Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How to Rebuke Your Neighbor

I recently purchased a Bible. I wish I had chosen one that included the Apocrypha. I would love to have it at hand for no other reason than to read the Wisdom of Ben Sirach. There is much in Ben Sirach that could help us live as noble people.

In my studies of Ephesians 5 today I was trying to unravel the meaning of the word rebuke (vss. 11-13). I am concerned that "rebuking" is too often regarded as something of a bloodsport among Christ's people. I imagine that this is due in large part to my homiletical colleagues who understand that a good "rebuking" sermon stirs up the dust and scandal. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any salutory benefit to bludgeoning people with the error of their ways. Most of the time they tend to know how depraved and destructive their sinfulness truly is.

Besides, the Scriptures do not use the word elegchō with the same quarrelsome, cantankerous gusto that we use its common English translation "rebuke." Instead, the word has the sense of revealing, researching, and discovering the truth. Of course it is implied that this search for the truth will result in proper repentance if there is discovery of sin, but the proper rebuke begins with a desire to understand the truth rather than the arrogant position of moral superiority that pretends that the rebuker is always right and the rebuked is always wrong.

Now here's where Ben Sirach describes how it ought to be done so well. Notice how he assumes that the questioning process assumes two options: 1) I may have misunderstood or been told a lie and I need to get the story straight; or 2) the other person really has done something improper, but the goal of the dialogue is to keep them from doing it again.

I leave you with the wisdom of Ben Sirach 19:13-17 . . .

Question a friend; perhaps he did not do it;
or if he did, so that he may not do it again.
Question a neighbor; perhaps he did not say it;
or if he said it, so that he may not repeat it.
Question a friend, for often it is slander;
so do not believe everything you hear.
A person may make a slip without intending it.
Who has not sinned with his tongue?
Question your neighbor before you threaten him;
and let the law of the Most High take its course.