As followers of Jesus, should we emulate His example of rebuking our adversaries in the strongest of terms? Should we call them a “brood of vipers?” Should we pronounce them “children of hell,” as Jesus did?
I recently tweeted, “I have a radical proposal to make: In the midst of our profound differences, within America on many fronts, and worldwide, based on our different religions and ideologies, can we at least seek to maintain a spirit of decency in our interactions? Is this too much to ask?”
Then, as a discussion around this tweet unfolded, I added, “For followers of Jesus, here’s a divine mandate: ‘Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.’
But not everyone agreed. Some pointed to the strong, piercing words of Jesus, especially in Matthew 23. In that verse, He pronounced 7 woes on certain religious leaders, calling them hypocrites, “blind guides,” “blind fools,” “whitewashed tombs,” “snakes,” and a “brood of vipers.” He certainly pulled no punches!
Does this give us the right, then, to rebuke others in the same way?
After all, didn’t Jesus set an example for us in all that He did? Why just follow the Jesus who prayed for forgiveness for His enemies while hanging on the cross? Why not follow the angry Jesus too?
The simple answer is that we are not Jesus. We are not the perfect, sinless Son of God, who only spoke by the Spirit. We are imperfect and sinful and often speak by the flesh. There is a huge contrast between Him and us, to put it mildly.
Jesus spoke out of love. He genuinely cared for the people He was rebuking.
We often speak out of frustration, anger, and even hatred, sometimes loathing those whom we blast with our words.
In contrast, Jesus loved these leaders so much that, in the end, He died for them, shedding the same blood for them on the cross that He shed for Peter and John and for you and for me. Would we do that for our enemies? Would we sacrifice ourselves so they could live?
Jesus also rebuked these men because He wanted to help them. He wanted to wake them up. He told them of coming judgment so that they would repent.
We often rebuke others because we are lashing out. You offended me so I’m going to mock you. You insulted me so I’m going to lambast you. I think your ideas are asinine, so I’m going to ridicule you, exposing you to the full range of my vitriol.
This is the opposite of who Jesus was and why He did what He did.
In the book of John, the Lord also said that He could only do what He saw His Father doing. He always followed the heavenly pattern. He even said that the words He spoke were the words the Father gave Him.
So, when Jesus spoke His searing words of rebuke, He did so as a prophet, a messenger, a divine spokesman rather than as an agitated, angry, social media commentator.
Could we say the same things about our volatile posts or our verbal outbursts? Could we really claim divine inspiration? Would we be so arrogant?
Interestingly, it is in the context of loving our neighbor that we are called to speak the truth and rebuke. As it is written in Leviticus, “Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
If we see our neighbor doing something that is wrong and harmful and we fail to call them to account, then we share in their guilt. Love compels us to speak.
Proverbs also speaks of the positive value of rebuke, stating, “Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favor rather than one who has a flattering tongue.”
Jesus instructed His disciples to issue rebukes as well, saying, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
And Paul urged his spiritual son Timothy to, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction.”
But in all this, we are to be motivated by love. Our goal is to help those whom we rebuke, not hurt them. As Thomas Sowell brilliantly said, “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.”
So, we do not speak out of personal frustration. We do not retaliate. And at all times, we are under control – meaning, self-disciplined and under the Spirit’s control.
We can be strong without being harsh, direct without being insulting, clear without being demeaning.
So, rather than trying to justify our carnal anger or agitation, letting fly a litany of choice words, how about we seek to love people the way Jesus did? Then, when we speak, with maturity and self-control, it will be for their good, even if our words are strong and direct.
As Paul wrote, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
If we all put our words through that filter, the world would be a much better place.
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. He holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has served as a professor at a number of seminaries and is the author of 40 books. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.