When should we rebuke and when should we show meekness and gentleness?

Jesus rarely used strong words 

There are only a few occasions in the Bible where we can see Jesus using some ”strong words” and where he called people ”names”, but unfortunately these rare occasions are often used by christians to justify their own usage of strong wordings and bad names whenever they feel like using them and regardless of circumstances.   What about all other cases where Jesus did not use such strong words and simply corrected people with gentleness? If we are supposed to throw insults around us when preaching and call people names, then it’s odd that the Bible doesn’t seem to encourage this kind of behavior, and Jesus himself didn’t act that way. Maybe it’s just ONE particular sermon (Matt. 23:13-33) which people use to support their own sometimes harsh behavior when evangelizing. 

Once Jesus did turn over of the money changers’ table but this is only one example (and an unusual one) where Jesus took severe actions, and he had good reasons to be upset when these people turned the temple of God into a house of merchandise (den of thieves).  Jesus had the right to cleanse his own Father’s house.  We are never told to act in a similar way. We are not told to enter a church and grab a christmas tree we might find there and throw it out while shouting that the entire church must repent. If we would like people to LISTEN to us and IMPROVE, there are likely better ways to handle such situations.  It’s a risk that our gospel causes a stir even if we are nothing but polite and respectful, so to make matters worse by being insulting or loud doesn’t make much sense. We would risk to find closed doors instead of open doors, when we try to reach people.

It’s true that Jesus called certain scribes and pharisees (and lawyers as per the gospel of Luke) for ”hypocrites” and ”fools and blind”, but he made sure to explain why he felt they were so both they and other listeners would understand the reasoning and the risks involved, and so they would LEARN something. There are lots of negative things we could call a person and we wouldn’t necessarily be unbiblical by doing so, like calling someone greedy, slanderous, lazy, argumentative, proud, dishonest, etc but we would be in error if we used these adjectives without legitimate reasons and without explaining WHY. It’s not always clever to put words on what we THINK about a person – or to blurt out ”you jerk” – because it wouldn’t result in anything beneficial for anyone. The idea is to make people LISTEN and not to make them so upset that they leave and miss out on important information that you might have for them.

We are told to treat others the way we would like to be treated ourselves, and if we are to be criticized personally (not in groups) we would likely prefer to be corrected privately and by close friends and in LOVE. At other times rebuke is more appropriate, but that usually concerns repeated offences and/or pastors/teachers who have committed serious sins and must be openly rebuked. Jesus of course knew exactly when to correct people in meekness and when to rebuke, but it’s clear that many of us miss the mark. With common love and respect we can get far. See below that Jesus made sure to explain the reasoning behind naming the scribes and the pharisees ”hypocrites” (I left out some verses) so that all involved could LEARN and UNDERSTAND.

Matt. 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.—17 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?.19 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?20 And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon–27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.—33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city

John the Baptiste was the first one who used the term ”generation of vipers” but also John explained what he meant with this description, and so did Jesus who used the same term. Dishing out insults without providing explanations is very distant for holy men.

Matthew 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Matt. 12:33 Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.38 Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.39 But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas

In another situation Jesus did not choose to say ”woe to you pharisees” but gently explained to a pharisee named Simon what was wrong with his attitude. He corrected him in love without using name callings, but also without compromising. Jesus also called Herod a ”fox”, and this fact is sometimes used by christians to justify all kinds of humiliating names for others. 

Luke 7:36 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat.37 39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

Luke 13:31 The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee.32 And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.

Also Paul ended up in many situations where he could rebuke people but still chose not to. He also warned against vain discussions, but at times discussions are profitable and Paul himself spent a good deal of his time doing so in order to convert people. We can read that he reasoned with people and disputed with them.

Acts 17:2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.

Acts 17:16Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.  17Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.

Acts 19:8And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. 9But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. 10And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

Acts. 20:.29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

Acts. 28:23 And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening24 And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.

On March Hill in Athens Paul could have rebuked all those people who believed in false gods, but he used a different approach. He didn’t shout ”Repent, all you wicked sinners” nor told them that they were a bunch of heretical idolaters who were on the way to HELL. He managed to get their attention without humiliating them, and he just informed them that they were too superstitious and then he proceeded to explain why they were off the mark. He was smart enough to start off his talk by linking their worship of false gods to the real God. In that way he did not stir up anger or caused hurt feelings but made people listen. Naturally Paul did not compromise with the truth, nor was he watering down the gospel. It’s equally important to explain to people that they are in a lost condition due to their sins, as well as telling them how they can get saved.

Acts 17:23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To The Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.

The Bible says it’s the one who spreads  heretical views who is the one causing a division

If you’re in a group of  ”christian heretics” and you try to correct them and exhort them, then YOU are not the one sinning by ”causing a division” because the division has already happened. (But of course you are responsible for correcting people wisely, if you feel a correction is needed.) As soon as christians start to teach things which are contrary to the Bible, there is a risk for divisions and if the result is that the majority start to side with a certain heretical view then they might feel that a person who opposes them is the one being a trouble maker and who causes a division among them just because they themselves are in the majority and because they are not the ones correcting/rebuking anyone. But it’s always the one who promotes falsehood (against the Bible) who is the one causing a division or strife, even if he/she happens to be supported by an entire church or a large scope of churches.

It’s not always wise to keep quiet in order to be friendly and to avoid causing a division. Sometimes it’s unbiblical to NOT correct others – and even rebuke when necessary.  We are responsible for not letting dangerous teachings spread among us. If we don’t react, there is a risk for that even more people will be deceived by false teachings and this could lead to LOST SOULS and we might get blood on our hands.  It’s not loving to tell a person that all is well with his soul when it isn’t. It’s likewise unwise to rebuke people when the situation doesn’t call for it.  We just have to pray to the Lord that we get wisdom about this so we won’t hurt people or make them feel that we are condescending towards them.

GENTLENESS and MEEK CORRECTIONS IN LOVE

Matthew 18:15Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Luke 6:26 Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.27 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.

1 Tim. 6:11 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.

1 Tim. 3:This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;—Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

2 Tim 2:23But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. 24And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,25IN MEEKNESS instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; 26And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.

1 Thess 2:7 But we proved to be GENTLE among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.

Colossians 3:12Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 13Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. 14And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. 15And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear

Titus 3:2 To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.

James 4:11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.

James 3:13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.—16For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. 17But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. 18And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

1 Corinthians 13:4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil

2 Cor. 10:1 Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you

Ephesians 4: I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.—31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

Phil. 4:Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.

Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.

REBUKING and CORRECTION in The New Testament

Luke 12:51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.

Luke 17:3-5 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.

Acts 20:28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from AMONG YOURSELVES men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to DRAW AWAY THE DISCIPLES after themselves.–31Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

Romans 16:17-18 Now I beseech you, brethren, MARK THEM WHICH CAUSE DIVISIONS AND OFFENCES CONTRARY TO THE DOCTRINE WHICH YE HAVE LEARNED; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly (selfish desires/appetites); and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

1 Tim 5:1 Rebuke not an ELDER, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren

1 Tim 5:19Against an ELDER receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. 20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. (Note that this is instructions when it comes to ELDERS)

2 Tim. 4:2-3 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.

1 Thessalonians 5:14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.

2 Thessalonians 3:14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.

Ephesians 5:11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.

Colossians 1:27-29. Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Titus 1:9Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. 10For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: 11Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. 12One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, the Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. 13This witness is true. Wherefore REBUKE THEM SHARPLY, that they may be sound in the faith14Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.

Titus 2:15 These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.

Titus 3:10 A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; 11Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.

Heb 3:13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

2 Peter 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will SECRETLY bring in DESTRUCTIVE heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

2 John 1:10 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: 11 For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.

Jude 1:Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.

REBUKING and CORRECTION in The Old Testament

2 Chronicles 19:10 ye shall even warn them that they trespass not against the LORD, and so wrath come upon you, and upon your brethren: this do, and ye shall not trespass.

Malachi 2:17 Ye have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?

Ezekiel 13:22 Because with lies ye have strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life.

Ezekiel 3:20 Again, When a RIGHTEOUS man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before him, he shall die: because thou hast NOT GIVEN HIM WARNING, he shall DIE IN HIS SIN, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at THINE HAND. Nevertheless IF thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy SOUL.

Proverbs 9:8 Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.

Proverbs 17:15 He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, eventhey both are abomination to the LORD

Proverbs 19:25 Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware: and reprove one that hath understanding, and he will understand knowledge.

Proverbs 25:12 As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear

Proverbs 24:25 But to them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them.

Proverbs 27:5 Open rebuke is better than secret love.

Proverbs 28:23 He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue.

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