Proverbs: Are You Open to Instruction and Reproof? — Chance Blackmer

One of the many challenges plaguing modern Christians is the inability to receive and respond positively to corrective instruction and reproof. Our society has grown accustomed to the “live and let live” disposition insomuch that blatant wrongdoing goes unchallenged and uncorrected. Since many do not know God’s standards for conduct, they do not intervene in constructive ways. When people do intervene for instructive reasons, or to reprove a course of action, it causes problems because it is not done with the right disposition or temperament. The common feedback is that “people should mind their own business,” and “you can’t tell me what to do, you’re not the boss of me.” Childhood mantras that have been used on the playground among kindergartners and first graders are now co-opted by adults as standing wisdom for conflict resolution (if not the exact words then at least the sentiment). One can begin to see how this climate affects the people of God, since one of the many obligations of God’s people is to ensure that each Christian is living right and motivate each other to godly conduct.

Instruction in the knowledge of God is necessary to grow and mature in Christ, as God intends. Paul gives Timothy the injunction:  “Study to show thyself approved unto God…” because “All scripture… is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16, emphasis mine). A Christian must know God’s word and strive to grow in it. This means that the Christian’s disposition should be one of readiness to receive instruction, and even reproof when necessary. The Proverbs writer declares in Proverbs 10:17 that “He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction: but he that refuseth reproof erreth.” It is one thing to despise people who poorly instruct and reprove, i.e., people with an insincere attitude.  However, it is an entirely different disposition to despise instruction and reproof itself. Note also, Proverbs 15:5:  “A fool despiseth his father’s instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent.” How do we hear and receive not only instruction, but reproof?

While it is evident that instruction and reproof are necessary to develop and maintain a right relationship with God, the question today for both our society and many professing Christians is, “Are you open to instruction and reproof?”  Better yet, “How well do you respond to reproof?”  Many of those professing Christianity are not open to either instruction or reproof, which results in nominal Christians and hypocritical lives. How can God’s people resolve this problem and hear the instruction and reproof of God’s people sincerely?

This question strikes at the very heart of the American Christian. Most would say that they respond quite favorably to reproof.  However, it is clear that there is an element of pride involved when one sees the way Christians divide over even the smallest things. Paul acknowledges the division in the church at Corinth and states that the remedy for the division is to “speak the same thing” (1 Cor. 1:10). When unity of purpose exists in a congregation of the Lord’s church, then instruction can occur in non-confrontational ways and all the members grow because of it. This also means that reproof can occur in ways that are beneficial to all involved because the standard of conduct is known and inculcated within the church.  Any deviation or aberrant behavior is seen and corrected quickly with love.

However, there is a greater problem that arises: the justification for reproof. If one does not believe they need to be corrected, then the person attempting to correct can become the object of poor treatment. The corrector becomes the enemy and conflict arises. Paul confronts this when he questions “Am I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16).

In Galatians 2, Paul gives an account his reproof of Peter. Peter withdrew himself from eating with Gentile brethren and Barnabas emulated him. Paul then exclaims that he “withstood [Peter] to the face, because he was to be blamed” (Gal. 2:11). Peter’s actions needed admonishing by someone grounded with an objective view. Paul then begins a discussion in Galatians 6:1, most likely with the confrontation with Peter in mind:  “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering yourself, lest ye also be tempted.” Instruction and reproof meet in this statement. A sinful lifestyle must be challenged and corrected. Without another’s encouragement it is unlikely for one to change. The biblical text indicates that Paul and Peter most likely resolved any lingering issues that arose, so Peter could rightly refer to Paul as “our beloved brother” (2 Pet. 3:15). Reproof does not mean a brother or sister are eternally at odds with one another. Amicable resolution can occur. Proverbs 15:31 states that “the ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise.” Peter certainly heard the reproof of Paul and was willing to make the changes necessary in his life.

Instruction has a personal element to it, also.  We may have heard, “That sermon was a good one!  You really got ’em that time, preacher!”  This is the one who refuses instruction and believes everyone else needs to change, not themselves.  Instruction or learning acknowledges a deficiency in some area, something that some will not do.  Instruction in the way of righteousness is the most profitable instruction.  Solomon states, “My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother” (Prov. 1:8).  The writer intends all who read his work to learn wisdom and instruction from the Lord.  Note also his remarks in verses 2-3:  “To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment and equity.”

What is unique about the question “Are you open to instruction and reproof?” is that it is a personal question about our disposition toward ourselves and God. If one is open to instruction then he must of necessity be humble. The proud and arrogant cannot be taught. If one is open to instruction they are willing to admit ignorance, which pride will not do. Every child of God must exhibit humility before instruction can be received. James tells us that we are to “receive with meekness the engrafted word which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

Being open to reproof means one is willing to listen to what a brother or sister has to say about our own actions conduct, reflect deeply, and make appropriate changes if necessary. This is challenging in our society since many do not believe their actions need correcting. Many professing Christians even struggle to have the humility to look at the statements of brothers and sisters thoughtfully and prayerfully and determine to do better. Each one of us should be willing and able to instruct and reprove in turn. Paul tells us in Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Read “instructing and reproving” for “teaching and admonishing.” God’s people are to be open and receptive to instruction and reproof. “Take heed how you hear” (Lk. 8:18), for “he that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding” (Prov. 15:32).

 

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