Y’all. This is important. Like, really important. More and more I am catching wind of a popular fad blowing through both religious and non-religious camps. It is the notion that you need established rapport that comes with recent frequent communication in order to be justified to approach a fellow person regarding wrongdoing in their life.
Now, if we’re going to take this one head on with the worldview of the Church, that is, through the lens of Scripture, then here is your spoiler alert: that notion is false.
Let’s jump right into it.
First thought to consider- say you’re driving on the highway. Say someone you had not seen in years since High school all the sudden was caught by your eye on the wrong side of the road. They’re doing a solid 70mph against head on traffic….would you refuse to honk because of the length of time since you’d seen or heard from them? (you see where I’m going with this?)
Or, what about evangelism? Rebuking and correcting is not for the faint of heart and to be honest, neither is public evangelizing. Do we usually view sharing the Good News of our Savior Jesus with the whole world as something we withhold until it’s the “right time”? I want to challenge you if you answered yes for several reasons. Firstly, did Christ wait until it was convenient for Him to die in your place on your behalf? Has He ever restrained demonstrating the fullness of love for you until it ‘felt right’? It was never going to be a good, delightful, ‘stroll in the park’ kind of moment when Jesus chose to save us from eternal death and to make us right with God. In fact, it was so gnarly when the time of crucifixion was drawing near that Christ Himself said to His Father, “if You are willing, take this cup from me”. But the next words from Jesus’ mouth should be a resounding echo in the ears of every saint: but Your will be done.
Is the will of God for your life as a born again believer to make disciples? To be a fisher of men? To shout the Good News from the mountain tops until all have heard it? To have a heart after God’s own heart and wish that none would perish? Absolutely! Is there an asterisk to fulfill this only when it feels right? Do you see a condition in Scripture that you need to have a 6 month or more relationship with a person before evangelism? Absolutely not.
That’s because the right time to share Jesus is ALL THE TIME! This is what it means to glorify God in all things with the entirety of your being. It is the definition of being on mission for the Kingdom. It’s what it means to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. It means your heart never stops beating for Jesus. There’s no pausing. No breaks inhaling Jesus’ Word of truth and exhaling it through tangible acts of love. There will be moments you won’t feel like being obedient to testify and to make Jesus known. Moments where you’ll be tempted to take the easy and cowardly road of being silent, denying Him. Make the words “Your will be done” your deciding factor in moments of fleshly weakness. Call upon the name of the Lord and the Spirit who is able will save you from that denial and coming judgment.
Secondly, in this life that we are passing through very quickly, you never have the guarantee you will share in another conversation with someone ever again. That one conversation you get on the bus for 10 minutes can be your last. That barista or waitress may never be the one to serve you ever again. You may only get those four years with your college roommates and then that’s it. Friend, steward your relational time wisely. Relationships matter regardless of their longevity or duration. How many times have you heard the testimony of a fellow saint in Christ that it just took that ONE CONVERSATION, those 30 minutes of spiritual investment, that changed the trajectory of someone’s life forever?
The world gets offended by our sharing of Jesus. Nobody likes being told they’re a sinner dead in their transgressions, and that they have to leave their old ways behind and a bear a cross. Similarly, culture and your common people-pleasing flesh will tell you, “it’s inappropriate” to call someone out on their sin. Sadly, Christians may even view rebuke and correction this way. Now, there is in fact an inappropriate time to do so. When? When you’re so focused on the speck in someone else’s eye that you’ve completely disregarded the log in yours. This is being caught in self-righteousness, but it’s not what I am particularly discussing today.
I am talking about a believer who has conducted their own self-reflection, and heart examination and has confessed and repented. A saint with a contrite heart striving towards living a blameless life. With that in mind, tell me, what sounds more inappropriate? That saint reaching out to rebuke another in what could be a potentially poorly timed confrontation, catching he or she off guard perhaps even with limited relational familiarity of the individual versus an unrelenting evil being committed in the eyes of the Lord slowly suffocating the soul with a spiritual noose? What sounds like it should be prioritized and addressed with more urgency no matter what?
Proverbs 27:5 says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love”. If you’re silent about someone’s sin (time, place, rapport aside), you are at risk of being complicit with the sin. That’s not acting in Christ-like love, now is it?
Before you come at me with your repeals and rebuttals, may I share two biblical examples that should be more than sufficient enough for us to understand that established rapport in order to rebuke both patiently and carefully is nothing more than a man-made construct (possibly constructed by the Church itself, though hopefully not).
Example #1 Jesus. Sunday school answer, I know, but hear me out. Did Jesus have a pre-existing relationship with the Samaritan woman at the well? The woman he totally put on the spot with her fooling around and cohabitation? What about the demon-possessed man with Legion whom Jesus cast out? How about the woman caught in adultery whom He said “Go and sin no more” to? The answer is no. He met these individuals where they were at and shared the truth in love right on the spot, pre-existing relationship or not.
Example #2 Paul. When in doubt and the answer isn’t Jesus, choose the super Apostle himself. This guy wrote several letters (found in the canon) to bodies of believers who gathered at seven different locations (Galatia, Ephesus, Corinth, Colosse, Thessalonica, Rome and Philipi). Did he know a few people personally from his missionary journeys? Yes. But overall, was he admonishing, sharply at times, hundreds of believers he did not know personally? Yes. And why? Why would he have no problem saying the tough thing of calling out specific vices in people? Simple. He loved them fiercely. To Paul, these weren’t just empty faces he’d never get to meet. These were valued souls whose eternity was at the very forefront of his mind. He longed to see them abandon the the captivity of the old self and embrace the freedom of being a new creation in Christ.
You see, for our beloved Paul, it was souls over offense. Relational stings and temporary damage to a relationship is a small price to pay when compared to the everlasting damage done to one’s soul because of unrepentant sin. Think about the great lengths Paul would go to in his letters. He was commanding that professing believers living in deliberate sin get put on blast in front of the congregation. That they would be cast out and excommunicated from the Church body for both their own good and the good of the Body. Don’t forget, a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. Paul wasn’t playing it safe. He wasn’t playing around because of his great love for people and sincere desire to see them not just come to Jesus but to be rooted in him, firmly established and to grow in Him. How can this be fulfilled without healthy discipline that includes rebuke?
Pre-established rapport did not matter to Paul when it came to loving rebuke. Christ’s Bride living holy, pure and blameless lives mattered. The Bride of Christ securing their faith and hope in Christ mattered. Preserving the sacrifice and atonement that covers sins mattered. Hebrews 10:26 says, “if we deliberately go on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth there’s no longer any sacrifice that’ll cover or sin.” A multitude of sins being covered mattered most to Paul.
Does established rapport help? Of course it does. I swear I’m not that ignorant. Does it allow for conversations to be more comfortable and at ease? Yes to a degree. Does it increase the probability of the friendship enduring? Perhaps. Is it required in order to turn a sinner from the error of their ways? I fail to see that noted in God’s Holy Word. Now we’d all prefer it, wouldn’t we? But our preference matters not. Faithful obedience to love one another in the manner we are called to matters.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, what I am saying here today goes beyond our looking out for the best of one another. In fact, it is a direct reflection of our care for ourselves. Let me explain:
‘Love your neighbor as yourself‘. The second greatest commandment. If you haven’t figured it out by now in your following of Jesus, how we love our neighbor is a mirror to how we love ourselves. So when you turn a blind eye to someone else’s unrepentant sin, you are making a fat statement that at times you do this to yourself as well. If you don’t believe that phileo and agape love implies doing the hard work of confronting hidden error in someone, do you put in the hard work for confronting your concealed errors? If you don’t think it is of utmost urgency to help a brother or sister in the faith identify their sin, and crucify their flesh as soon as possible, are you being lackadaisical allowing your own sin to linger and fester?
God’s Holy Spirit will grow a deep unrelenting hatred for sin in you as long as you don’t quench the Spirit. Playing with fire is no longer the modus operandi of a disciple of Jesus. Neither is it for your fellow saint in Christ. So what happens when your brother or sister is not only playing with fire, but is living in it? What do the Scriptures say regarding your relationship with them if you don’t win them over with rebuke? Have nothing to do with them.
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.” -Ephesians 5
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” -2 Timothy 3
It’s sad, but non-negotiable. So let us be prayerful for both ourselves and neighbors in our heavenly family. To remain sober-minded, and to guard our hearts in Christ Jesus. To be intentional in fellowship. To be swift but also discerning in our rebuke and correction. To have a humble heart of daily confession lest sin gain a foothold.
As they say in Mandalorian, “this is the way”. Fitting, because we are followers of the Way (Acts 22). Our lives are living billboards of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Let’s conduct ourselves accordingly then, in a manner worthy of the Gospel.