Recently Ruthie and I were sitting in a Bible study class. Not large; maybe a dozen or fifteen. Although it was off-topic of the material being studied, the teacher raised a question that got everyone’s attention: When is it appropriate for one Christian to rebuke another? he asked.
Rebuke is a rather strident word and I think we were all dredging for the “right” answer. The loving answer. The Jesus answer. We’ve probably all seen it done wrong. I’ve written earlier in this space about a young adult who came to our church to provide a vocal solo during the worship service. The song was not inappropriate, but one lady took offense, arose from her seat, went to the back of the room and stood with her hands over her ears. I wondered what her answer might be to the teacher’s question today. Fortunately, she wasn’t there today. Incidentally, the guest, Lee, hasn’t been back, either.
One of my favorite quotes from a counselor I trust says, “Only by love is love awakened.” I think that answers the teacher’s question. In a recent study, the George Barna organization learned that the #1 reason people cite today for not attending church is because they sense an atmosphere of judgmentalism. And that’s especially true if the church group has high standards. And doesn’t understand grace.
But what if people are being intentionally disobedient…don’t I have a responsibility to call them on that and warn them of the consequences if they don’t change their ways? Fortunately we have a New Testament template (which is different from the Old Testament strategy) on how to deal with that. I mean, it’s hard to find a more blatant case of “intentional disobedience” than Jesus dealt with as the story unfolds in the first few verses of John 8. This little lady had been caught in the very act of adultery. Some “helpful” members brought her in and stood her before the group. Surely Jesus would reprimand her for what she had done. Listen: “…Neither do I condemn you…” He would call her to a life of obedience, but not before He had totally put her heart at peace over her past. See, our past is not important; what He does about it, is.
What this crowd didn’t understand was that when you’ve sinned, the safest place to be is standing in front of Jesus. Or His church. He told His parents early-on, “I must be about My Father’s business.” And My Father is in the restoration business. And so is His church.
By Don Jacobsen