In Isaiah 42:3, in speaking of the coming one who would restore righteousness to the world, Isaiah says of Jesus (and Matthew quotes, 12:20) “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.” In Matthew, this quote falls between chapter eleven, when Jesus announces woe to unrepentant towns, and chapter 12, where he announces condemnation to those who don’t believe. Surely Jesus was adept at using words to cut people to shreds when it was warranted. The question that always remains for us sinful, imperfect creatures without perfect knowledge of those with whom we must deal is how do we imitate Christ when it comes to rebuking friends and neighbors. Perhaps I can offer a few thoughts on the subject. I pray that I won’t offend anyone in the process.
1. Make sure your rebuke is doctrinally accurate. Being a single person, I don’t know how many times people have said to me, “You just need to find a good woman,” or, on the more crass end of the scale, “You need to get laid”. Both statements are really out of line and very unbiblical. First of all, why are people presuming to play God? All good gifts come from him, and, as we hear in Psalms 104 and 145, they are given at the proper time. In Ecclesiastes, we here that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. In 2 Peter 3:9 we hear that God is not slow in giving his gifts, but patient. So we are told to be patient and believe God’s promises that he will be good to us and provide everything we need when it’s the best time.
Secondly, why would anyone presume that scratching a carnal itch, dwelling on earthly things, is going to bring me happiness? Why would anyone presume to “bend” God’s commands and plans to try to receive a blessing? What was the result when Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham? The offspring of brothers have been in a death struggle for four thousand years. And what was the result of Rebekkah deceiving her husband to try to “help” God’s plan to bless Jacob over Esau. More clashes of nations in the future. But, more personally, Rebekkah never saw her favorite child again.
The entire book of Job tells us a great deal about ungodly advice. Job’s three (four) friends certainly thought they were giving Job great advice and comfort in his time of loss. But, as God brings them all to understand, they were all moralizing and playing God. None of them really understood God’s intentions in allowing Job to be inflicted. Yet they were all quick to point to perceived ways that Job must have brought these things on himself. Fortunately for Job, he called them on it.
Today, there are a lot of people who are quick to moralize when disaster befalls. All sorts of people are blaming everything from the economy collapse to hurricanes and natural disasters on the moral decline of the nation. These same people blame all fat people for being fat (You just don’t have enough willpower!) and all sick people for being sick (You need to take better care of yourself!) Yes, many times people are responsible for their own demise. But many times they aren’t. When my sister got ALS, she researched and found an eating plan that would help her manage her disease and prolong her life for perhaps decades. Good for her! But, her ALS afflicted her throat first. Within a few months she was no longer able to swallow anything and nearly died from malnutrition as a result. So much for following the special (non-doctor-approved) diet. Now she is at the mercy of what is approved for her feeding tube. Am I supposed to blame her for succumbing to ALS? Am I supposed to blame the doctors who don’t know how to cure it? Or am I supposed to blame God, who allowed her to get it?
2. Judge only as you are willing to be judged. How quick are divorced people with marriage advice? How often are those who rebuke for a night of too much revelry or a racy remark hiding a greater sin? Yes, we must call a sin a sin, when we are called on to witness. But it’s good to remember the rule that, when you point a finger at someone, you have three pointing back at you. Or, as Jesus said, “before you pick the speck of dust out of you neighbor’s eye, make sure you have removed the roof beam from your own eye so that you can see clearly to get the speck out.” (Matthew 7) Before you go about rebuking your friend or neighbor, it’s good to take a long look at yourself in the mirror and see yourself for what you are. This accomplished two things. First, it reminds you that everyone is a sinner and needs forgiveness, not judgement. Fortunately, Jesus had already provided that. Secondly, it forces you to understand just how much it galls you to have your own sins pointed out to you, so that you might understand to tread lightly when rebuking your friend.
3. Understand that everyone is different. Outside of an obvious sin, what right do you have to place yourself in someone else’s shoes and determine their likes and dislikes? What right do you have to try to force on them the norms of society as you see them? When I was in kindergarten, my teacher saw me cutting paper with a right-handed scissors, so she naturally assumed that I was right-handed. When it came time to learn to write the alphabet, she insisted that I learn to write with my right hand. Fortunately my mother straightened her out after the first week and I went on to get perfect scores in penmanship writing with my left hand. What the teacher did not understand was that I can indeed cut very well with my left hand. However, when my grandmother taught me how to cut, she only had right-handed scissors.
I can’t recall how many times I was called lazy, unorganized, scatter-brained, procrastinator, etcetera, by well-meaning people as I grew up. I am actually none of those things. What I am is an extremely driven individual who tends to stack too much on my plate at once so that, eventually, everything starts falling off at once. Sometimes, when this happens, I am overcome with fatigue and need a few days before I can gather my focus. So, for most people out there who have been pigeon-holed into society’s norms, I seem a little out there. But, it’s who I am. Sure, I try every day to improve upon conformity, but it’s really like pulling teeth.
Where would the world be if everyone just conformed to the status quo? Would we still be picking cotton with our hands? Would we still be teaching that the world is flat and that the sun revolves around it? Would we all be heading to bed when the kerosine street lamps were lit, or listening to the pastor preach from the only Bible available in the county? Would Bruce Springsteen have composed “Born in the Cherokee Wigwam” on his lyre? Or perhaps would he only have a stick and a rock on which to beat it out?
It’s OK if I am different from you. If I have sinned, then call me on it. But, remember to check yourself first. If I haven’t sinned, and I haven’t asked for your advice, why would you give it to me? If you see that I have what you think is a need that you can help fill, then why don’t you ask me if I indeed want what you think I should want or if I want any help. And if I say that I don’t want or need help, then respect my wishes! We all have plenty of self-improvement on which to spend our time. We don’t need to go around looking for people to fix. We are not Jesus, so the chances are good that we are going to end up breaking bent reeds and putting out smoldering wicks. In other words, it’s very easy to crush someone’s spirit by “only trying to help.”