A missioner in South America writes: “I sometimes preach messages of rebuke to people who tend to be lackadaisical in their walk. How do I do this with a balance helpful to the hearer and pleasing to God?”
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The New Testament Scriptures themselves certainly contain various rebukes — for indifference, failure to grow and learn, immoral conduct, improper attitudes and twisting the gospel. When contemporary life circumstances parallel the circumstances to which such scriptural rebukes are addressed, I believe that it is appropriate for us to repeat and apply those scriptural rebukes.
We should remember, however, that Scripture contains far more positive incentive than negative rebuke. Most people are motivated more by encouragement, and especially by understanding the grace of God and his promises, than by being hit over the head. In quest of the balance we both seek, I think we would do well to measure our own teaching, preaching and conversation by that scriptural ratio of positive encouragement versus negative rebuke. It is also helpful to remember that while perfection is the goal, even its partial attainment embraces a lifetime.
It goes without saying that when rebuke is necessary it is to be motivated by sincere love, expressed in humility and gentleness, couched in awareness of one’s own shortcomings and need for God’s grace, complemented by positive expressions of love and support. We also need to remember that we are not called to make people behave, only to model, teach and encourage them to do so. As a young preacher 35 years ago, I suffered needless anxiety and frustration before I learned to accept that truth. That said, perhaps these thoughts will help us achieve godly balance and constructive results as we seek to guide those whom God has committed to our charge.