Anatomy of a Rebuke, Part 1

Last week I posted video of a stern, pointed rebuke of Joel Osteen by John MacArthur. Based on comments on this blog and others which have posted the same video, it seems that there are many people who question whether it is okay for one pastor to rebuke and/or pronounce judgment upon another. The reasoning seems to be that since Jesus said we should not judge others (Matthew 7:1), that what MacArthur did is inappropriate, or if nothing else, at least the manner in which he issued the rebuke was harsher than necessary (see Matthew 7:2).

John MacArthur certainly doesn’t need me to come to his defense, so I’m not going to. What I would like to do, though, is take this opportunity to look at Scripture to see what the Bible says about rebuking and judging others. Is there difference between a “rebuke” and “judgment”? If so, which was MacArthur doing? Is there Scriptural support for what he said and how he said it? These are just some of the questions I’ll address this week. Today, we’ll just look at some general definitions and observations.

Christians Are to Rebuke

Whatever one might feel about MacArthur’s tirade against Osteen, hopefully we can all agree that, whatever a “rebuke” is, the Bible says that Christians are to do it, at least in some instances.

The Psalmist writes that the rebuke of a righteous man is a kindness, “it is oil for my head” (Psalm 141:5). Many proverbs teach that a rebuke is something by which wise men profit, and is a way for a friend to demonstrate love (Proverbs 17:10, Proverbs 27:5-6, Proverbs 28:23, Ecclesiastes 7:5). Jesus both rebuked his disciples (Mark 16:14) and told them to rebuke those who sin (Luke 17:3). Paul instructed young pastors Timothy and Titus to be ready to rebuke others “in the presence of all”, “sharply”, “with patience”, “with teaching”, and “with all authority” (1 Timothy 5:20, 2 Timothy 4:2, Titus 1:13, Titus 2:15). The ability to deliver a rebuke to those who contradict sound doctrine is a criterion for selection as an elder (Titus 1:9).

Of course, there are also instances in Scripture when Jesus was upset that his disciples had rebuked others (Mark 10:13-15), so a rebuke is obviously not always an appropriate response. Still, we have to acknowledge that there are appropriate times for and forms of rebuke.

So what is a rebuke?

Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines rebuke in terms of Scripture as “chastisement, punishment; affliction for the purpose of restraint and correction”. A rebuke, if it is to be biblical, must be done out of love for the one being rebuked and/or those affected by his sin, with the purpose of restraint and correction of sin.

Judgment vs. Judgments

What about judgment? It’s true that Jesus said that we shouldn’t judge, and that God alone is the righteous judge. But does this mean that there is no judging role allotted to Christians at all? In other words, is there a difference between FINAL judgment, which belongs to God alone, and individual judgments concerning someone’s eternal destination which Christians ARE able to pronounce?

We’ll flesh this question out more later this week, but for now I think the short answer has to be “yes”. Take, for instance, an Islamic imam. Are Christians qualified to pronounce judgment on him? Can we say that his message is false, and that he and his followers are going to Hell if they do not repent and believe in Christ, or can God alone make that judgment?

Every time a Christian says that those who do not repent of their sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ will spend eternity in Hell, we make this type of judgment. Professing Christians who are not universalists make this sort of judgment all the time, and I believe that the Bible is clear that this is one of the primary obligations for pastors.

What remains to be seen, then, is where we draw the line between prophetically pronouncing judgment upon lost sinners on the authority of Scripture, and the type of judging which is reserved for God alone. We’ll pick it up there next time.

Proceed to Part 2

2 comments on “Anatomy of a Rebuke, Part 1

  1. Jeff White says:

    Good posts. I thought it was just me re: Osteen.

  2. Gray Bach says:

    I think that if one looks at Matthew 7:1 and 7:2, then one has to also look at Matthew 7:5…(NCV) “You hypocrite! First, take the wood out of your own eye. Then you will see clearly to take the dust out of your friend’s eye.” The popular, politically correct thinking of our day is that Jesus said “Do not judge anyone, for anything…EVER.” “Always mind your own business.” But, Matthew 7:5 says to me that one has to be abiding in God’s will to judge, and then do it humbly and justly. Jesus never told us not to judge. He said to do it the correct, Biblical way. And certainly I think that John MacArthur is abiding in God’s will. I have heard other preachers call out someone from the pulpit, and it was not done humbly and justly. It was done for self-fulfillment and pride and to make oneself look good. John MacArthur seems to be doing this in the Spirit.
    And as far as John MacArthur rebuking/judging Joel Osteen, Revelation 2:2 I think addresses that. (NCV) “I know what you do, how you work hard and never give up. I know you do not put up with the false teachings of evil people. You have tested those who say they are apostles, but really are not, and you have found they are liars….”

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