People respond to rebukes in different ways. The wise and righteous in God’s eyes will be grateful for the insight shared about their shortcoming. All others will get angry and some even violent. We’ve read of words getting out of hand at a party and someone storming out and returning with a gun: or a table conversation turning uncomfortable when the offended party responds to the accusation with tension.
Proverbs 9:7-9 teaches some truths about our responses:
He that reproves a scorner gets to himself shame: and he that rebukes a wicked man gets himself a blot.
Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.
Which person are you? How well do you respond to criticism of your character or conduct? Do you take it thoughtfully to God in prayer and change, or are you merely upset and it goes no further? Perhaps you are upset at first, then the ugly truth gradually sinks in, and then you deal with it appropriately.
Jesus addressed this issue of responding to truth in John 3:19-21:
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
For every one that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
But he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
The “light” Jesus is referring to here is truth that reveals the situation as God sees it, as it really is. God is perfect and pure, that is, unsullied by sin, in all His character and knowledge about human affairs.
According to Jesus’ words, if our deeds were evil, we would be upset if they were exposed as such. We would not like to be around people who live righteously lest they point out our faults. We’d hate it if they wagged the finger in our faces, saying, “That’s wrong!”
Of course we would be comfortable among those who share in the same bad traits that we have. (So the Bible warns us to be careful of the company we keep, lest we accept or nurture in ourselves the same faults they have.)
But then there is a class of people who “do the truth.” Jesus does not contrast evil people with good people here. All good people have evil in them. (So I cringe when people say, “I’m a good person; I go to church.”)
So Jesus contrasts the groups according to how they respond to criticism. If they respond in a way that turns them to God in acknowledgement of their fault, that is, “to the light,” then according to verse 19, that is proof that God is at work in that person’s life.
What kind of hearer are you? If the sower sows the seed into good ground, the seed bears fruit. Is your heart good ground for receiving uncomfortable truths about your life? Are you so committed to a comfortable way of living, of staying in your comfort zone, that you don’t want to hear of change?
If your idea about salvation is merely not going to Hell when you die, then you’ve missed the boat. Salvation also includes ongoing, voluntary, growth in our character so that we become more like Jesus. This means coming to the light on a constant basis for renewal and change. We expect rebuke. We are not perfect. We want to improve what we don’t like in ourselves. In Christ, as opposed to any religion on earth, we actually have the power within to overcome.
I wrote that all “good people” have evil in them. It’s also true that all evil people have an opportunity to realize that they can’t go on in their way or they will ruin themselves and others. Some of my pen pals have come to this realization in prison. They were glad they were caught, because they were in danger of destroying everyone around them. In prison, they had time to ponder their ways and turn around. They turned from being those who reject the truth to being doers of the truth. The truth pointed them to the fact that they could not change without Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Are you one who “does the truth” and “comes to the light”? If so, more light will be added to you until you, with others in Daniel 12:3 who grow in God’s wisdom, shine as the stars forever.