Proverbs 27:5, Better is open rebuke than hidden love.
In our current generation, people are growing increasingly worried about offending other people to such an absurd point that there are now “safe spaces” at universities. It’s because the truth hurts, and these people want to be sheltered from the truth. We want to be “all-inclusive” so we don’t feel we’re treading on anybody’s feelings or self-identity, even if those identities they “identify” with are false and deceptive. We don’t want anyone to be mad at us. We pretend we’re looking out for each person’s interest, although we cleverly disguise it that way, but because we don’t want anyone to look at us as something less than accepting, approving, or loving. Only in our times has a lack of rebuke meant love. Before now, rebuke meant you loved somebody because it is rebuke that lets the other person know when they’re doing something wrong or believing something deceptive. I know my father loved me a lot as a child, for instance, because he rebuked me a lot for my foolish behaviour and preconceptions. And now, rebuke has become a practise that is heavily frowned upon because it “hurts people’s feelings.”
I’m going to be blunt: the truth doesn’t give a rip about your feelings. A great example of rebuke in Scripture is when Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23). He said this right after Peter boldly confessed Jesus as the Christ! In response to this, Jesus said this kind of faith is the faith upon which His Church will stand. Directly after this, as soon as Peter refused to accept Jesus would die, Jesus rebukes him and calls him Satan because he was not setting his mind on godly ways but human ways.
Are these words not what we Christians rebuke others for, both Christians and non-Christians alike? Titus wrote that the grace of God trains us “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions” (2:12). The world demands nonchalance with things like active (i.e. unrepentant) homosexuality, transgenderism, premarital sex, promiscuity, abortion, and other works of the flesh; whereas the Law of God demands we renounce all such ungodliness and worldly passions and come receive God’s grace before Christ. We Christians are hated for our helpful rebukes because we’re attempting to help people turn from their sins—these deceptive lifestyles that people have learnt to grow into and accept. Of course, there are those who rebuke completely without love and the Gospel and only rebuke with the Law, such as the moronic Westboro Baptist Church (or cult, rather). But even for those Christians who do beseech others to turn from their sins and to know Christ in love and grace, still we are hated, even among fellow Christians who embrace and enable these sins; and it is to be expected.
First Peter 4:3-4, “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” They hate us and mock us and criticise us because they always remain shocked that we refuse to accept and engage in the same sinful activities they do. Indeed, we are still sinners, and some of us may have even committed the same sins they have in the past, but the difference is the Christian repents of his sins and turns away from them with the help of the Spirit, whereas the non-Christian (and even some misguided Christians) say the sin is permitted.
When Jesus rebuked Peter, he could have responded with, “Jesus, You offended me! My feelings are so precious to me, so I demand You respect those feelings.” Instead, as we continue to read, Peter receives further admonishment on how to truly follow Jesus by picking up his cross daily and following Him. We quote this verse all the time but fail to understand its meaning in its context. Just before Jesus’ rebuke to Peter, He foretells His death and resurrection, which Peter refuses to accept and that leads to his rebuke. Later on in the gospel we read of Jesus carrying His cross to Calvary (Matthew 27:32). Until this man named Simon from Cyrene was forced to help Him, Jesus was carrying His cross whilst in the midst of persecution—the eye of the storm, if you will. Jesus’ further admonishment to Peter, then, was in order to be a true follower, one continues to follow Jesus whilst even in the midst of persecution. As St. Paul later accounts, “we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings” (2 Corinthians 1:5). The greatest test of one’s discipleship with Christ is when he suffers just as He did and endures, never losing faith in the midst of trials and confusion.
The Cross of Jesus—forgiveness of sins through Him—does not come without open rebuke. In Jesus’ wounds we see our sins laid bare upon Him, and the price He paid in our place for those sins. We are to recognise our sins before our Lord, asking for His forgiveness. Forgiveness of sins does not come in hidden love either. The open rebuke of sin was placed upon Christ publicly. As our Lord, therefore, He commands we rebuke sin, for He has openly rebuked it on the Cross, even if it offends us because the truth hurts. It hurts to know what we think is right about us is actually sin. It hurts to know the world we’ve been following has been deceiving us. And it hurts to know we deserve death. But the truth doesn’t give a rip about our feelings because it reveals to us reality. Reality tells us what is and what is not. The reality is that we are sinful creatures who deserve death and condemnation, but there is also the reality that Jesus took our place for what we deserve on the Cross, taking God’s wrath upon Himself so we don’t have to. Being forgiven, then, He calls us to live outside of those old sinful ways and to live anew (see Romans 6).