There is much that can be said about the use of words, but one of the most fascinating aspects of it is looking at the way that Jesus used words and the impact that His words had on people. He encouraged, He healed, He delivered, He even raised Lazarus from the dead, just by speaking. And He rebuked. Yes, rebuke. As a spiritual leader He was very free to call people to order and expose them for what they were. Take the time in a synagogue when he healed a woman who had been disabled by a spirit for over 18 years who began to rejoice and praise God.
Now you will imagine that seeing such a magnificent deliverance everyone present will rejoice, well, not so. The man in charge, the leader of the synagogue took umbrage, thought it highly improper that Jesus would heal on the Sabbath and made it known. Jesus turned to him and without mincing words called him and his ilk ‘hypocrites’. Would they not rescue their own donkey if it were in distress on the Sabbath, why then was this woman not to be rescued? I love the end of it, it says that his adversaries were humiliated but the people rejoiced.
Over and over again we hear Jesus rebuke sin in the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the nation, and in sundry individuals including His own disciples. Some he called whitewashed tombs, some blind guides, hypocrites, fools, unmarked graves, faithless, and on some he pronounced woes. Why? Because they were in grave error and needed to be corrected and have their eyes opened to the danger of their ways. And that was not the time to tell them how sweet they were. As Christian leaders we need to take a leaf from Jesus’s book and apply rebuke when needed. Ecclesiastes 7:5 puts it this way, “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools.” Of course that is what a self centred generation wants, leaders who sing the song of fools.
Indeed leaders, in particular pastors must constantly guard against the tendency of sheep to manipulate them, sometimes with tears so that they will not call them out for their wrongdoing. They will accuse you of being unloving. Just shrug your shoulders, speak the truth and move on. And sometimes the problem lies in the relative weakness of some leaders who always want to be liked, man pleasers rather than God pleasers. Yet pastoring is not a popularity contest nor is it an ego trip. It is highly suspect if you please all the people all the time. The only good opinion you crave must be that of your Master, otherwise you will watch people walk into a pit without speaking a word of warning or rebuke because you want them to love you or because you are afraid to upset them.
The leader of the synagogue was understandably upset, as were the teachers of the law on another occasion who complained to Jesus that they too felt insulted as He rebuked the Pharisees, upon which Jesus turned squarely to them and said ‘Woe also to you experts of the law !’ and proceeded to give them the full weight of His disapproval. Jesus was very confrontational; you and I cannot shy away from confrontation. It is a fact that humans willfully do evil, even Christian humans, those ones we deal with daily, consequently a leader will have ample opportunity for confrontation, to rebuke, correct, and call people to order.
Of course many will balk at correction, so what? Do it anyway, it might do some good, and they might even thank you for it someday. To Titus the apostle Paul writes in Titus 2.15 “Speak these things, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.” And for those who persist in sin, Paul commands Timothy in 1 Tim 5.20 “..rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” To us all the word of God gives this solemn charge : I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesu,… : preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)
And this we shall do on one condition, that our wellbeing be not dependent on the opinion of the people we lead, but on the God we serve. And then shall we speak the word of the wise rather than sing the song of fools.