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Why Rebuke Is Better Than Praise

Why Rebuke Is Better Than Praise

Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” And it’s probably true. But he could have gotten more out of those two months on a good criticism.

Do you agree?

Nobody loves a critic. But life isn’t always about feeling good. Criticism often gives me food for thought. It doesn’t usually taste like ice cream, but it’s probably good for me. And after I recover from a bruised ego, I often find the advice I received was not only humbling but helpful.

I’m starting to realize that rebukes are really compliments turned inside out, designed to mold and mature us in wonderful ways.

In Ecclesiastes 7:5-6, Solomon writes, “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise then for a man to hear the song of fools. For like the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool. This also is vanity.”

Solomon likens the meaningless praise and laughter of fools to “the crackling of thorns under a pot.” This was a culturally relevant comparison that we don’t readily understand today. Branches of a thorn bush thrown on a fire, will flame up with rapid intensity providing a short, hot burn. If you needed to heat up something quickly instead of preparing a fire for slow cooking, you would throw thorn branches on the fire. Solomon uses this illustration to say that the praise of fools is quick, hot, showy—but gone quickly. It flames up, dies out, and you need something else to stoke the fire. The rebuke of a wise man, however, can change your life forever.

Receiving rebuke and correction is a major theme in the writings of Solomon, especially in Proverbs, no doubt because it goes against human nature. Left to our own devices, we’re not very teachable. It often takes us the awkward struggle of the teenage years, perhaps through a tumultuous young adulthood, to learn how to handle criticism—and even then, some of us never learn.

We’d rather hear from the fan club. We like the schmoozing, stroking, and back-patting of those who have some motive to keep us propped. (At some point we need to ask what that motive is.) But take a look at Solomon's advice about the value of receiving correction and the folly of rejecting it:

He who keeps instruction is in the way of life, but he who refuses correction goes astray. (Proverbs 10:17)

Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1)

A fool despises his father’s instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent. (Proverbs 1:5)

Rebuke is more effective for a wise man than a hundred blows on a fool. (Proverbs 17:10)

Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear. (Proverbs 25:12)

Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. (Proverbs 27:5)

He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy. (Proverbs 29:1)

The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. (Proverbs 29:15)

Have you ever made it known to people who care about you that they are free to share a word of advice, correction, or even rebuke with you when necessary? You don’t need to paint a big target on the front of your shirt, with “Hit me with your best shot” printed in the center. You also don’t need to put on the false humility act when you know you’ve done a good job—people see right through it.

Instead just be humble. Be open. And at the right time, tell your spouse, co-worker or friend that his or her feedback is valuable to you. Make it known that you’re always interested in getting better at what you do, whether it’s marriage, parenting, your vocation, or a hobby. The moment you open that particular door a number of wonderful things will come through. For example:

You’ll receive invaluable advice that God gives us through others.

You’ll improve your relationship with the person whose advice you’ve invited.

You’ll combat pride and enhance humility.

Don’t be enamored with the praise of people who don’t really care about you. Be more interested in the rebuke of a wise person who really loves you. Listen carefully to that person’s instruction.

Discover more wisdom for everyday life in Dr. Jeremiah’s book, 31 Days to Happiness. 

Dr. David Jeremiah is the founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church. He is a sought-after conference speaker for organizations around the country. He frequently speaks at Cedarville College, Dallas Theological Seminary, Moody Bible Institute, Billy Graham Training Center, Phil Waldrep’s Senior Adult Celebrations, National Quartet Convention and numerous NFL, NBA and Baseball chapels. Dr. Jeremiah's commitment is to teach the whole Word of God. His passion for people and his desire to reach the lost are evident in the way he communicates Bible truths and his ability to get right to the important issues. Dr. Jeremiah continues to be excited to see what God is going to do in broadcast ministry around the world through the Ministries of Turning Point.

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