Leadership: The Power Of Effective Rebuke

Rebuke? Many people see this as a negative idea, and it is certainly not easy to do. But sometimes it is necessary. And if you do it correctly, it can have incredibly positive results. In the Bible, the book of James has several rebukes within it. By looking closely, we can see how to use this tool effectively. We are going to look “behind the scenes” and expose the powerful process James used to change lives. A godly leader will benefit greatly from noting these, and those they lead will benefit too.

Previously I wrote about how James dealt with the way we treat the poor in James 2:1-9. He used them as an illustration for how to make good decisions. In that section, James addressed how people in the church chose to treat the rich and the poor. The distinctions they made between them were based on arbitrary criteria that betrayed a serious lack of wisdom. The fact that Christians were judging others based upon their ability to earn income showed a perspective that gloried in the wrong things. They chose to rejoice in riches instead of godliness.

Weep and howl

In James 5:1-6, James addressed the decisions rich people made when interacting with the poor. This further illustrates the principles of decision-making explored in the book’s message. He previously told the rich to glory in their humiliation (James 1:10), and in this section, James further develops that theme.

They were told to weep and howl because of the pain that is coming upon them, aligning with James 4:9. Sins were being committed, and James is calling for recognition and repentance.

Here is practical application of the book, and probably one of the situations he had in mind when he started writing. Building to this point in the book, James laid the foundation for helping these people come closer to God. He showed them the pathway to repentance before calling upon them (very powerfully) to repent. That is the mark of a true leader.

The purposes of rebuke

Condemning and berating satisfies a sense of justice within. Have you been there? A sermon addresses a sin and we are quick to point to people in the auditorium who need to hear it. We might take great satisfaction in the fact that someone was scolded for sin. But the loving person attacks the problem instead of the person. Justice might require that a person be condemned without remedy, but that decision belongs to God. As satisfying as it might feel, our place is to point out the sin and provide the path for remedy.

James outlined for them the pathway to righteousness. I have outlined it several times already. Desires lead to sin. Sin brings forth death. If we reverse the process and then choose to follow different desires, the find life and through wisdom bring about the best possible circumstances in life. Ultimately, the Word leads us to Heaven.

Once the pathway is revealed, a godly leader will shake people up. He will reveal to them their sins and call upon them to follow the pathway of righteousness.

This is exactly what Paul taught Timothy to do. He wrote about it in 2 Timothy 4:2.

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

The three verbs in the last sentence all reveal different nuances of instruction. They all essentially have the same definition, but they have different flavors. And here they are:

  • Convince – This contains the flavor of revelation. A godly leader reveals sin. He will define sin based upon the teachings of the Word of God. Definitions and explanations are part of this process. A good leader will not only say what is wrong, but attempt to explain why it is so. He will convince people that certain activities are sinful.
  • Rebuke – Defining sin falls short of the goal of preaching and teaching others. Rebuke is essential. A good rebuke applies the revelation of sin. Once a person sees what sin is, a godly leader will show how that sin applies to life, because sometimes we do not see it. We easily see sin when other people engage in it, but we sometimes do not see it in our own behavior. We tend to judge ourselves based on our intentions, not our actions. A godly leader will apply the Word so that we clearly see our sin, if we are involved in it.
  • Exhort – Woefully inappropriate is the person who reveals sin, rebukes the guilty, yet never exhorts them to walk away from it. That signals manipulation. Sometimes people will not know HOW others can walk out of sin, so we should not judge too harshly. But leaders need to address this. They need to find the wisdom necessary to show the pathway of righteousness and call others to walk it. It is inadequate to expose sin, but neglect to show them how to remove it, but this is the one thing most rebukes omit. Telling someone that they are sining and then simply telling them to “Stop it!” is inadequate. People need to be shown HOW to stop it. They need to see what “stopping it” looks like.

The pathway revealed

The book of James masterfully exposes the root of sin and reveals the path out of it. And now he calls upon people to take that path. Notice how this is accomplished. He reminds them of the futility of their current lifestyle choices. Revealing the worthlessness of riches motivates them to glory in the right things. Instead of rejoicing in riches, he wants them to rejoice in righteousness.

What good is wealth in the end? When we face the end of life, we cannot take those things with us beyond the grave. Will riches purchase pardon from God when the people they cheated seek justice from God?

Lasting power does not lie in physical wealth. If people seek wealth above righteousness, they will face justice from a just God, and nothing can save them. Because they rejoiced in wealth, they sought it above righteousness, causing them to make decisions that led to ungodly behavior. They condemned and murdered the poor, whether figuratively or literally. They gained wealth in an ungodly fashion instead of trusting in and rejoicing in God’s will.

Maybe we decide to do better things than cheat others, but let’s not miss the point about the pathway to righteousness. It lies ever before us. We better be sure that we are looking at our behavior and choosing the desires that lead to life. Keep your priorities in check, and be sure that in the end, you are bringing about a joyous end.

See you tomorrow!

~Jason

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