Reproof

Whoso loveth correction loveth knowledge; but he that hateth reproof is brutish (Proverbs 12:1).

A wise son heareth his father’s instruction; but a scoffer heareth not rebuke (Proverbs 13:1).

A fool despiseth his father’s correction; but he that regardeth reproof getteth prudence (Proverbs 15:5).

One of the things that unites all mankind is our distaste at being wrong and our extreme discomfort when our words or behavior are challenged or rebuked. We do not like such circumstances. We do not look forward to them. We do not feel good after they happen, generally.

Much of this is due to our internal pride and self-image. If we are proven to be wrong, or if our conduct is unseemly, then we feel lowered in the eyes of others. If nothing else, we feel internally humiliated. Humiliation is hard enough when we try to be humble ourselves (cf. 1 Peter 5:6)– it is that much more difficult when it is being imposed on us. Our pride is wounded, and our fight or flight impulse is often aroused. For some reason the idea that we are debased in the eyes of others because of our words or our conduct do not seem to bother us as much as the feelings that come when we are called out regarding them. Yet the sting remains.

The type of person we are, however, is proven not by whether or not we will be rebuked or chastened, but in how we respond to such rebuke and chastisement. None of us are perfect; there are all times when we find ourselves in the wrong (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8). All of us deserve rebuke and reproof at times.

The easy thing to do is to get defensive and refuse to listen to the criticism. Some may get violent; others might unleash a torrent of criticism themselves. We can all easily try to find reasons why we should not listen to the rebuke so that we may find a way to preserve our pride. We may attempt to make the one rebuking look like a hypocrite, or we might wrap our words in sanctimony and denounce them for “judging” us or for imposing their standards upon us. We might construct elaborate arguments to justify a losing cause, no matter how weak or easily dismissed those arguments might be. What is important in the end is to remain justified and right.

It is also easy to just ignore the criticism and pretend it does not mean anything. Some people create very elaborate worldviews that seek to invalidate various forms of criticism. After all, if you can figure out a way to render the basis for the rebuke irrelevant, then the rebuke itself will be irrelevant, right?

Yet, as Solomon (among others) has made clear, this response is not the response of wisdom. It is the way of folly– the way of the fool, the scoffer, and the brute. In fact, such a person is double the fool– he has been carried away in some wrong thinking or action, and when others make effort to correct him, he rejects that correction and continues in the error. In such circumstances it is easy for people to begin writing off the fool– why bother rebuking someone who will not hear and will not change? It is tragic to think about how many people have fallen into such misery and distress, presently and for the future, because they rejected reproof and would rather be wrong and proud than to live according to wisdom and to live.

The wise person who loves knowledge and is prudent will accept criticism. No one ever promises that accepting criticism will be easy– it is not. Yet we must appreciate it when people care enough, for whatever reason, to show us the proper way.

Some may fear that they will look weak or pathetic if they accept criticism. While that may be the response of some, such a response is itself a form of folly. Instead, most people have a higher respect for those who are willing to be chastened and who will accept reproof and rebuke. It is the way of humility and the way of wisdom, and it deserves to be honored. Better to swallow pride, accept that we are wrong, and perhaps look like a fool for a moment than to stubbornly insist on our own way and be the fool perpetually!

As in all things, chastisement requires discretion. Not all reproof and rebuke will necessarily be legitimate, but it is better to be open to possibilities of error than to delude oneself into thinking that he or she is always right. Those who would rebuke others must also make sure that their motivations are pure and that they are conducting themselves in the best way so as to obtain the desired repentance, always watching for themselves (cf. Matthew 7:1-5, 18:15-18, Galatians 6:1).

Being wrong is never fun, and correcting error should not be relished. Yet it is necessary for our physical and spiritual health to be rebuked and reproved when we are wrong. Let us be wise and accept reproof and live!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Fool Speaks in His Heart

The fool hath said in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they have done abominable works; There is none that doeth good (Psalm 14:1).

The Psalmist’s declaration in Psalm 14:1 (and Psalm 53:1) is understandably famous and often used these days when referring to those who do not believe that God exists. While it is true that many people turn to atheism in order to get around having a superior moral authority than themselves, and the presumption that there is no spiritual power beyond our ability to comprehend or perceive is folly, such is not really what the Psalmist addresses here.

The problem in Psalm 14/53 is not that people do not intellectually concede the existence of God– instead, the people act as if they do not believe in God! Their “atheism” is functional more than ideological. They go about their lives and act in corrupt, sinful, and ungodly ways– ways that show that they have no fear of a higher power than themselves!

The Psalmist continues:

The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there were any that did understand, That did seek after God. They are all gone aside; they are together become filthy; There is none that doeth good, no, not one (Psalm 14:2-3).

The Psalmist declares that the problem is greater than any of us could imagine– this is not a problem limited to just “the wicked.” Everyone has turned aside. Everyone has acted in sinful ways. There are none that only seek after God’s purposes! Paul will later use these verses to demonstrate how all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and understandably so (Romans 3:10-12; 23)!

If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize that when we decide to do things our own way, to seek after what we want, and to live according to our own will, we are playing the role of “the fool.” We have declared in our heart that there is no God, no matter how much we may protest that declaration in our minds.

God made things clear when He spoke through Jeremiah: “I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). It is not for us to direct our own steps; instead, we must seek after God. We must seek to understand His will so that we can walk in His steps (2 Peter 3:18, 1 John 2:3-6). We must not live for ourselves and our own will, but subject ourselves entirely to God and His will (Romans 6:16-23, Galatians 2:20). We ought to know He who will render judgment for every work we do (Romans 2:5-11).

Atheists do trust in a series of foolish propositions, but they are at least intellectually honest with themselves. Far too many others may profess to believe in God and yet act as if there is no God, and we have all played that role at various points in our lives. The greatest fool is the one who says in his heart that there is no God and lives however he wishes. Let us not play the fool any longer. Let us serve God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry