by Irvin Himmel
Via Guardian of Truth XXXI: 4, p. 108, February 19, 1987
"He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favor than he that flattereth with the tongue" (Proverbs 28:23).
Although there are people who do not care what others think about them, most of us desire the esteem and goodwill of our acquaintances. Our words and actions toward others reflect our inclination to find favor with them.
On the surface, it seems that rebuking someone is not the way to gain his respect and admiration, but frankness finds more favor than flattery.
The Hebrew word for "rebuke" (yakach) in this proverb means to decide, judge, reprove, or correct. We rebuke a person when we take him to task or reprimand him.
- Rebuking requires courage. It is much easier to brag about someone than to tell him that he is wrong. When God charged Nathan the prophet to go to David and convict him of the sin of adultery, it took boldness on Nathan's part to fulfill the assignment (II Samuel 12). David was the king of Israel. He had great power. Already he had arranged to dispose of Uriah the Hittite. If he became angry with Nathan, the prophet might be imprisoned or put to death. Nathan courageously went to David and pointed out his sinfulness.
- Rebuking may be painful. Possibly there are some who relish telling another his faults, but a conscientious person, keenly aware of his own shortcomings, finds no pleasure in confronting another about his transgressions. "Nothing is more irritating or hardening than to be rebuked by one who evidently enjoys his office. But if the one who points out our fault is evidently deeply pained himself, we must be very obdurate if we are insensible to such an appeal. The wayward child is conquered, not by the rod in his mother's hand, but by the tears in her eyes" (E. Hurndall).
- Rebuking shows love. Paul found it painful to rebuke his brethren but love compelled him. He expressed his feelings this way: "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you" (II Corinthians 2:4).
- Rebuking is commanded. God told the Israelites, "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him" (Leviticus 19:17). The command to rebuke one who sins was to avoid developing hatred toward him and to avoid complicity in his sin. Jesus taught that if a brother trespasses against thee, "go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone" (Matthew 18:15). Again, Jesus commanded, "if thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him" (Luke 17:3).
- A rebuke is a call to repentance. The aim of castigating someone is to produce godly sorrow which in turn brings about repentance. The design of a rebuke is not punishment. Read Paul's remarks in II Corinthians 7:8-10 on this point.
- A rebuke may cause temporary displeasure. The one who is reproved may not like his medicine. He may get angry and attempt to justify his misconduct.
In the long run, rebuke is more likely to bring admiration and respect than displeasure. "We are so prone to self-love, and pride, that the most prudent, and needful rebukes are apt to create transient displeasure. Yet upon reflection, most men will have a better opinion of a faithful reprover, than of a soothing flatterer, and will show him more favor" (T. Scott).
When the rebuked person comes to his senses, his heart will be grateful to the individual who pointed out his fault and convicted him of his sin.
Failure of Flattery
As Proverbs 26:28 states, "a flattering mouth worketh ruin." How many people do you know who have been brought to repentance through flattery? The real friend is not the flatterer but one who rebukes in the spirit of love.
"He who gives us kisses when he ought to give us reproof, or who holds back deserved rebuke from cowardice, is more cruel than if he withheld from us an indispensable medicine simply because it had a bitter taste. And if a wound is to be probed it is surely better for the patient that it should be done by a skillful and tender hand than by one who has no sympathy with us and no acquaintance with our inner life" (W. Harris).
Firm, frank, and kind rebuke find more favor than flattery will ever produce.