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5 Ways for a Christian to Rebuke or Correct a Friend

By February 2, 2016August 9th, 2019Church, Encouragement, Family, Leadership

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. Proverbs 17:17

Wounds from a friend can be trusted… Proverbs 27:6

rebuke |riˈbyoōk|verb express sharp disapproval or criticism of (someone) because of their behavior or actions.

Years ago in high school, I had a friend tell me I was hanging out with the wrong people. It was hard to hear, but I listened to the advice and switched my sphere of influence. Looking back, it’s one of the best decisions I ever made, considering the different path my life took and the life of my former friends.

That’s only one example. Thankfully there have been many other times a friend loved me enough to help me see the mistakes I was making. Usually I knew, but the rebuke challenged me to alter my ways. I’ve had to “return the favor” many times.

There are times when you have to rebuke a friend in order to be a true friend. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is tell another what he or she is doing wrong. You may be the only one who cares enough to point out what everyone else sees, but refuses to address.

If you choose to accept the assignment of rebuking or correcting a friend, you should be sure you are accurate in your assessment – as much as you can be without a conversation, you should pray through the proper timing of your approach, and you should address the person and not others to keep from spreading gossip. And, this should go without saying, but you should make sure they are actually a friend. If the relationship isn’t a close one – you may not be the right person to approach them. 

I’ve titled this post ways for a “Christian” to rebuke a friend. I believe these could apply to believers or non-believers. But, I did so because part of being in the family of God comes with certain expectations, such as love and forgiveness – which we are to extend to all our friends – whether or not they share our faith. 

When the time comes, here are 5 ways to rebuke or correct a friend:

Be purposeful.

A rebuke should not be vindictive in nature or driven by jealousy or selfish interests. The betterment of your friend should be your sole objective. If this is not the case, you may only be acting from your emotions – and things will not go well. You will likely not be received well by your friend. Check your motive first. This is where prayer beforehand comes in handy. 

Be loving.

As we should do with everything, correction of any kind should come in the context of a loving relationship. In fact, one standard might be to not rebuke people you don’t love. If done correctly a rebuke is a part of love. (If you don’t know how, THIS POST was written for a different purpose, but may offer some suggestions.) Part of maturing as a person is learning how to say hard things and still be kind doing so. 

Be truthful.

Don’t dance around or use subtleties when addressing the issue. State the problem as you see it. Keep in mind you may be wrong on some of your assumptions, so be prepared to listen as much as talk, but don’t leave them guessing what you mean either. 

Be helpful.

In addition to pointing out the problems you see, a loving response comes with some offers for resolution and a willingness to walk through any necessary recovery with the friend. Help them process where they are in life. Recommit your friendship to them. Follow up with them afterwards to make sure they know you care. 

Be redemptive.

Be willing to extend grace and forgive the friend for any wrong they have done – towards you, others, or themselves. Make sure he or she knows you are still in their corner. Don’t offer a rebuke or correct someone if you aren’t also willing to forgive or if you don’t ultimately want the best for them – regardless of how they respond.

Do you have a friend you can count on to rebuke or correct you if needed?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 35 Comments

  • Diane says:

    Great post! Very true and useful!

    • Maurice Fisher says:

      Could you consider Luke 17 vs 1-4 .. how does Jesus see ..Rebuke ..Repentance and Forgiveness in this passage?

  • Travis says:

    Hi Ron,
    Excellent post as always. Would love to hear your opinion on church discipline? It seems that many churches have went away from it, and the ones who still practice it may be seen in a negative light.

  • kfarmer2014 says:

    Great post, Ron. I have used a thing or two of yours before (with your permission). Might I also use this? You can contact me directly if you wish at [email protected]. Thanks.

  • SARS says:

    I would like something added to discussion regarding the rebuked friend defending their actions/ behavior by putting you on the defense by throwing back at you that love should be “unconditional”, true friends should just “accept” each other as is.

  • Mark says:

    As a non-practicing alcoholic (sober 3 years) I have been rebuked many times. It is hard to be angry with someone who sincerely believes they are helping you.
    People can tell the difference between someone telling you should alter course because it is better for them and from someone telling you to alter course because it is good for you.

  • @saintlurch says:

    I would add "Do it privately", one-on-one in a peaceful setting (if possible).

  • CJ Godfrey says:

    I would add "preach the gospel" as an essential part of the rebuke. So often speaking the "truth in love" is thought of simply as being honest because we love them, but the context of the passage really focuses on Jesus as the truth. The rebuke should be seen as an opportunity to embed the gospel ever more deeply into the rebukee's as well as the rebuker's life. (I might have coined a couple of new words there).

  • @kris13wolfe says:

    I have been rejected more times than rebuked. I've always wondered why when I most needed someone to be honest with me, they weren't willing to do so. In turn I have become very honest in dealing with my friends. I try to be very accepting of them even If i feel the need to tell them I am concerned about their choices. I think it helps to have credibility too. I try not to confront people on things in which I have no experience. I am clear with all my friends that Would rather they hate me for confronting them, than hate themselves for their own behavior. If friends aren't wiling to do that, they are just people you hang out with, nothing more.

  • Read a post today by @cindyluhoo about seeing a wasp in her car. "If I could only be like the wasp and tell him where to get out to freedom, I would."

    Rebuking carries a lot of negative connotation. But if we can be like the other person (ie understand their perspective FIRST) it helps with your last point which says, "make sure they know you are still in their corner".

  • John Harris says:

    #6 – do it in a poem. It's hard to be mad at a rhyme (and it's memorable)

  • @kennysilva says:

    Great post, Ron. I had to rebuke a friend a few weeks ago after he had relapsed into a serious condition having to do with alcohol abuse. I bathed the situation in prayer and persistently sought the Spirit's leading in my conversation. It was amazing. I thought I had been far too easy on him in the conversation, but God worked some serious conviction in Him and we've been able to work through the situation together.

  • Grace says:

    This is such a great reminder. My husband and I are planting a church for the first time as senior leaders (we were youth pastors for 7 years) and its unbelievable how much relational conflict we have come up against. In ministry and life we will continue to confront people and learning to handle it the best way is our priority. Thanks again for your post.

  • Tori says:

    Ron, I benefit so greatly from all your posts. You have this uncanny gift of speaking the very words into my life (and others, I'm sure) that I most need to hear. Your posts are incredibly practical and give me something I can really sink my teeth into. I appreciate your willingness to share your wisdom and experience with all us strangers. 🙂 Thanks so much for all you do.

  • Hi Ron! My add-ons to your list:

    * Be specific (and not generic)
    * Be authentic (and not phony)
    * Be constructive (and not destructive)

  • Michelle says:

    Great post! I’m going through this with a friend right now. She is not changing course and is walking into a huge relationship mistake (she is very recently divorced & beginning a dating relationship with the man she had an emotional affair with while married). I’m working on letting her know that I love her while I don’t agree with her I also love her. I’m not in control. I just couldnt stand by without saying something. I love her, but it hurts to watch.

    I’ve advised people in the past and they usually don’t listen. Ive always tried to give the “rebuke” then step back and let them choose while making sure they know I love them no matter their choices. I often wish more people would listen 😉

  • Rocco Capra says:

    Make sure if you plan on rebuking someone, you know the facts, the full story of whatever it is you are rebuking. Most importantly, like your post eludes to, it should be someone you know WELL, a friend, not an acquaintance, nor someone you know on the surface simply cause you've gone to the same church for the past 10 years.

    I've been rebuked by people who not only didn't know me, they didn't know the truth of the situation they were rebuking.

    Rebuke is an 'earned' right, between two people who trust and love each other.

  • It's very appropriate you listed "be loving" first. I had to rebuke one of my closest last year. He screwed up in a way which gave me reason to be anger. I I had to make a conscious decision to tell him that I would love him, and be there for him, no matter what he did. He's still recovering. Everything isn't perfect, but our friendship is just as strong as it always was.____On the flip side, I know I have friends that would rebuke me, and do it lovingly.

  • Quay Morris says:

    Great post. The most recent situation that comes to mind for me when I had to rebuke a friend happened my sophomore year of college. She was a bit of a wild-child. It was fun for awesome adventures (like camping out on the beach!), but terrible in other ways (like when it came to her bedroom partners … ). I approached her as I was concerned for her health and safety. I probably didn't go about it the best way (it turned into a huge screaming match) and unfortunately we still don't really talk to this day. However, I have heard "through the grapevine" that she is actually seeing a psychologist now and has done a complete 180. I don't know if it was my talk, talks from others or a tragic event that turned things around, but I am glad they have. Even though we aren't on friendly terms anymore, I still love her to death.