THE MINISTRY OF REBUKE

Paul and Barnabas were called by God, and commissioned by the early church, to go to Cyprus on a preaching tour. On the island of Paphos, the deputy of the country named Sergius Paulus, desired to hear the word of God. So he called for Paul and Barnabas. But there was a sorcerer named Barjesus, (or Elemas), who withstood the evangelistic duo and sought to turn the deputy from the faith. The response of Paul to this demonized sorcerer is worthy of consideration.

“Then… Paul… filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him (Barjesus), And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord” (Acts 13:9-12).

Note the pointed response of the Spirit-filled apostle to Barjesus—he REBUKED him to the face. He called him a “child of the devil” and “enemy of all righteousness.” Strong words indeed! Paul called him out for resisting the gospel and attempting to pervert the ways of God. What happened next was amazing. Following this strong reproach the sorcerer was smitten with blindness for a season. And when the deputy witnessed this spectacle, he believed on the Lord Jesus, and was converted. When Paul publicly delineated the difference between truth and error by rebuking Barjesus, it convicted and convinced Paulus of the truth of the gospel. God’s power descended, and the gospel was received.

We live in an age where correction is despised, and most all rebuke is loathed. But Scripture makes plain there is a time and place for rebuke. 

“Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.”(1 Tim. 5:20) 
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”(2 Tim. 4:2) 
“This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.” (Titus 1:13)
“These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority.” (Titus 2:15) 

Ours is the age of accommodation. Failing to authoritatively rebuke error has landed the major denominations in utter apostasy. The seeds of “WOKE-NESS” were sown decades ago when weak leaders chose to forego all “rebuke” in their own movements. Pulpit pansies acted more like game-show hosts than spokesmen for the most-high God. Intentionally failing to mark the contrast between the holy and the profane has led to moral chaos in churches, as well as the culture. Doctrinal deviation and moral deviance, when not confronted, leads to division. How many congregations have experienced ugly splits because of non-confrontational leaders who refused to address doctrinal and moral issues? These genial weaklings are responsible for untold damage to scores of souls.

Scores of so-called “bible-believing” congregations have lost the power of God by ignoring and covering sin. The refusal to draw moral lines is a travesty, and blasphemy of the worst sort. In a culture of compromise those who point out error are deemed problematic instead of the perpetrators and leaders who cowardly refuse to act biblically. Turning a blind eye to evil will not bode well at the Judgement Seat. Going along to get along may be the easiest path now, but it will be devastating on that day. 

Thank the Lord for the faithful shepherds who stand up for truth and right. One local church had an incident of sexual abuse on the church property. The pastor and church took steps to deal with situation, as they should have. When no repentance resulted from the parents and teen perpetrator, the pastor stood before the church and announced that their church would not tolerate such behavior. The pastor stood up, spoke up, and in no uncertain terms rebuked wickedness. This is exactly what Paul said to do, “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” When private confrontation is rebuffed, it is time for public rebuke. This serves as a warning and inhibits further sinful behavior.

Failing to confront moral evil within a church body encourages more of the same. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Eccles. 8:11). I believe the lack of accountability in society can be traced to the lack of accountability in the faith community. Children who grow up in compromised churches see through the sham. Small wonder they check out when they turn eighteen. “Truth-talk” without “truth-walk” is correctly understood as insincerity and sheer hypocrisy. Inconsistency and cowardice go hand in hand. Though rare, church discipline cannot be discarded under the guise of so-called “grace.”

American Christianity has been neutered through decades of spineless leadership. Spiritual powerlessness is a high price to pay for disobeying biblical mandates. Reproving (convincing), rebuking (admonishing), and exhorting (encouraging) with patience and doctrine is the scriptural norm, not the exception (2 Tim. 4:2). 

Jesus loved sinners enough to eat and converse with them. He was gentle enough that children sat on His knee. But Jesus was bold and zealous enough to throw the moneychangers out of the Temple. His strongest rebukes went to the Jewish religious establishment. His rebukes did not go over well, but He did it anyway! 

“Blind leaders of the blind” (Matt. 15:14). 
“Blind guides (Matt. 23:16). 
“Hypocrites… whited sepulchers… full of dead men’s bones…” (Matt. 23:17).

Godly people do not thrive on controversy and contention. Godly leaders do not relish rebuke and discord. Nevertheless, there is a time and a place for the ministry of rebuke. God’s name and reputation are more important than all earthly considerations. The fear of God must trump the fear of man. Regardless of outcomes, it is always the “right thing” to do the “right thing,” even when it is not easy and pleasant. 

Like Paul, we need the filling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:9) to navigate life’s sticky situations, both personally and corporately. Speaking up and standing up was the key to the powerful evangelistic harvest in the early church. And without doubt distinguishing truth from error today will enrage some; but it will also engage others to consider the gospel. 

God give us lion-hearted leaders who have the courage to obey the Word of God and their convictions. We must “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Harold Vaughan

 

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