Picking up where we left off yesterday, where do we begin to draw the line between the type of rebuking the Bible tells us we ought to do and the kind of judging which Jesus told us not to do? Let’s start by looking at some examples of rebukes given in the Bible.
Old Testament Rebukes
Out of fear, Abraham had sinfully allowed his wife Sarah to be taken into the harem of Abimelech, the king of Gerar. God intervened, however, and prevented the king from touching Sarah. Abimelech then rightly rebuked Abraham for this sin, which had potentially placed an entire nation in jeopardy. God ultimately worked through this encounter to bless both Abraham and the king. (see Genesis 20)
King David, who had been blessed by God with power, wealth, and abundance of every kind, committed adultery with the wife of one of his soldiers who’d been deployed in battle, and then plotted to have him killed so he could marry her to cover up his sin once she became pregnant. God spoke to the prophet Nathan, who delivered a very crafty rebuke to the king. David acknowledged and repented of his sin, but still had to pay the earthly consequences. (see 2 Samuel 12)
New Testament Rebukes
When Jesus taught his disciples that He must suffer and die, Peter expressed what was on the minds of all the disciples by telling Jesus that couldn’t possibly be true. Jesus looked at all the disciples (knowing it was not just Peter who was thinking that) and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” He followed this rebuke with a lesson (always Jesus’ pattern) about what it meant to be his follower. (see Matthew 16:21-28 and Mark 8:31-38)
Speaking of Peter… in the early life of the Church, Peter was one of the first men to teach that salvation was available to Gentiles as well as to Jews (see Acts 10:9-48). Later, however, he was guilty of hypocrisy when he allowed certain men from the circumcision party (Jewish believers who thought Gentiles must be circumcised and “live like Jews” in order to be saved) to persuade him to withdraw from fellowship with Gentile believers. Paul “opposed him to his face” because his “conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel” (see Galatians 2:11-14). Like Christ, Paul goes on to turn this into a teaching moment for the Galatians, who’d been taken in by similar false teaching.
Harshest Words Reserved for Teachers
So far, all of these examples have been rebukes of godly men who were guilty of sin and needed to be corrected. Of all the instances of rebuke we see in Scripture, though, the harshest and most cutting were reserved for false teachers, who abused or misrepresented God’s Word and led others astray.
Jesus was certainly not afraid to use forceful, blunt language. He saved his most abrasive language for false teachers. He called them “vipers” on several occasions (saying they were “evil” in Matthew 12:34 and bound for hell in Matthew 23:33), “whitewashed tombs” that looked nice on the outside but were rotten on the inside (Matthew 23:27), sons of Satan (John 8:44), and so forth.
Paul was similarly willing to call out false teachers. In Acts 13:10 he addressed a false prophet “you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy”. In 2 Corinthians 11, he tells the church in Corinth that the men who have been preaching to them are deceitful men disguising themselves as servants of righteousness because they are the servants of Satan. Most of the letter to the Galatians is used to point out the flaws of false teachers they’ve listened to. He tells the congregation that they are fools for listening to the false message, and tells the false teachers to castrate themselves.
This brings us back to the specific instance of rebuke which sparked this discussion. Some have felt that John MacArthur’s tone and language was too harsh when he spoke about Joel Osteen. But as we have seen here, harsh words have their place. This still leaves us with a few questions, though. Did MacArthur overstep his authority when he essentially called Osteen “Satanic”? Did he say anything untrue? Or with a wrong motive? Is Osteen really a false teacher?
Hopefully we’ll find answers to these questions as well later this week.