Please tell me if this makes sense. A glutton calls out a greedy person and says, “Man you’re too greedy.” So the greedy guy says, “Well you’re gluttonous, so you can’t tell me nothing.”
Except this doesn’t change the fact that the greedy guy is greedy, and the glutton was really trying to help.
You’ve seen this everywhere. A friend tells a single mom that maybe she needs to learn how to discipline her kids, and the single mom says, “You wait until you have kids.” In the meantime, the kids are punching cops and eating heroin and kicking baby strollers.
If you shoot the messenger, the bullet goes both ways.
We all know the guy who is Super-Offended At Everything. You tell him the truth about himself and he melts down or explodes or throws things or cries instantly or defends himself to death or holds a grudge against the friend who dared to say it like it really is: then Super-Offended-Man (the worst superhero name ever) hides under a mirror and says, “Well what about you!” Everyone hates this guy. His skin is paperthin ice and egg shells. That whole thing is not cute and it doesn’t work. The few remaining friends who find it worth their time to talk to him would rather manicure their gums with sandpaper.
No one can be let off the hook that easily. The Mirror-Defense only works so long until you cut off yourself from the world, or you can start a franchise of new friends every month. In plain terms, we call that circling the drain.
This does not mean that we don’t love the easily offended. It does not mean we can be insensitive. What it does mean is that any real friendship must be built on telling the total truth with the motive of love, because love without truth is hypocrisy.
I was one of these over-sensitive people (and still can be), so I’m talking to myself too. I understand how hard it is, regardless of how “hard” you are, to hear the truth about you. If you are ridiculously attractive, it’s possible that everyone has been your butler your whole life. That led to entitlement, when you think you deserve anything you want at all times, just because. The same is true if you grew up in money and luxury and fame. Think of every Hollywood pansy who can’t take criticism and fires off on their Twitter. Not so attractive then.
So “rebuke” is a foreign concept to you since it deprives you of comfort, and no one has ever said a contrary word to you in fear they might lose your approval. You were able to bat your eyes and twist your hips and get your way. Even me saying this is already provoking you with the natural reflex of preprogrammed defenses, which proves my point. None of that is your fault: your face only aggravated our natural human condition to be so easily insulted. So hearing the truth for you isn’t like a needle; it’s a sword through your soul.
We all sort of suck at handling rebuke, but we desperately need it. Not Sin-Police or Doctrine-Nazis, but a rebuke out of love from beginning to end, where every motive is to build up and move forward.
Love changes people. I know it feels right to say, “You should accept me as I am.”
But who is “As I am”?
If you were playing in traffic and a car was headed your way, I’m not sure if it’s valid to say, “You should accept me where I am.” Plus adding, “You have no right to tell me what to do.”
Some of us are waiting around to “earn the right” to rebuke. We think our lives are too screwed up to tell someone else about themselves. And while that could be true, it can’t always happen that way. I’m still going to push you out of traffic even if I’m hooked on heroin or grossly out of shape. I will love you despite my own brokenness.
What we really need is someone who so identifies with us that they can understand us, but also has the authority to say, “I’ve overcome that too.” Someone who has gone through what we’ve gone through but had the integrity to be above it. Only one such person ever existed. We killed him on a cross. He was the perfect love. And that miracle transforms lives.
But imperfect love still changes people. We shouldn’t quickly dismiss a friend on the account of a few bad things; maybe that struggling person actually has more of a right to say the truth because they know how difficult it is. If someone has been to the edge of a cliff, they have a better view of the dangerous drop. Sometimes a crazy testimony is both gratitude and a fair warning.
A church full of grace leads to a culture of honesty, which is a messy church of uncomfortable growing pains. If no one is confessing or rebuking any sin in your church, it’s because the grace is not there. Only a gracious church would have the courage to regularly confess and rebuke. It won’t be the clean, sanitized, smiling church you wanted, but it’ll be the church you need. That grace could only come from looking at the cross, where the Perfect Man died as if he was the worst of us, but loved us because he was the best of us.
Under the shadow of such a cross, gluttons will call out the greedy, and vice versa. The rebels will pray for the religious, the adulterers will sing with the drunken, the perverts will read Scripture with the addicts. On one hand they will accept each other exactly as they are. But on the other hand, it is that same unconditional love which will create change. That’s the only way, and the best way. There will be no time to be offended because hearts will be growing, moving, on mission.
Hear the messenger, even when it hurts and they say it all wrong. It might be God getting your attention, and it might save your life. It has saved mine.
Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to be saying to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’ Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.
– John Stott
If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
– 1 Peter 4:11