Why a God of Love Gives Reproof
“Happy is the able-bodied man whom you correct, O Jah, and whom you teach out of your own law.”—Ps. 94:12.
JEHOVAH GOD wants persons to live, yes, to enjoy life. He does not take pleasure in the death even of the wicked, but, rather, “in that someone wicked turns back from his way and actually keeps living.”—Ezek. 33:11.
Because of this concern for mankind, God provided a ransom through his beloved Son’s sacrifice of his own perfect life. “For God loved the world [of mankind] so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16.
This same divine interest is what causes God to provide reproof and discipline for humans. Very obviously, perfection is not a characteristic of any of us. We constantly fall short, not reaching the mark in our efforts to do things exactly as we should, and that is the literal meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words for “sin,” namely, “to miss the mark.” So, we all need correction and discipline. We should appreciate this discipline as an evidence of God’s love, designed, not simply as a punishment, but to train us in righteousness in the way a father trains his sons.—Heb. 12:5-11.
Take, as an illustration, a man in a boat, alone on the sea and running short of food and water. If, due either to ignorance or to bad judgment, he is seriously off course in his efforts to reach land, he will die. Surely he would be grateful if someone, by some means, could signal to him how to correct his course, thereby saving his life. He would be foolish to resent or reject such helpful correction.
In the same way, all of us, being innately sinful, need regular correction in order to get on, or stay on, the narrow course that leads to life. Without it we inevitably deviate into the broad course that leads to destruction.—Matt. 7:13, 14.
Human imperfection and need for correction show up from childhood onward. That is why, as any parent can testify, it takes a lot of love to bring up a child properly, instilling in mind and heart an appreciation for right principles. Proverbs 22:15 truthfully states that “foolishness is tied up with the heart” of a child, and it takes discipline to bring the child to the point of being governed by life’s realities and by truth, rather than by foolish, shortsighted, childish ideas.
All of this tests the parent’s patience, his or her desire and determination to be compassionate and long-suffering in instructing and educating the child in a way of life that will promote future happiness. When response is slow, or the child does not listen or obey, one may feel like giving up; one may incline to view the situation as hopeless. Hurt or angry feelings could easily dominate. But love does not allow for giving up merely because of the unpleasantness of the situation. To hold back from giving needed instruction and patient, well-thought-out discipline to a child would show, not love, but a lack of it, since love keeps looking for and working for the best interests, both present and future, of the one loved. (See Proverbs 13:24.) Moreover, love “does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury.” It “hopes all things.”—1 Cor. 13:5, 7.
A loving parent therefore keeps expressing hope on behalf of a child as long as there is any basis at all for such hope. Fathers and mothers who really care do not easily ‘give up’ on any of their children; they do not back away from giving needed direction and correction coupled with reasoning and love. They show the quality of being long-suffering.
‘EVEN AS A FATHER REPROVES HIS SON’
How refreshing to stop and think that in all of this parents simply reflect God’s own splendid example! For he does not easily give up on his servants; rather, he displays an amazing degree of long-suffering toward them. Thus, Levites in the days of Nehemiah, when praying to God, referred to the Israelites’ experiences in the wilderness of Sinai and said:
“They themselves, even our forefathers, acted presumptuously and . . . they refused to listen, and they did not remember your wonderful acts that you performed with them, but they hardened their neck and appointed a head to return to their servitude in Egypt. But you are a God of acts of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, and you did not leave them.”—Neh. 9:16, 17.
Besides God’s patience, we can note that his fatherly discipline and his correction, though perhaps painful to the one corrected, always retain a positive aspect. They are given with a beneficial end in view. That is why Proverbs 3:11, 12 urges: “The discipline of Jehovah, O my son, do not reject; and do not abhor his reproof, because the one whom Jehovah loves he reproves, even as a father does a son in whom he finds pleasure.”—Compare Hebrews 12:5-11.
So it is not just a case of a vengeful ruler becoming indignant and incensed because someone failed to show due respect for his laws. True, gross sin does anger God and rightly so. (Num. 25:1-3) But his anger is not motivated by selfishness or mere personal pride. He knows better than anyone the horrible consequences that sin can produce, how disastrous its poisoning influence can be, how damaging it is to human happiness. Disrespect for his sovereignty can never bring good, only harm. It harms the practicer and inevitably harms others. A loving God therefore could not help but resent sin, could never nonchalantly overlook it. Though he is “slow to anger,” when God does act against sin he does so to stop further harm from resulting.—Ex. 34:6; compare Psalm 106:36-40.
Not only this but Jehovah also gauges the severity (or mildness) of his reproof, not according to a rigid formula, but according to the actual need that exists. Using the illustration of a farmer, Jehovah says at Isaiah 28:23-29 (New English Bible):
“Listen and hear what I say, attend and hear my words. Will the ploughman continually plough for the sowing, breaking his ground and harrowing it? Does he not, once he has levelled it, broadcast the dill and scatter the cummin? Does he not plant the wheat in rows with barley and spelt along the edge? Does not his God instruct him and train him aright? Dill is not threshed with a sledge, and the cartwheel is not rolled over cummin; dill is beaten with a rod, and cummin with a flail. Corn is crushed, but not to the uttermost, not with a final crushing; his cartwheels rumble over it and break it up, but they do not grind it fine. This message, too, comes from the LORD of Hosts, whose purposes are wonderful and his power great.”
A farmer does not plow up the ground continually, but only to the extent needed. The Israelite farmer scattered or broadcast some smaller seeds, whereas other more valued grains were placed in rows. And when threshing, the smaller, more tender grains were not threshed with heavy equipment that would crush them, but with a rod or flail. Even the larger, harder grains that were threshed with heavy instruments, such as a wooden sledge or a cartwheel, were not threshed to the point of utterly crushing them. So, too, Jehovah wisely, justly and lovingly measures out reproof, discipline and correction—whether light, moderate, heavy or even severe—according to the need of each individual situation. Only those who willfully resist his patient efforts to aid them, will experience the force of his destructive power.
SHEPHERDS FOR THE REFRESHMENT AND PROTECTION OF THE FLOCK
How good, too, to consider the example of God’s Son, the “fine shepherd” of God’s sheep! (John 10:11) On earth he reflected God’s qualities and set the example for all those who would act as shepherds in the Christian congregation. What was and is his manner of dealing with those who become his disciples? He himself gave this warm invitation:
“Come to me, all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy; and I will give you relief. Bend your necks to my yoke, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble-hearted; and your souls will find relief. For my yoke is good to bear, my load is light.”—Matt. 11:28-30, New English Bible.
His refreshing attitude toward repentant sinners is shown in the illustration of the man who loses one out of a hundred sheep and leaves the ninety-nine so he can search for the lost one. Upon finding the strayed sheep the man does not shout at it or kick it for straying, but, said Jesus, “he puts it upon his shoulders and rejoices. And when he gets home he calls his friends and his neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost.’” Jesus went on to say that “thus there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones who have no need of repentance.”—Luke 15:1-7.
As a requirement for Christian elders the apostle Paul said that each should be “holding firmly to the faithful word as respects his art of teaching, that he may be able both to exhort by the teaching that is healthful and to reprove those who contradict.” (Titus 1:9) Yes, at times elders may have to reprove certain ones in the congregation that they serve. This is not pleasant for the elders, not an easy thing to do. But they know that “the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,” and that ‘all those whom Jehovah loves he reproves,’ themselves included. (Prov. 6:23; 3:11, 12; Heb. 12:6) They find it to be true that “he that is reproving a man will afterward find more favor than he will that is flattering with his tongue.” (Prov. 28:23) And so when the circumstances call for it they do not hold back from straightforwardly showing erring ones how they can and should correct their course. (Prov. 27:5) Like God, they keep a positive goal in mind.
How should an elder approach one who has taken a wrong course? If the elder adopts a superior attitude, like that of a policeman dealing with a criminal or a prosecuting attorney questioning a suspect, the reaction produced will certainly not be beneficial. (1 Pet. 5:2, 3, 5) But if the elder shows fellow feeling, realizing that he himself is imperfect, not immune to committing error, then he can reflect a brotherly spirit. (Gal. 6:1) He is there not primarily to condemn but to help, and the one in error is far more likely to respond well to such an approach. (1 Pet. 3:8) Each situation is different and the wise person will seek to gain knowledge and insight as to circumstances, rather than jump to conclusions.—Prov. 18:15; 21:11.
Although the erring one may be reluctant to talk or even be somewhat evasive, patience and kindness can do much to overcome this. (Prov. 25:15; 2 Tim. 2:24-26) He should be convinced that the elders really do have his best interests at heart; they are his brothers. Even where the circumstances call for strong counsel, perhaps even the severity of reproof, it is important for an elder to remember always that it is the wrongdoing that is hated and condemned, not the person. (Jude 23) Of course, those who refuse all efforts to aid them, who are defiant and unrepentant of serious wrongdoing, thereby show themselves to be a danger to the congregation, and its interests would require their being disfellowshiped. And yet, even here Scriptural counsel can and should be given so that these realize that sincere repentance can later gain for them readmission to the congregation.
But just what does it mean to “reprove” someone? In the Christian congregation, is the purpose of reproof principally to shame or reprimand another? Would it be giving “reproof” simply to announce that a certain person has engaged in some wrong conduct and express disapproval of that wrong conduct? We shall see now what the Bible shows.
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“The one whom Jehovah loves he reproves, even as a Father does a son in whom he finds pleasure.”—Prov. 3:12
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