Where do reproofs come from? Generally, they come from those who are in authority over us like parents, pastors, teachers and employers. Reproofs can also come from the pulpit through God’s ministers, as well as Christian friends who use God’s Word to show us where and how we have erred (II Tim 3: 16-17). Reproofs from God may come through the chastening rod to turn us from our wilful ways (Heb 12: 5-11).
Sadly, however, we usually do not take well to any form of reproof or admonition – because of our proud nature. We think that we know better than others and no one has the right to instruct or correct us.
The Book of Proverbs, in particular, is replete with references that warn repeatedly against this scornful and unteachable spirit. What truths can we glean from the book of wisdom that will help us to be receptive to correction and wise counsel? (In this series of articles, we will be using the terms – “reproof”, “rebuke”, “instruction”, “admonition”, “counsel” “correction” and “discipline” interchangeably.)
o Openness to instruction
A willingness to learn is the way to knowledge: “Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge” (12: 1a). Such a one will value highly, the counsel, admonition or reproof from God’s Word, that he may gain wisdom (Ps 119: 71).
However, if we are not open to instruction, we are considered foolish: “but he that hateth reproof is brutish” (Prov 12: 1). The word “brutish” means “lacking in understanding”. If we resent correction, we are like a beast that has no ability to reason. We are “like the horse, which bites and kicks at the man, who performs a painful operation upon him. … He is surely a brute, and not a rational creature, who has swallowed poison, and will rather suffer it to take its course, than admit the necessary relief of medicine, lest he should be obliged to confess his folly, in exposing himself to the need of it” (Charles Bridges).
Foolish and irrational, he takes offence when told of his faults or reminded of his duties. He regards the reprover who tells him the truth as his enemy.
Brethren, let us cultivate a humble and teachable spirit. When corrected, let us be open to admit our errors and to correct them.
o The folly of rejecting correction
One who despises instruction or correction is often called “a scorner”. There are many references (Prov 9: 7-8; 13: 1; 14: 6; 15: 12; 19: 25; 21: 11, 24; 22: 10; 24: 9), but I am quoting only a few:
“A scorner loveth not one that reproveth him: neither will he go unto the wise” (15: 12);
“Proud and haughty scorner is his name, who dealeth in proud wrath” (21: 24);
“Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease” (22: 10);
“The thought of foolishness is sin: and the scorner is an abomination to men” (24: 9).
Proud and contentious, the scorner habitually rejects wise counsel. In his arrogance, he quarrels with anyone who tries to correct or reprove him: “He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame: and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot. 8 Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee” (9: 7-8). He mocks at the reprover and shames him.
The scorner’s negative response to reproof makes him “an abomination to men” (24: 9) so much so that people avoid advising or correcting him. Left to his own devices, he never learns the right way to complete a task nor the truth about his own faults and follies: “Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction” (13: 18).
God will not overlook the scorner’s pride. He has to face God’s judgment: “Surely he scorneth the scorners” (3: 34a). God’s hand against the haughty is clear from two New Testament passages: “Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (I Pet 5: 5b cf: Jas 4: 6).
(… to be continued)