“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)
This year when my son came home from the University of Hawaii, Manoa to spend the holidays with us, he had the chance to minister at our church. The last time he preached for me was in my absence, when my wife and I were away, so while I had heard the recording I was not there to hear him in person. This time I was front and center. While he said he was conscious of my presence, you would have never known it from his natural delivery and excellent presentation.
I was quick to tell him what a great job he had done, and when he asked me for some constructive criticism I was equally ready with my answer. Yes, I had some pointers for him. After thirty years as a communicator you learn a few things, and I shared some ideas that I believed would be a help to him. I knew he would be glad for the constructive criticism and would use it to become an even better communicator.
Giving my advice to him was easy for a couple of reasons. First, I knew he really wanted to hear it, because he genuinely wants to improve. Secondly, I knew he would know where the input was coming from: the love of a dad who wants to see his son achieve his highest potential in anything God has called him to do.
That is how God feels about us, and that is why He won’t leave us alone. Throughout our lives God will have some things to say to us when we put ourselves in a position to listen. What we do with what He has to say will determine whether we improve to become the people He’s called us to be or whether we continue to inhabit the already crowded space occupied by those who would rather stay where they are than make the adjustments necessary to fulfill God’s highest and best for their lives.
What I had to say to my son did not involve rebuke or any severe correction; just some simple tips for helping him to communicate more effectively. However, in today’s cultural climate, many have become so sensitive and thin-skinned that any criticism, even that which is designed to bring greater blessing to ones life, is seen to be mean-spirited and hurtful. Rather than looking to hear truth that can cause us to overcome our limitations, many today would rather make excuses for their mediocrity and limit themselves to an unfulfilled potential. We don’t do criticism well as a people anymore. Consequently, the calibre of people we produce is less than what it was in days gone by when people understood that there were standards that others had a right to expect from us. For the believer, any avoidance of instruction that exposes our weaknesses and seeks to motivate us to lift our game to God’s best is inexcusable.
“And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.’” (Hebrews 12:5-6)
Growth involves change. We cannot grow if we are unwilling to change, and we cannot change unless we are first confronted with those areas of our lives where improvement has to be made. This should be obvious since it’s the same logic we would apply to the student in school, the new employee on a job, or just about any other field of endeavor where we are expected to learn and grow. Why should the Christian life be any different?
Often, the rub comes in how God brings his chastisement. It might be easier to take if the Almighty would condescend to come down on a cloud and deliver the news Himself, but more often than not, He uses other imperfect people to speak into our lives. This happens in several ways:
AT CHURCH: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I’ll never forget the day as a traveling minister when I was sitting in a church service listening to a message my pastor was ministering. That sermon was finding every gap in my defenses. Sometimes the Word can be like the plaque rinse I saw advertised on television years ago that claimed it “got into all the hard to reach areas!” That’s what the Word is supposed to do (see Hebrews 4:12-13). As the message continued to find its target in my already smarting heart, I began to wax defensive and harden my heart to the rebuke. It’s easy enough for any of us to do when we’re being confronted with areas of our lives we need to examine. Later, when studying the above referenced passage in Hebrews, the Lord brought that instance back to my memory and said to me, “That’s what you did. You despised the chastening of the Lord!” God may use human agency, but it is He who is doing the chastening though His Word. When we harden ourselves and become unteachable it is not man that we are rejecting, but God.
THROUGH RELATIONSHIPS: Ephesians 4:15 says that by “speaking the truth in love” to one another, we “grow up into…Christ.” Some people think speaking in love means never saying anything that could possibly offend, but while different friends may have varying styles of delivery, only we can choose whether we’ll be offended or listen for the voice of God in what they have to say to us. Obviously, there will be those who will use any opportunity to tell you how they think you should be living your life, but there are also those whom God has placed in our life to help us get over the sticking points in our character and behavior. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know when those voices are speaking, and we must choose to “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save (our) souls.” (see James 1:21). None of us have arrived yet, and God will invest into us by raising up those who have a platform to speak into our lives when we are blind, or simply refuse to see, areas where our walk with God needs improving.
IN PRAYER AND DEVOTION: God speaks to His children today. You may never hear a voice, per se, but every child of God should know that inward conviction that confronts us in those quiet times when we’re giving God the floor to speak to our hearts. Sometimes it will be a verse that seems to be lifted off the page to bring light to our darkened heart, exposing areas in our lives where change needs to be made in order for us to continue in that upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
I have sat through more conversations than I can number where things were shared with me that I felt needed to be addressed with some kind of correction. Very often I have said little. Sometimes that has been wisdom, as the individual was not ready to hear what needed to be said anymore than I was that day in church when I tried to shut out the message my pastor was preaching. However, other times I have to believe I remained silent because I didn’t want to put myself in a position to be misunderstood or thought critical. If God rebukes us because of the great love He has for us, then failing to share truth that can spare a brother or sister from much heartache can be a lack of love on our part.
Love does not always wear velvet gloves. Sometimes God can speak in an undeniably convincing way that sets us aback and may even sting, if that is what is needed to get our attention. Paul told Timothy to “Preach the word…Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2). God will tailor the delivery to our need, and He may just use someone in our life who loves us enough to risk our wrath to get the message across. Again, we are the only ones who can choose to let the Word of God do it’s work in us or deflect all constructive opportunities to change and grow. Remember, not everyone loves you enough to tell you the truth. The Bible warns us of that when it says, “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:6, NLT). One of my favorite preachers has often said, “When someone is buttering you up, they’re getting ready to take a bite.” Not every voice of flattery is meant to serve our best interests, and most of us know that confronting a friend with truth is not the most enviable task, so when we do find a faithful friend who is willing to take the chance to truly help us grow, we need to thank God for the gift He has given us. After all, only a God who doesn’t care how we end up would fail to correct us when we need it.
“As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all.” (Hebrews 12:7-8, NLT)