful spouses and others dealing with deeply wounding sin like adultery to write out what was done to him/her and how it impacted him/her. You can do that physical act to actually see the wrong happened and to see what you are releasing to God.

This is how rebuking actually helps the offended party: Rebuking allows the offended party to express what happened and how they were negatively impacted by the sin. Like journaling, it gets it out. We are embodied creatures, and God understands how important it is for us to express out emotions/pain. It is not good for it to sit inside of us and fester. And it is important to acknowledge the a wrong happened before “forgiving” or we run the danger of suppressing the pain/wrong instead of really forgiving it.

Rebuking in one way or another is important.

Don’t skip over it on your way to forgiveness whether that mean writing it out for yourself or having a hard conversation.