“A new command I give you, ÔLove one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another'” (John 13:34). These were some of Jesus’ closing words to his disciples. Included in this word “love” is sometimes a kind rebuke when a brother or sister is straying from the faith. It is this kind of love that Paul demonstrates in his letter to the Galatians.
But before we look at our text, let me ask you a few questions.
Do you ever visit with a person who has an evil tongue about the poor witness he is for Jesus Christ? Do you accept criticism when someone gives you a loving rebuke after you have spoken harshly about another person?
Have you ever had a friend who was getting a bit too friendly with another man or woman and the spouse was not aware of what was happening? Did you talk to him or her about the danger of this temptation and what it could lead to? That takes a lot of courage, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could save a marriage?
Paul loved his friends so much that he never hesitated to give them a loving rebuke. Neither did Jesus, who one day said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” This was a sharp, but loving, rebuke.
In our text, we see Paul as the disappointed apostle. He had established churches in Galatia. These people, who were members of these churches, trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior when Paul left them to start another congregation. But Paul had no more than left town when some false prophets came and led some of them away. These people were the Judaizers who taught people were not saved through trusting Christ alone, but it was necessary for them to keep the Jewish laws. To these Galatians, Paul wrote, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel Ð which is really no gospel at all.” He was concerned about the Galatian Christians’ relationship with the Lord Jesus. So he gave them a loving rebuke, even though he would anger them. His purpose was to bring them back to Christ.
The Galatians were not unique in leaving Christ. This defection from the faith is with us today. As a pastor, I saw it when young women came to visit with me about their coming marriage. It was obvious that her prince charming was not a Christian. But he had other attractive qualities. He was handsome, personable, and social. She said, “This is what every woman is looking for in a husband.”
“But what about his relationship with Jesus?” I asked. “You have told me that his family is not the least bit interested in the church, to say nothing about Christ. You have also said that he is amazed when your family has devotions in the home and he thinks it is silly to spoil a perfectly good Sunday by going to church. Can all of his attractive qualities take the place of Jesus? Are you willing to sacrifice having a Christian home for what he has to offer you?”
The bride, and often her mother, was often not happy with this kind of counseling. But must not these questions be asked in Christian love before it is too late?
However, a further look at our text tells us that it was not only with the ordinary member of the congregations in Galatia that Paul gave a friendly rebuke. Paul writes about a confrontation he had with Peter when he came to Antioch. Peter was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James (Jewish people), he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when the Jews came, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
Paul’s loving rebuke was not to humiliate Peter, but to show him how serious his actions were in confusion these young Christians in their understanding of the Gospel that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus alone. Note that Paul “resisted Peter to his face.” He did not talk behind his back. Neither was he willing to gloss over this offense that Peter had brought to the young Christians by adjusting his behavior to those who were in the crowd. How common in the church today! Our behavior can change when we move from the worship setting to a business deal. What has happened that causes an unbeliever to say, “I would rather do business with a pagan than one of you Ôborn-again Christians.’ Watch them! They are not beyond being dishonest if it means some extra dollars in their pockets.” Kind of sad, isn’t it. Isn’t a loving rebuke in order?
One of the world’s greatest accusations against the church is that we teach one thing and do another. “Why don’t you practice what you preach?” they ask. Whether this is a loving rebuke or not, it is one that we must take seriously if we want to be witnesses for church in this world. To gloss over our inconsistencies, or to justify our wrongs with excuses that do not hold water, makes the Christian’s witness unacceptable to the unbelievers.
What a lesson for us to learn. To love a person sometimes means to rebuke the person, but this rebuke is always spoken in love and always given with the intent of furthering the cause of the Gospel.