And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: (Jn 16:8 ESV)
The word for “convict” is used 17 times in the NT. It is translated as reprove, rebuke, convince and convict.
Five of those times are in the so-called pastoral epistles of Paul to Timothy and Titus. Only once is the word used for the general class of believers (Eph. 5:11). The remaining uses (11) are used in reference to God doing some kind of work.
My first question before I go any further is—Why have we made the correction of others our foremost duty? Even if we were to apply all of the verses where a human is instructed to bring correction, we would only have one third of the verses in the NT about the process of correction.
The one verse outside the pastoral epistles is Eph. 5:11.
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (KJV)
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. (ESV)
Almost all of the modern translations, including the NKJV use the word ‘expose’ instead of the KJV ‘reprove.’ Expose is obviously a better translation when considering the context of the rest of the thought—But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, (Eph 5:13 ESV)
The light that exposes is not your particular understanding of what is sin and what is not. Light is something else altogether.
Jesus said in Matt. 5:14 that we are the light of the world. He also said that He was the light of the world (Jn. 8:12; 9:5). We understand that there is no contradiction here because we are in Him and He is in us (1 Cor. 1:30; Jn. 17:23).
It is by the shining of the light that the darkness is revealed. We are to let our lights shine (Matt. 5:16) so that others will glorify our Father. One aspect of that process is for the pre-believer to see their need for Christ, and that happens through your letting the light shine.
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1Pe 2:12 ESV)
It is our behavior that will win people, and it is our behavior that repels people. The behavior that most often causes a rejection of the gospel is that of correcting another’s behavior. You will hear that as an excuse more often than any other.
We are not called to do that. We are called to love them. That is what Jesus did.
Some may push back and say, “Yeah, but He also rebuked them.”
No, He didn’t.
He did not rebuke any but the hypocritical religious leaders of the Jewish people. He occasionally rebuked His disciples when they were getting off track. I do not know of a case where He rebuked someone outside these two groups for their sin.
Let’s consider, then, the verses in the pastoral epistles to see what we can learn about correcting others.
As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. (1Ti 5:20 ESV) The context of this verse has to do with elders of the church. Since the letter is written to Timothy as one who was in charge of the church, it is a stretch to use this verse to justify everyone’s right to correct others.
preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2Ti 4:2 ESV)
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Tit 1:9 ESV)
These two verses are about correcting those who fail in the teaching or understanding of sound doctrine.
What is “sound doctrine?”
For most church-goers it is the ‘correct’ understanding of their particular denomination’s teaching. Sound doctrine, then, becomes more about one’s understanding of things like water baptism, how to be saved, communion, sanctification, the rapture, etc.
However, the Bible is careful to give us a clear definition of “sound doctrine” in Titus 2:1—“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” (ESV)
The next nine verses through v. 10, list what is considered to be sound doctrine. Interestingly enough only two “sins” are mentioned—slaves to much wine (v.3) and pilfering (v. 10).
Paul ends this section of his letter to Titus with this instruction— Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. (Tit 2:15 ESV)
He is telling Titus, whom he left in Crete, to do this. It is not a word to the church universal. However, since we like to believe that “every word of God is for me,” then we should take it to heart and follow the instructions given here.
- Teach the entire concept of sound doctrine as presented, including the fact of the grace of God bringing salvation to all people.
- Only rebuke older women for drunkenness and slaves for stealing.
The last verse in this series is found in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to Titus—This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, (Tit 1:13 ESV
The context removes the idea of just rebuking anyone whom we happen to see doing wrong. Paul was concerned about the party of the circumcision who were “… insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.” (Tit 1:10 ESV)
The only ones any of us should be concerned about rebuking are the ones who would try to bring us under any form of law or legalism.
Here’s the painful truth—YOU ARE NOT GOD’S POLICEMAN OR WOMAN.
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Rom 14:4 ESV)
Give it up.
The best you can possibly do is to love them.
In that way, you may save them and yourself.